The modern synonyms offered by Word and the like all take their cue from the concept of embellishment. Flourish as a noun. An ornamental addition to something already practical and complete. A swash, an ostentatious gesture, bravado even; whatever form it takes, flourish is something over the top and absolutely unnecessary. As a verb, flourish means something entirely different. It means to blossom, to flower: grow, prosper, thrive.
For many of us, flourishing is something that seems perhaps far beyond our reach. Our lives are filled with either the mundane or with long seasons stress and difficulty. Our work is just that – work. It does not come easy, it does not always produce deep satisfaction. Our relationships are not what we long for, our creative lives are not bearing the fruit we can ‘see’ in our mind’s eye, or that others expect. Our health, mental or physical, is frail. Whatever the circumstances of our life, it seems that flourishing is an elusive condition to capture, perhaps even something for others but not for us. I know for me there have been times where I have wondered if it exists at all, really for anyone.
What exactly is flourishing? If we imagine that flourishing is only a glorious state without pain, great strength without trouble, and great abundance without need, we miss the essential truth of it.
A simpler way to define ‘flourish’ is this: To thrive in the purposes for which one is made.
Flourishing is to grow into inherent potential. Another word for this is to prosper or to succeed.
Flourishing for a rose looks very different than for a cactus or for an oak tree. Flourishing looks very different for a woman raising very young children than for a man in his fifties and sixties at the peak point of his working life. Flourishing looks different for a single person than for a married person. Flourishing looks different in Africa than in England, in Asia than in North America or South America. Flourishing looks very different from season to season. Flourishing in winter is not about blossoms, it is about endurance and abiding. Flourishing in Spring is not about bearing fruit but about growing. Flourishing in Autumn is not about new growth but about bearing fruit and putting enough nourishment away to carry life through the season of dormancy. In each season there are purposes for which one has been made, to which one has been called.
As cultivators, by nature and by calling, we work to create the conditions in which to thrive. To flourish.
We ourselves do not have all the answers for this, nor do our lives always reflect conditions or the accomplishment. Sometimes we just catch glimmers of it. Yet we persist. Like all gardeners know, we do not create Life. We cannot make anything grow. That power belongs to Another. What we can do is be faithful in cultivating the conditions, as best we can with what we are given, for Life to occur and for it to flourish here. We can cultivate the soil and create symbiotic communities. We can plant seeds. We can provide food and bring water. We can defend against enemies and we can hold the line. We can remove obstacles and hindrances. We can provide trellises for the weak. We can prune when needed. We can wait and we can hope. We can love and we can pray. In all that, we abide. We remain in and dwell with the One Who alone gives Life. It is in the abiding we flourish, bear fruit in season, and give glory to our Maker. As we are made to.
“Abide in Me, and I will abide in you. The branch cannot itself produce fruit, unless it abides on the vine. Likewise, you cannot produce fruit unless you abide in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for apart from Me, you can do nothing. In this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be My disciples.” John 15.4-5, 8
Even if the season in our own life or soul is not ‘summer’, we are reminded by visual evidences around us that summer does exist, and we can hold on in faith certain that it will come back for us. We can rejoice in the beauty that surrounds us, welcome it as we see it, cultivate it as we can, and try with all our hearts to nurture it in others.
Let this be a season of grace then for us. As we continue to abide, let us lean in to beauty as we are given it, without misgivings and without second guessing it. Let us rejoice in summer wherever we find it and practice it bravely and joyfully in a hundred ways. And let us flourish!
The featured image “Red Roses A Bloom” is (c) Lancia E. Smith and used with glad permission for The Cultivating Project!
Lancia E. Smith is an author, photographer, teacher, and business owner. A grateful lover of the Triune God, Lancia is passionate about disciple making. Reflecting an irresistible calling to the intersection of faith and the arts, she is the Founder and Executive Director of Cultivating, and of The Cultivating Project, a discipling initiative for Christians engaged in the arts. She is President and CEO of a thriving environmental consulting and construction firm based in northern Colorado which she runs with her husband Peter. They are parents to seven children, and are grandparents to a beloved flock of grandchildren. An inveterate book collector and giver, Lancia loves website and garden design, beautiful typography, David Austin roses, Marvel movies, road trips and being read aloud to by Peter. She cherishes every book she ever read by C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and George MacDonald.