As the Fall season approaches, one of my favorite sights is a beautiful, tall sunflower. I just love the vibrant yellow color and the lush green stem with its big, heart-shaped green leaves. I can’t help but feel happy when I see one.
About two months ago I planted ten sunflower seeds in my yard, hoping they would all sprout. After a few weeks, I didn’t see a lot going on and figured maybe the seeds were duds. I was pretty disappointed, but decided I could always plant more.
Then, one day I wasn’t feeling too happy and I decided to go outside and sit in my lawn chair. To my great surprise, I saw a sunflower seedling had sprouted. It was just one, but it made my day. A few days later, two more sprouted up.
For about a month I watched these little seedlings grow taller and taller. But still I saw no actual sunflower. I started to wonder if I’d ever see one. Maybe they would just remain buds?
Well, God just seems to time everything right. One particular day, I had been going through quite a bit of inner turmoil. I think I had cried for about two hours straight. I decided to go outside and sit in my lawn chair, which just happens to be situated by a wooden cross my friend had made for me a few years ago. When I stepped outside, I saw a sight that made me cry even more, but this time for a good reason. A bright, gorgeous sunflower had bloomed. At that moment it was the most beautiful sight for my sore eyes. It sounds silly, but my whole mood changed in an instant. I know it was just a flower, but I felt like God timed it just for me. I must have stared at the flower for over an hour.
Over the next two weeks, another sunflower bloomed. This one was bigger than the other. Now, I had two sunflowers. Oh, how they filled me with joy.
Finally, a third sunflower bloomed. Boy, was that a great day! Yes, I know, it’s the little things sometimes…
Not long after the third sunflower bloomed, a few things in my life took a turn for the worse. I don’t want to elaborate, but I was not feeling like myself and I sensed I was falling into a depression. Usually, I can snap out of these things in a day or two, but this time I just couldn’t seem to do it. I felt completely overwhelmed and I knew that I wasn’t walking in faith.
Well, one of my favorite spots to mope is often that lawn chair by the wooden cross. So, that’s where I went. As I walked to the chair, I saw something that caused me to do a doubletake. One of my big, beautiful sunflowers was completely hunched over. The whole head of the sunflower was bowing down to the ground. I got up and walked over to the pitiful-looking plant. I also noticed that all the perky petals were gone. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the once gorgeous plant that stood so tall just a few days before. Immediately, I started crying.
When the tears stopped rolling, I heard a still small voice. I knew it was Jesus. I heard him whisper through the Holy Spirit. He said, “Angela, I know you feel like this sunflower. You have your head looking at the ground–just staring at the dirt. Your life has gotten heavy and you can’t seem to get yourself back up.” In my heart, I knew this was true. “Yes, I know Jesus, but I don’t know how to get back up again.” Then I looked to my right and I saw something. What was it you ask? It was a tall, iron rod that I use to hang plants. The Holy Spirit said to me, “Angela, you just need to prop the sunflower up with this rod of iron.” So, I grabbed the rod and as I was pulling the sunflower back up and propping its heavy head on the rod, I realized what Jesus was saying. “I am your rod of iron. Cast your burdens on me. I care about you. You are worrying so much about controlling the future that you’ve forgotten I have it in my hands.”
And I realized that is exactly what I’d been doing. I’d been carrying everything like a load of heavy rocks. No wonder I couldn’t pick my head up.
After propping up the sunflower, I looked over at the other sunflower nearby. It was standing tall and strong–vibrant and full of life. It was also facing the sun. I immediately thought of Jesus–after all, he is the SON of God and he is what brings happiness and joy into our lives. He is the source of life itself, just as the sun is the source of life for plants. If we want to grow in faith and have a spiritually healthy life, we must turn toward Jesus, just as the sunflower follows the sun.
Actually, sunflowers track the sun, and in order to thrive they need a lot of it. In fact, they need at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight every day in order to reach their maximum height. The more sun they get, the taller they can grow.
Sunflowers track or follow the sun because God designed them to. The phenomenon is called heliotropism. It means “to turn to the sun.” God created sunflowers with a circadian rhythm that tells their cells when to grow and at what rate to grow. This same mechanism tells the sunflower when to open in the morning and when to close in the evening.
