A mistress of novices went to see her abbess, to discuss her concerns about a novice who was struggling.
As they walked through the convent garden, talking, the abbess picked a flower bud and handed it to the other nun, asking her to open it. The blossom fell apart in her hands.
“Why,” the abbess asked, “does the bud fall apart when you try to open it, but when God opens it, the flower is beautiful?”
After walking in silence for a time, the mistress of novices replied, “When God opens the flower, He opens it up from the inside.”
This short story carries profound insights about human beings and how we change and grow. Attempts to make us conform – to shape us using external forces – seldom work at anything more than the most superficial level. On the other hand, transformation – change from the inside – happens all the time, but is less easy to see or control.
This is, I think the lesson we the Church need to learn. We cannot control people into being Christians or even good people. Our power used directly in that way is worse than useless; it results in broken people.
On the other hand, we cannot transform people from the inside ourselves. We can only invite, provide opportunities and resources, and support people as they go through their own processes of transformation. (In terms of the parable of the flower, we can make sure the person is in good soil, has water and sunlight and air, is protected from predators and in a suitable climate… but we cannot make them grow, or indeed, flower).
This calls for careful discernment about our use of power.
Are we attempting to open the flower, or giving it what it needs to open itself (when it is ready)?