Act as if the future of the universe depends on what you do, while laughing at yourself for thinking that your actions make any difference. –Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Back in December, a friend gave me an amaryllis bulb. Follow the simple instructions, then…Voila!…in mid-winter you’ll have a beautiful flowering plant to lift up your spirits!
As you might have guessed, I didn’t follow the instructions.
First, I forgot to bring the bulb home from the office. In late January, I finally carried it into my apartment and deposited the box, unopened, on my dining table. It sat there until I was home sick one afternoon in late February. I was ill, depressed and tired of the unremitting grayness that is Iowa in winter. I thought that planting the amaryllis might help me feel more hopeful. And it did, at first. I not only planted and watered the bulb, I spoke to it daily about growing and hope and life.
The papery top of the bulb developed a green tinge, which seemed promising, although I couldn’t discern any actual growth. Over time, though, even that greenish color went away. It seemed unlikely that anything would ever grow. February ended, March passed, April flew by. The lifeless brown bulb just sat on my table, unresponsive for so long that I stopped talking to it, even stopped noticing it as more than just another item on a perpetually cluttered surface.
Except for the days I felt especially discouraged – on those days, I saw it as an emblem of my inability to do anything right.
Lately, I’ve been overwhelmed by the sheer number of things there are to get done in any given day. Mired in these tasks, I am unable to focus on the bigger picture – the one where what I’m doing makes a difference in the world, is about more than just running on an endless hamster wheel. Every time it seems like things are getting on track, that there might be an opportunity to look ahead – maybe even get ahead – things fall apart and I’m buried again.
The sense of failing at my own life overrides other perspectives.
In the middle of such a seemingly hopeless cycle this week, I was frantically searching for one piece of paper among the piles on my kitchen table when I happened to glance at the forgotten amaryllis pot. One tender green shoot has emerged from the bulb’s dry papery skin. Of course, it happened when least expected, when hope of it happening had been surrendered.
“Of course,” I exclaimed aloud, likely startling my neighbor whom I could hear leaving her apartment just then.
Of course – because we won’t always immediately (if ever) see the fruit of our labors.
Of course – because nurturing hope, tending growth, changing hearts, holding space for healing is important work, but accomplished below the surface.
Of course – because our most meaningful work often resides in attending to the drudgery of details.
Of course – because when we take/hold everything too seriously, too personally, too joylessly, too fearfully we forget about grace.
When you’ve forgotten that grace exists, each time it manifests in your life it is a surprise. A miraculous, living, green tendril that reminds you: everything matters.