Nature teaches us many lessons and the lesson of the blooming is one of them. God created some plants to open their flowers in an instant and others only over a much longer stretch of time. Both reflect his design. We cannot slow the plant that opens in an instant or rush the plant that opens in a month. But what we can do is enjoy the difference and celebrate the beauty. And so, too, with our children.
Those who explore the vast boreal forests of Canada are rarely far from a bunchberry dogwood, a plant so common that some have suggested it ought to be Canada’s national plant. The cornus canadensis is a little shrub that often carpets the floors of the great fir and spruce forests. A perennial, its shoots rise in the spring and soon each produce a whorl of six leaves. Come the early days of summer, a number of tiny flowers surrounded by four white bracts top each shoot. It is not the size of the plants or even their beauty that catches the eye as much as their sheer volume and their way of bringing cheer to an otherwise drab forest floor.
What few know about the bunchberry dogwood is that it holds a world record, for its blooms open faster than any other plant in the world. In fact, it moves at a speed few organisms can match. When its flowers begin to form, so too do the stamen, and they grow cocked under the petals like tiny medieval trebuchets. When the bud is fully formed and the time is right, the pressure of the stamen pushing against the petals opens the flower with a burst of energy and a spray of pollen. This takes place in less than one half of one millisecond, too fast for the eye to see, too fast even for a camera to record unless it can shoot thousands of frames per second. From the maturing of the bud to the full opening of the flower is far less than the blink of an eye. It’s a miracle of nature.
A great question deep in the hearts of many Christian parents is why some children bloom quickly when they profess faith while others take much longer. Why is it that some seem to burst into life while others seem to drag? One child comes to Christ and backs her conversion with immediate habits of devotion—she reads the Scripture and meditates upon it, she prays regularly and fervently, she reads good books and delights to discuss what she has learned. This comes quickly, easily, and joyfully. Then another child comes to Christ, truly and genuinely, yet has far less interest in reading the Bible, less interest in prayer, little interest at all in reading good books and engaging in spiritual conversation. How could this be?
Just as there are mysteries in the natural world there are mysteries in the human heart, and the ways in which different Christians express their faith is among them. Some truly do appear to burst into life, immediately awakening to God’s sanctifying grace as they put sin to death and come alive to righteousness, as they quickly lay aside habits of spiritual laziness and put on habits of spiritual industriousness. And some truly do appear to crawl into life, to bloom over years or decades rather than moments. They do awaken to God’s sanctifying grace, but at a snail’s pace, and they do replace poor habits with good ones, but slowly rather than quickly, and often only after long, hard, back-and-forth battles.