When I was a kid, a hibiscus plant was quite resourceful. The bush like plant bore many green leaves that offered shade, garden décor and sanctuary for play. We made hair adornments out of the flowers. I remember being personally mesmerized by the size of the style and the arrangement of the pollen on the stigma. Most of all, it struck me how vulnerable the flowers were.
A typical play day rotated in a cycle as we found more than one use for the plants. First we would hover around them or sit in their shade with real and/or imaginary friends, having aimless fun. Next thing you know we were being drawn to them by the red of their petals. Predictably, we would proceed to pluck them out carefully so as to make dainty ornaments, which in childish fantasy would transform us into grown up ladies going to work, modeling or running our own homes. Then the grand finale – playing house (Cha Kimama1) … a full house, with a daddy and a mommy, and children of its own, having all the intricacies of a day’s schedule, including a 6am wake up call from a crowing cockerel. We imitated family dinner tables by serving mud pies in soda bottle tops. At some point, our recipes and makeup had to be tweaked, increasing demand for the hibiscus flower and eventually subjecting it to a form of brutality.
A coconut shell and twig improvised for pestle and mortar, as we endeavored to extract the pigment of the hibiscus. Red was the rage in the eighties, inspiring us to lightly dab the hue onto our nails – which barely held up, mark you – and include some of it in the mud pies for a curry effect. Not that we ever really ate the mud. The joy was more in the ado than in the eating. This would go on repeatedly until a few of us would run off and opt for other activities; or till our own mothers called us back home at the end of the day to their horror at the sight of our mud-stained clothes, necessitating a bath, homework and a hot meal. By bedtime, the beauty, veneration and fragility of the hibiscus flower was lost in memory. It was all in a day’s play. Soon enough another would grow in its place.
To be honest I have never really thought much of the hibiscus flower before than in light memory of my childhood, and a few unfulfilled considerations for colored tattoos, yet here I am drawing similarities to life today. Does it not reflect, at some level, how at one moment we are fully bloomed, radiant and perched on the top of pyramids of hierarchy in society; and how we are toppled over our pedestals by some unseen hand that does not seem to care much about the consequences that affect us? An array of issues consequently unravels helplessly, and before you know it, we are being painstakingly ground and defaced by concerns that wear us down.
It should not be far from us that we are four faceted beings bearing the mind, body, spirit and soul, all which develop via different stimuli, and which influence the others to varying extents. Lipstick, for instance, may pecker up a lip, bringing out an aesthetic quality which may display some self-confidence, but can never really heal a broken heart, or help develop responsible character. However, investment in our inner persons – the testing of which are the difficult times that come our way – creates more formidable positive results that effortlessly retains that sparkle in the cornea and a natural glow. Regardless of how put together we may look on the outside, like a tea bag in hot water, it takes the challenges of life to get the best out of us.
Indeed we are made beautiful and should mind our skin, hair, weight and physical health. No one should dismiss the significance of the beauty and cosmetics industry, whether we opt to ‘go natural’ or not. God certainly does not 2. Yet if our heels may need a thorough spa day’s scrubbing regularly for a desired baby bum finish, how much more effort applies for the growth of our mind, spirit and soul?
I have come to admit that spiritual development works best by surprises that life throws at us, with no more provision for control than in faith, prayer and consistency in doing good – the hardest thing being having the ability to stay on the Potter’s wheel and letting Him do a good work in us3.
I guess it was not meant to be easy; otherwise, would not the hibiscus possess some defense capability, or take flight if it could? Then again, how much more reward awaits us if we succeed, being God’s children? It definitely calls for us to be teachable. Contrary to child play, the results of godly perseverance are uplifting and positively life-altering4. It is the only aspect that sometimes holds us back from one point of elevation to the next.
Not to sound self-conflicting, but a personal challenge would be in discerning within good time that which we are called to hold on to, and to what extent.
1 Swahili name for ‘playing house’ game, literally translating to ‘For Mother’
2 Esther 2:12; Matthew 6:17
3 Isaiah 64:8; Philippians 1:6; Ephesians 2:10; Psalm 46:10
4 Galatians 6:9; Isaiah 40:29-31