Cloudy, rainy, chilly days in the middle of our British summer do not warm the heart. Recently, on such a gloomy day, Killy and I were given some sunflowers. We immediately smiled, our spirits lifted, and since then I’ve been thinking a lot about sunflowers. Now don’t mock pondering plants! In 1 Kings 4:33 we read that King Solomon ‘spoke about plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls’ (NIV). (Incidentally, he couldn’t have spoken about sunflowers because they originated in South America and were only brought to Europe in the sixteenth century.) Jesus himself took the garden mustard plant and created a parable (Matthew 13:31–32) and in Luke 12:27 Jesus said, ‘Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these’ (NIV).
But sunflowers are especially appealing, and it didn’t take me long to think of four aspects of them that spoke to me.
First, sunflowers are cheerful. There’s something about that disc of brilliant primary colour yellow that lifts the spirits. Possibly it’s because sunflowers look like the sun – or at least every child’s drawing of the sun – and I suspect quite a few of us need sunlight to lift our spirits (certainly anybody with a Greek ancestry like me!). Indeed, I can quite understand why the depressive artist Vincent van Gogh was drawn to painting them. Of course, it’s not always easy being cheerful but we can choose to be cheerful, happy and optimistic instead of grumpy, gloomy, miserable and pessimistic. And I know which people I would rather spend time with: those who lift me up not those who bring me down.
Let us be sunflowers, not weeping willows!
Second, sunflowers are conspicuous. It’s not just the colour of sunflowers that makes them so striking; it’s the fact that they can easily be tall enough to tower over you. Most flowers you look down on; sunflowers you look up to. In fact if you grow sunflowers (as Killy and I are trying to do), you may end up not simply blessing your own garden but your neighbours’ too. I think there’s another lesson here: it’s all too easy to stay concealed. We may not reach the height that some sunflowers do but, short or tall, it’s important that we let our light shine. Remember: even short people can stand tall. Let’s learn from the sunflower to stand up and let what we stand for be seen.
Third, sunflowers are considerate. You may think of sunflowers as an ornament for a garden but of course they are a major crop plant. Sunflowers provide seeds for food and vitamins, oil for cooking, and I’m told you can even make insulation out of those enormous stalks. In thinking about the use of sunflowers, let’s remember it’s not only humans who benefit from them but birds and insects too. Sunflowers are not just bold and big; they are also a blessing. Let us be a blessing to others as well.
Finally, sunflowers centre on the sun. They have the remarkable ability – absent from most other plants – of being able to move. Their flowers and upper leaves track the sun, and when the sun sets in the evening they rotate their heads back to face the east to await the warmth of the morning sun’s rays. It’s clever stuff! Sunflowers soak up all of the sun’s rays for warmth and light. They depend on the sun to make their food so they can keep growing. But what about those cloudy days? Get this: sunflowers will turn and face another sunflower! Looking to each other for support until they can once again see the sun.
There’s a lesson here for us. We should be those who, at the start of the day, are found facing towards God the Son – Jesus – and who during the course of the day continue to keep our eyes fixed on him (Hebrews 12:2). And on those cloudy days look to each other for support and encouragement but remember, as St Francis of Assisi prayed, ‘In giving we receive.’
Rain or shine, may you be inspired by sunflowers and may we all continue to look at the Son.
‘The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.’ (Hebrews 1:3 NIV)