A Reflection on Sunflowers

“I find comfort in contemplating the sunflowers.”

Vincent Van Gogh

Sunflowers are one of my favorite flowers. I’ve loved them ever since I was small. As they towered above me, cheerfully standing guard by the front porch, I was mesmerized by their yellow petals, tall stalks and large leaves. My mom and I would watch their progress from hard little seeds to friendly giants, always waving a welcome every summer morning and afternoon.

With various landscaping projects arising over the years, we’ve said goodbye to the sunflowers by the front porch, but they will always remain the flower of my childhood. They remain the one flower that I consistently buy for myself, just because they make me happy. I’ve bought roses for my mom, bouquets of carnations and baby’s breath for friends, and more exotic arrangements online for those who live far away. Somehow, I always find myself picking up a bunch of sunflowers when I want to give myself a treat.

After bringing some home this weekend, I’ve found myself gazing at them more and taking the time to appreciate their beauty. I often think about St. Therese and her observation that every one of us is a different flower in God’s garden. We can’t all be roses, otherwise spring would lose its charm and loveliness! I’ve thought a lot about what flower I might be for Him, and although I’ve tossed around several ideas, I keep coming back to sunflowers.

Perhaps this seems like a childish game, but I believe there is more to it than meets the eye. People of the Victorian Era devised a whole language for flowers! Each one symbolized different things, and putting a variety of flowers into one bouquet could send a very clear message. I also find that flowers have different “personalities” based on their colors, where they live, and how they grow. Ever heard of a shrinking violet? That’s because violets, with their deep purple hue, are very small and grow in the shadowy places of the forest floor, hidden beneath the ferns and underbrush. They also have one of the sweetest perfumes of all flowers. It makes sense that they would be a symbol for shyness and humility.

So, what role does a sunflower play? Sunflowers are traditionally associated with faith, because they turn their faces towards the sun, following its progress across the sky. They have a distinctive need for light, and seem to drink it in through their petals. And who wouldn’t recognize their golden color? Their tiny seeds transform into sturdy, tall stalks and big leafy arms that always wave. They don’t require any shelter from another flower. They just stand strong. They’re very low maintenance, needing only sun and water, yet they require so much of it to thrive.

Sunflowers are also a bit of a paradox. They are relatively commonplace, and fields full of them are impressive, yet they can appear odd and out of place in a garden full of smaller flowers. They flourish in rural and country settings–definitely not big city flowers. Isn’t it interesting that they still seem to feature very prominently in designer bouquets? The tall sunflowers can look a little wild and unkempt, spending their days with scarecrows, ravens, and other rough company. The smaller ones seem to have put on their best Sunday manners for the honor of gracing the dinner table, all while looking like they have a funny secret that their going to share if you let down your guard long enough.

Well, there you have it: they’re cheerful, friendly, a little awkward. Don’t they add a unique dash of beauty though? I don’t think anyone could be mad at a sunflower. While there are many qualities of these golden summer beauties that I can relate to (oh hello there awkwardness and tall stature!), there are still many more that I aspire to have. I think that in a little reflective exercise like this one there can be the temptation to find a description that mirrors us exactly as we are now. But with God, there is always room to grow. The flower I’m meant to be in His garden is more a symbol of potential rather than a medal I’m already supposed to have. I don’t always act like a sunflower; oftentimes I can be a prickly cactus, a fragile poppy, or a weeping willow. Occasionally, when all is right in my world, my fragrant lavender side emerges (but perhaps that’s for another article).

Sunflowers are my every day side, the one I want to develop even more. I want my face turned towards the Son, to drink in as much of His light as possible, to be a cheerful and comforting beacon to whoever crosses my path, ready with a smile, a friendly wave, and a quiet listening ear. Learning all these floral lessons from the Lord is an ongoing journey, and one day when I see the Son in all His glory, He will reveal the inner beauty He has been working on all this time.

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