A terracotta pot filled with pink and purple hyacinths in full bloom

Hyacinths for the Soul

“Never mind about the expense, dear. An evening out would be good for all the family. After all, you NEVER have a meal at a restaurant.”

“You don’t think that it would be an extravagance Auntie Mae?”

“Memories are worth more than money, my dear. Even in these hard times money is less important than people’s feelings. And remember about the pot of hyacinths?”

The pot of hyacinths! It was one of Auntie Mae’s favourite stories.

Her gentle face would glow as she recounted it.

She read, once, of a young woman who was hired to undertake a weekend of baby-sitting. The harried parents, hardly older than herself, were so frayed by the demands of their lives that they knew a weekend away was imperative. Money was scarce but they were desperate. Tensions were building up and they were beginning to squabble.

It was an exhausting weekend for the deputy Mum. Caring for the two toddlers seemed to fill every minute of the days and getting up to them in the early hours shortened the nights. She was certainly earning her wage, but she was concerned with the cost for the young couple. Looking round the home, it was evident that the housekeeping ends were being pulled together with some difficulty. “How can they possibly afford this weekend?” she worried.

When the two escapees returned, they looked different people. New lovers again, they shone with happiness. Enthusiastically they asked about their babies. They were most grateful to their stand-in and said so repeatedly.

Before she left, the parents handed to their baby-sitter an envelope containing her cheque. With it was an earthenware pot, with shiny green shoots thrusting through the soil. A card tied to the pot with bright ribbons said simply: “Hyacinths for the soul.”

”There’s an ancient Chinese proverb,” explained the young mother, “about hyacinths:

If of thy meagre store,
Two loaves comprise the whole
Sell one, and with the other
Buy hyacinths for thy soul.

“The flowers will remind you how much we appreciate your help,” she added. “We’re completely broke now – but some things are more important than money.”

Auntie Mae loved that story. She knew that the soul needs its nourishment just as much as the body. Relationships must be fed. Shared experiences will provide memories that money could never buy.

In a culture in which money holds men and women in a vice, the notion of hyacinths for the soul is likely to be buried. Many of us are too busy chasing dollars to notice the people we rush past in the process. We have no time to phone our relatives, write letters to our friends interstate, or visit Grandma in the nursing home. It is so important to live in as prestigious a street as possible that of course we need at least two mortgages for the purpose. Because we are so busy it is essential to have a house full of electrical white goods and because we are so tired we cannot keep going without cushiony lounge chairs and colour TV for relaxing. Meantime, people’s souls are starving. But someone else will have to feed them – someone who can pause to notice.

It is, probably, when we are locked into the materialistic system of our society that we fail to see not only the needs of other people’s souls but the needs of our own. Each one of us must have soul nourishment. This would be at least part of what Christ referred to when he told us plainly that he himself is the Bread of Life. Without him, we starve – so far as the inner, real person is concerned. What is involved in sustaining the true, though unseen, self upon the Bread of Life becomes more and more clear as we spend time reading the Bible and thinking about what it says.

The point is that one of the two last loaves must go. We cannot have it and have the hyacinths too. On this subject also, the Lord Jesus spoke with finality. He said that we cannot give first priority to God and to money-making at the same time: It is an impossibility. We have to decide, he said, to whom or to what we will give allegiance. Awkward though the choice is, we are compelled to make it. Ignoring it wilI not do, for even as we defer the decision, we are in fact making one. We are deciding NOT to worship and serve God. No-one ever gave allegiance to God without knowing perfectly well that that was what he or she was doing.

To become a Christian person includes a contrite, repentant response to the love which sent the Lord Jesus to the cross to die a ghastly death for their sake. It also includes a deliberate, calculated determination to give total allegiance to him. From then on, the affairs of the body and the affairs of the soul will need to be treated with balanced consideration. Loaves of bread for the body, certainly. But also hyacinths for the soul.

From an article by Helen Nathan from Lutheran Women, February 1982

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