Lessons from a Cactus Plant

For many years one of my most beloved treasures has been a large cactus plant. Quite nondescript for most of the year, it burst into a riot of color in late November and early December. It had so many blossoms I could literally not count them.  Every year with great expectation I waited for it to usher in the holiday season.

Last summer we moved. The cactus came with us, along with several other plants. Natural light had streamed in on all sides in our old house; our new apartment has a patio door and big windows, but only on one side of the house. Needless to say I was fearful. No matter how I shuffled the plants around, some of them died, including another, smaller, cactus.  I prayerfully placed the remaining cactus in an alcove in my bedroom under the window and held my breath. It survived! As November rolled around, I watched the plant like a hawk – but no blossoms appeared. Thanksgiving and Christmas came and went with no gorgeous cactus. I was surprised by the power of my sadness; it was like waiting for a beloved friend to come visit and then being told the visit was off.

Several days ago while I was watering the cactus, I noticed what looked like a bud.  It was! And then a few days later I saw another. And then, those two buds turned into beautiful, delicate pink flowers.  I was surprised, amazed, and in awe. I now had an Easter cactus!

This delightful event taught me a few lessons. My best gift from the Twelve Step movement is that “an expectation is a premeditated resentment.”  My cactus really proved the point. If we live with expectations, we will always be disappointed. If we live anticipating surprises, we will constantly find reasons for joy and gratitude.  Perhaps this is why God created such beauty in the “garden” we live in; if we pay attention, we will never stopped being surprised – and joyful.

Another favorite spiritual formation lesson came from Richard Foster who wrote an entire book on the value of living simply. I learned that less is more – whether it is pairs of shoes, clothes in the closet, books (oh, this one was a hard lesson), events on the calendar, money in the retirement account, dinners out . . . and now blossoms on a plant. These two beauties provided more delight than when the whole plant had been in bloom.  I could fully appreciate each one.

And finally, I learned a lesson about the grounding of faith.  Faith supports us when we are disappointed, sad, friendless, hurt, angry, full of self-pity. Faith is understanding that God holds us up when we just want to give up. My cactus symbolized the fears, anxiety, and confusion involved with moving from a house and yard we loved, dealing with illness, surviving on a limited income – all of which have faded with time like the blossoms on the cactus. The brave blooming of this cactus reminded that God cares for the lilies of the field and the birds of the air (Matt. 6: 25 -31) – and my cactus, and my needs. I understood that these two small blossoms were testimony to the power of the Life that flows within us  and the Love that surrounds us.

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