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The heady scent of hyacinths met me as I stepped out the door, drawing me around the west side of the temple to take in the full glory of the flower beds, bursting with scarlet and apricot blooms. April’s tulips were breathtaking. In spite of a lengthy to-do list waiting for me at home, I lingered in the lovely gardens, gratefully soaking in the intense colors after an unusually long winter.
As I finally made my way to my car, a memory surfaced: on a spring afternoon long ago, I slowly drove around my neighborhood enjoying the crocuses and showy yellow daffodils. This will be the year, I told myself, the year I finally remember to plant some bulbs in autumn, so I can enjoy brilliant flowers in the spring. Just to be sure, I pulled over to the curb and jotted a note to myself on a handy scrap of paper: BUY BULBS IN THE FALL!
A chilly day in November found me at the local home improvement store, inspecting mesh bags of what looked like misshapen onions. These are flower bulbs? I muttered to myself, fingering the loose, papery skins. Somehow, I’d pictured tulip bulbs to be prettier.
After questioning a store employee, I was assured that those unpromising brown balls would produce flowers that matched the picture on the sack. Guaranteed. The man seemed sincere, but I felt like this was some kind of joke pulled on gullible shoppers—people like me who obviously didn’t know a bulb from a banana. Oh well…the package label promised flowers, so I plunked down my money and headed home with three bags of bulbs—one for daffodils, one for tulips, and one for the tiny grape hyacinths that have charmed me since childhood.
It is a strange exercise to plant flowers in autumn, when most of the leaves have fallen and daylight hours are growing short. Kneeling in the dirt, I actually felt sorry for the bulbs, as if I were placing them in cold little graves. An hour later I finished the job, brushed the soil off my jeans, and went my way—never giving the bulbs another thought through the long winter months that followed.
You can guess, of course, what happened in the spring: early April brought the welcome sight of sunny daffodils, with tiny grape hyacinths as a pretty purple backdrop. The tulips showed up mid-month, adding a rich red to the color scheme. The flowers were as lovely as I had wished when I buried bulbs on a chilly November day. I never dreamed back then that there was a lesson for me in those springtime flowers, or that the bulbs and blooms would become symbols of a life changing truth.
Have you ever been emotionally blindsided? Have you received the kind of news that shakes your world and leaves you uncertain about the future? Many years ago, I found myself in that situation—reeling from the shock. Though I had experienced sorrows before, this time my heart was truly broken. The adversary knows me well enough to see that I am very vulnerable to fear, and I felt his dark influence working on me.
After a completely sleepless night—hours spent feverishly praying to push back the despair—I was in a state of exhaustion. For several days I went through the motions of life in an almost zombie-like state. I attempted to read the scriptures, I tried to do all the things that invite the Lord’s spirit, but in my state of shock it was difficult to focus. In spite of my husband’s constant support I was remarkably fragile.
After weeks of struggle, I felt humbled to the dust. As I struggled to pray, to find comfort in the scriptures, I received a faint impression to study about the Atonement of Jesus Christ more intensely than ever before—to come to a new level of understanding of what it could mean in my life. I also had a faint prompting to increase my understanding of temple worship. Though it still seemed like I was just going through the motions of my regular spiritual practices, I acted on the promptings I had felt. For the next several months I eagerly read all I could find on the topics of the holy temple and Christ’s Atonement.
Exactly one year after receiving my heartbreaking news, I experienced a “repeat performance” of the same situation–the same devastating news–like a recurring nightmare, from which I could not wake. Again, I reeled from the shock. Again, I spent the night battling fear and anxiety. The next morning, I found that I could barely function. At that moment of total despair, an important thought filled my mind, a phrase from a talk I had recently read: “…faith and doubt cannot exist in the same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other.” (1) As I caught hold of that idea, it was as if a tender green shoot pushed through the crack in my broken heart—like a daffodil bulb bursting to life—giving me a glimmer of hope.