When a sunflower is first growing, the sunflower bud will face east. Throughout the day as the sun moves across the sky, the stem will move also. Kind of like a spring coil, the sunflower bud will bend and move so it can take full advantage of the sun. Getting large amounts of sun will help with photosynthesis and allow the plant to get stronger. When a new day begins, the bud will do the same thing again, following the path of sun.
When the bud eventually turns into a blooming sunflower, it will no longer continue with this tracking process. Because the head (bloom) is large and heavy, it will now face east the entire time. Its main goal will be to attract bees and other pollinators. The large, bright, bold petals of the sunflower are like a neon sign saying, “Come on over! I’m full of life-giving nectar!”
Once this pollination is complete, then the sunflower can do something very important! It can produce seeds.This part is essential because this will be how the amazing sunflower lives on.
And this is the way it is with us. We need to follow the sun (SON) don’t we? From morning to night, we must turn our heads to the Savior. When life gets heavy, we need the SON even more than ever! Jesus is how we photosynthesize. Without him, we will droop and stoop. He is the key to our success. We want to produce all sorts of seeds for the kingdom, but we can’t do this if we are stooped over in misery. Truth be told, the sunflower does have a lifecycle, and it won’t be big, bold and beautiful forever. Also, when they get really tall, they often need some propping up to keep them going. It’s the same with us. Every now and then, we need some propping up. Prayer and keeping in communication with the SON is vital when it comes to staying upright.
I have to admit, I’d been getting a little lazy in my prayer life. I’m glad Jesus brought me back. The cool thing about all this is that it happened during the biblical month of Elul. In fact, the day I saw the sunflower drooping was the first day of Elul.
Elul is also known as the month of repentance on the biblical calendar. This month precedes a very significant appointed time on the biblical calendar known as the Feast of Trumpets. Falling in August and/or September on the Gregorian calendar, Elul lasts for 29 days and it signifies the “season of repentance.” Each day that passes during Elul is marked by the sounding of the shofar (trumpet) in the synagogue. Known as “awakening blasts” these piercing sounds are meant to arouse the spirits of all believers and remind them to draw closer to God. The Feast of Trumpets, also known as Rosh Hashanah, kicks off the biblical new year. Unlike the rest of the world, who celebrates the new year in January, the Jewish people usher in the new year in the Fall. This is all according to scripture because the Bible follows the Hebrew calendar.
Elul precedes the new year so it centers on taking a deep dive into the past year where we can repent of any past sins and search our hearts for any “cobwebs” that continue to plague our daily living. In essence, Elul is the time when we do a deep fall cleaning and we draw closer to God, so he can help us make changes we can take with us into the following year.
As Christians, we are supposed to search our hearts every day and we should always listen for the trumpet’s sound. But, as we all know, there are things we often miss from one day to the next. Elul can be that time of year where we take the extra time to see what sins we’ve really struggled with during the year, or we can throw off the burdens we’ve continued to carry. It’s the perfect time to cast our cares on Jesus and rededicate our lives to serving him.
The timing was amazing to me because the reason I fell into a depression was because of burdens I was carrying over from the entire year. Elul just happens to be the time when God is in the field, waiting for us to release these things to him. He wants us to do some deep cleaning in our hearts so we can start fresh. Jesus was reminding me it was time to get my head out of the dirt and follow him fully. Truthfully, I had let many things build up and I hadn’t given them to Jesus. This is why I couldn’t get my head back up–I was that poor sunflower with its head bent over.
I’m so grateful that Jesus takes the time to use even a simple sunflower to teach me. Sometimes we think that just because we may know the Word and we have been following Jesus for years that we will never fall into despair. But often we just need a reminder. We need a strong rod of iron to keep us standing tall again. Now, I love sunflowers even more. I might just try to grow 20 of them! What a beautiful reminder of the SON who gives us the sun every single day.
The month of Elul began at sundown on August 8, 2021 and will last until sundown on September 6. I plan on using those days to really focus on Jesus and take some time to re-evaluate my life in many areas. I plan to follow the SON carefully and let his face shine upon me. I hope you will do the same. May Jesus bless you richly during the season of Elul.