“Iliana, Mommy and Daddy tell you these things because we want you to flourish. We want to show you how to live,” we explain. “And when Valentina gets older, we’ll show her and tell her the same types of things.” Valentina is just over a year old, and at six years old, having just started first grade, there’s only so much Iliana can grasp about what it means to flourish. Then again, children absorb more than we give them credit for, don’t they? But, I think she is starting to understand that her flourishing has to do with a life soaking in and delighting in God—in inhaling his goodness and his beauty—and in digesting his delight in her. In loving God and in loving others—which includes appreciating creation—in treating them like she wants to be treated—there is life. That’s what we hope to communicate with our lives, not only to our girls, but to everyone with whom we have contact.
If I could sit with Iliana and Valentina in their teenage and college years, the way I sat with the college students we lived with for five years when I was a resident director, I’d flesh out what I mean by “May you flourish.” Indeed, there’s much more I’d say. I might say something like this:
I hope with every fiber of my being that you will flourish because I know that not every little one is shielded from the reach of evil at an early age. Not every child has a childhood. Not every child has parents whose souls and minds are in even semi-healthy condition. Not all parents or guardians are nurturing. You know by now that orphans exist. There are children who are forced to function as adults while still inhabiting child bodies. And this shouldn’t be. It shouldn’t be. But, we know that it is.
May you flourish because the glory of God is a human being fully alive, as St. Irenaeus so beautifully put it. And may you flourish because I know what it is like to wither in the face of fears and insecurities borne of a too early exhaustion and despair of life that comes from seeing distortions and dysfunctions that innocents, not to mention full-fledged adults, are incapable of absorbing. It’s an exhaustion that sinks deep into one’s still-growing bones. Soul deforming. It’s an exhaustion and potential malformation that arise from an innocent bearing a cross he or she was never meant to carry. May you flourish because there are little ones in existence for whom no “Simon of Cyrene” is available to lift the cross from their collapsing shoulders. The yoke is too difficult and the burden too heavy. Be a Simon to those with whom you come into contact for our welfare and the welfare of others is intimately connected. Flourishing always enfolds others into itself. We will not flourish alone.
May you flourish because I know it is possible to flourish, to really live a fully alive life after wasting away in the deep valleys of the shadow of death. I know what it is to be brought to life again, to be raised from the dead after believing I had no chance at life period, much less an abundant life. May you flourish because I know resurrection life in Jesus Christ. Resurrection is a real and available gift of God.
May you flourish because I know and you can know what it is like to have abundant life coursing all throughout you, cutting a channel through rock-hard places. God’s life animates everything in its wake. It overflows, spilling and splashing onto the outside, streaming into the world around you. I know what it is like to feel the refreshing splashes of God-life on my face, Jesus life that splishes and splashes onto me from the life of others. Stay connected to good, trustworthy people of God and you will flourish.
Know that God’s life in us, through us, and all about us renders the mundane holy. If you look closely, even in suffering, you can observe life quivering around you. One version of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem captures a part of what I am trying to tell you:
Earth is crammed with heaven,
And every bush is aflame with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit around and pluck blackberries.
Seeing and flourishing are inextricably linked. It is the pure in heart that see God. As you practice keeping your eyes on Jesus who cannot keep his eyes off of you, as you follow close on his heels, and do what he says, you will become more pure in heart, thereby enhancing your God-vision. Your eyesight will get better. You will flourish and, as a result, others will flourish, as you see and walk about the world barefoot.
You need to know that you will often be tempted to seek wealth, power, and prestige at the expense of God and his kingdom. But flourishing requires dying a thousand or more deaths to yourself in this lifetime. Developing a capacity to receive God’s life, and so in turn love God and love others, requires continuous death to your ways. If you refuse to die to yourself because you fear that you will miss out, and you think you can manage better on your own without God, if you become self-centered, the God life in you will recede. C.S. Lewis described what happened to Lucifer and what can happen to us when we choose self-centered life that is really death: “In the midst of a world of light and love, of song and feast and dance, [Lucifer] could think of nothing more interesting than his own prestige.”
Turning from God in self-absorption means blindness to the good. It means unleashing destruction, not life. Your child-like heart will grow old, your eyesight dim, and you’ll no longer be filled with the child wonder so pervasive in flourishing ones.
May you flourish. That is my deepest desire. I will do whatever I can to help you and the others with whom I come into contact. May you do the same. May you love your neighbor as yourself, striving to promote their good even as you strive to promote your own good. Truly I tell you, I am flourishing because of the grace I’ve received from God and from others.
Marlena contemplates, writes and speaks about the eternal implications of our life in God. She is a lover of beauty and a justice seeker. She’s very interested in theology and culture. She is married to her best friend, Shawn. He’s a philosopher. Together they have two little girls, Iliana and Valentina. It’s a playful house. She received her M.Div. from Northeastern Seminary in Rochester, New York.
She is a by-lined writer for Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog. Her writing has also appeared in Relevant, the Clergy Journal, the Conversations Journal and various other venues..