Determined to act on that feeling, I immediately went to my husband, Brad, and asked if he would give me a priesthood blessing specifically rebuking the fear and despair I had been feeling. He willingly pronounced the blessing, and from the moment he finished, the gloom began to lift until I felt real faith and hope in spite of the current situation. I discovered that I could even feel gratitude. Considering the state of my mind before the blessing, this was an absolute miracle.
All throughout that weekend I had the impression that the power of the Atonement was lifting me above the despair. My mind was flooded with words I had been studying over the past year—reminders that the Atonement of Jesus Christ is not just about overcoming sin. It is about helping us through our pain, about healing the brokenhearted. Over the course of the following week, though my difficult situation remained unaltered, the brightness of hope continued to bloom around me. The bulbs I had planted in a bleak season were springing up.
Before this experience, I had not understood that you can experiment upon God’s word over and over in your life—not just when you’re first trying to gain a testimony. The process is the same any time we plant the word in our heart and tend it carefully. Each time I studied the doctrine of Christ’s Atonement, I was unwittingly experimenting on the word, and when the time was right I began to feel those “swelling motions” inside, the bulbs opening and sending up shoots. As Alma taught, that’s when “[we]…reap the rewards of [our] faith, and [our] diligence, and patience, and long-suffering…” (2)
We plant spiritual bulbs by attending church when church is hard for us; by making ourselves search a page or two of scripture, though we can barely concentrate; by fasting for guidance when we’re already feeling weak and stressed; by fulfilling our assignments in spite of a breaking heart; by spending time in the temple, though we’re embarrassed that we can’t stem the flow of tears; and by reaching out in prayer—even if all we can manage to cry out is, “Father!” In the midst of our bleak seasons, we never imagine that any of these acts could someday send up shoots of loveliness. The thing about spiritual bulbs is they may lie dormant for months—even years. We may detect zero activity from them—see zero results from planting—all through our long, bleak season. We may forget that we planted anything at all.
Looking back, it was my deepened understanding of the doctrine of the Atonement which increased my ability to exercise faith in the awesome power of Jesus Christ. I didn’t have to wallow in pain, for He was there to share my burdens. My efforts to study about the Atonement and my temple covenants even on days that I wanted to stay in bed and pull the covers over my head yielded blessings at a crucial time. This is why—even in our bleakest seasons—we must continue to plant those unpromising brown “bulbs,” trusting that God will send the blooms when we need them most.
One of the surprising qualities of flowering bulbs is that they can multiply, increasing the impact of their beauty over the years. And that beauty blesses more than just those who plant them. My son and daughter-in-law recently experienced this when they moved into a home in an older neighborhood last winter. On a rainy February afternoon, Nate and Emily could not possibly have foreseen the gorgeous drift of red tulips that would bloom along their walkway in late April–planted years earlier by an unknown hand. Emily was nearly giddy over these unexpected flowers.
In the years since my long-ago heartbreak, the beautiful blooms of hope which sprang up have allowed me to be a more authentic witness of Jesus Christ and His infinite Atonement than I ever was before. Since that bleak season, I have had opportunities to teach women in Relief Society, children in Primary, teenagers in Sunday school and Temple preparation classes—and have had countless gospel chats with my teenagers and adult children. I believe the spiritual bulbs I planted during my bleakest times have blessed their lives, for my testimony is deeper and surer than it once was. Who, besides you, will be blessed by your spiritual plantings? Will your posterity someday quote faith-filled words from your journal, or read lists of blessings reaped because you persisted in your spiritual practices during tough times?
No matter how bleak your current season, no matter how barren the landscape today, keep planting. Through small and simple acts, great things—things we cannot now predict—can eventually come to pass (3), and you will reap the beautiful rewards of planting in a bleak season.
- Thomas S. Monson, Decisions Determine Destiny, speeches.byu.edu, Nov. 6, 2005
- Alma 32:43
- Alma 37:6