I was visiting a neighboring parish recently and was admiring their beautiful landscaping. A dogwood was blooming in delicate pink. There were pockets of flowers in red and purple. As I was surveying the beauty, I noticed one, brilliantly yellow tulip standing on its own near the dogwood. It was surrounded by mulch and little else. And yet my eyes were drawn to the single flower more strongly than the rest of the carefully planned landscaping. When I mentioned the little flower to someone on campus, they said that sometimes flowers “volunteer” like that. They self-pollinate and just show up where they like.
The image was a striking one: something so out of place, and yet so beautiful. By “volunteering” and just standing boldly where it was, this tulip was a reminder of how beauty cannot always be managed. Sometimes beauty is beautiful because it was not managed.
Thinking back on that tulip, I found myself wondering whether I was willing to be so bold – whether I was comfortable volunteering to be wherever God planted me. Jesus talks to the disciples in Matthew about being a light for the world. He says in Matthew 5.16, “…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Jesus’ words sound simple, but I think we do not really feel comfortable living out his instructions. We might consider letting our light shine…as long as we are surrounded by others doing the same. We don’t mind being a brilliantly yellow tulip…as long as we can be beautiful with others. But ask us to go at it alone – to let our light shine by ourselves so that others might see our individual good works and give glory to God – well, that is another story. What if I am not bright or beautiful enough? What if my works aren’t good enough and people judge me instead of giving glory to God?
The trick is remembering that little tulip. I saw lots of flowers that day that looked beautiful. But it was the one solo flower that made me stop, that made me linger nearby. That tulip had power simply by being willing to be where it was, and to be there in its fullness. Our invitation is to do likewise. My guess is that even if we cannot see our own beauty or our own light, others will – and they will give glory to God.