Flowers in the Dark
February 8, 2023 | Kevin Perry
Around this time a year ago on a chilly gray-skied day, I stood beside a fresh grave. I had presided over—preached, facilitated, whatever the word is—a funeral. The husband of the woman who died grabbed me by the arm as I was leaving and said these words to me:
“There are no flowers anywhere….did you notice?”
I glanced around the stark gravesite and sure enough, he was right—no flowers anywhere. And no…I had not noticed until that moment.
The next thought that raced through my mind was the terror that perhaps the flowers had been my responsibility. I thought to myself, "Good grief…have I blown it?" Maybe I missed an email. Maybe I should re-read the chapter on funerals in How to Pastor for Dummies.
I have heard more than one pastor say they prefer a good funeral over most weddings. At first, that seems like a pretty twisted thing to say, but I think I understand more and more where it comes from. Weddings can be quite contentious affairs with all the pomp and circumstance….not to mention a fair bit of drama. When you gather together childhood friends, college companions, future in-laws, and extended family for a hifalutin event—sometimes there is no sanctuary or overpriced rustic barn that can hold all that emotional baggage. And if there is an open bar? Maranatha. Lord come quickly! Even the most loving and godly families I know have a little Jerry Springer Show in them now and then.
Funerals are different. They are a unique audience in unison over a single grief…everyone there is hurting. Grieving. In need of comfort. Many of them are asking questions…both believers and unbelievers. That’s a great opportunity to point people to Jesus. To be fair, weddings are too even amidst the DJs, dinners, and dazzling dresses. It all rests on Jesus—be it eternal life or married life.
“There are no flowers anywhere….did you notice?”
I muttered a sheepish response, “Um, no…wow…you are right.” I didn’t know what to say to this man who had just lost his wife…and what he said next multiplied that feeling exponentially.
“She wanted it that way,” he said. “Before she died, she requested that friends and family not buy flowers but instead donate that money to the Vanderbilt Children’s Diabetes clinic in Nashville. That's where your daughter goes right?”
Blindsided. I did not see that coming.
My emotions caught so quickly and intensely in my throat that my first attempt at speaking just failed. I basically just held my breath for a moment. That is where our daughter goes. Since being diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes 8 years ago, that is indeed where she has been cared for. I couldn’t believe that this woman who passed away would do that. She did not need to do that. I was shook by the pure kindness of it.
I’m sure we’ve all seen funerals that could double as a botanical garden with generous outpourings of love and support via flowers. But not this funeral. I sadly wondered if people driving by this grave would notice the lack of flowers…would paint their own narrative of why this person’s last gathering of remembrance looked so bleak. There are no flowers there…we noticed.
They don’t know. They will never know of the kindness poured out there. The small gathering of the family knew the secret…but the secret had my daughter in mind—had me in mind. That last act of compassion was extended to me long before I stood clumsily leading this funeral. No one was more moved by it than me that day. I felt remembered…and ministered to. And of all things—it’s the one who died that made it so.
I’ll never get over that.
I share that story not to meditate on generosity or legacy or compassion. Those are all worthy topics for another blog at another time. Instead, I mean to dwell on the secret work that goes on inside of us that I’ve been reminded of during this season of fasting and prayer. The body of Christ is absolutely essential in the life of a believer. If you want life in the Spirit, you have to be in the never-ending gift-giving party of Spirit in-dwelt people: the church. Christianity is indeed a team sport.
But Jesus plays one-on-one as well. There is a unique and irreplaceable work of the Spirit that happens in the secret and solo places with Jesus…and it’s as necessary as an inhale is to an exhale. The redeemed will always “say so.” But there are works He does in the quiet places—maybe in this fast for you and me—that will never be fully explainable…fully sayable. There are deposits he makes in solitude that will never be completely relatable to the masses. There are flowers that bloom beautifully for you and me….just not in the light of day for passers-by.
Maybe it’s a timing or seasonal thing...but I’m thinking about so many conversations with friends in discouragement recently. So many I know in hurting places. In wounded places.
Life has hurt.
People have hurt.
Family has hurt.
Church has hurt.
Vocation has hurt.
Self has hurt.
I know what that feels like. Oh, what a struggle it is to be withward when wounds make withward feel like a pipe dream. Jesus has something to say to all that….and He might prefer to say it in a prayer closet rather than an auditorium.
There is a proximity thing with following Jesus…when you see who he is, you want to get closer to Him. He fed the masses…preached to the multitudes…amazing. But he turned the life of the twelve who lived alongside Him upside down. And He showed the three a glimpse into a whole other dimension of His power and glory. You take your sorrow to Him face to face and He raises the dead…you press through a toxic room to wash his feet and what sloughs off is your shame….you grab his garment and affliction flees. The closer you get, the better.
With the little time left in this fast, I pray for healing in the dark….for unseen flowers to bloom beautifully for you and me. We can wash our faces and break out fresh oil (Matt 6:17). We can prep the secret room for occupancy once again (Matt 6:6). And of course, this doesn’t end with this fast….it is an evergreen gift of following Jesus. The Spirit has a unique and irreplaceable work to do in our solitude. And of all things….it’s the One who died that made it so.