Oh how I love the scent of lilacs. I stuck my nose in a cluster and inhaled deeply.
“Don’t you just love lilac season?” I asked a woman standing near the bus stop.
“Dot so buch,” she said and blew her nose in a tissue.
“I’b allergic to theb,” she answered. “As sood as I sbell theb I can’t sbell adythig else. I’b so stuffed up. I avoid theb like the plague.”
Her wiped her red runny make-upless eyes. I wanted to cry for her. What a tragedy not to enjoy the fragrance of lilacs.
For me the smell of lilacs brings back memories of the introduction to freedom. In Calgary and Edmonton, where I grew up, lilacs bloomed around the time I took my Trinity College of London or Royal Conservatory music examinations. I stood outside a theatre auditorium feeling relieved I had remembered all my words and the sharp in the second run of the fourth song. On either side of the steps huge old lilacs bushes loaded with purple flowers swayed in a warm breeze gently wafting their fragance around my head. The test was over. A new summer vacation season stretched before me like a an open invitation to joy.
They could remind me of studying and exam anxiety, I suppose, but to this day when I smell lilacs I smell freedom.
When the poor lady with allergies smells lilacs she smells dread.
Paul (the man who once hated Christians so much he persecuted them until he met the real Jesus) wrote something interesting about fragrance in his letter to the young believers in Corinth. After chastising them for bad ideas that didn’t leave such a great odor behind he wrote:
Thanks be to God who leads us, wherever we are, on his own triumphant way and makes our knowledge of him spread throughout the world like a lovely perfume! We Christians have the unmistakeable “scent” of Christ, discernible alike to those who are being saved and to those who are heading for death. To the latter it seems like the very smell of doom, to the former it has the fresh fragrance of life itself.
(2 Corinthians 2:14-16 Phillips)
Sometimes people’s reactions to you have nothing to do with you. (Okay, and sometimes they do because everyone has moments of weakness when they don’t smell so good.) My point is we don’t always know why people have negative responses to expressions that other people experience as beauty. Sometimes merely being genuinely joyful irritates a person who has lost hope.
Should the lilacs stop blooming to keep from offending someone who has negative reactions? (Full disclosure: I have some allergies myself so I do understand the limits of this analogy.) Put it this way, should those who carry the fragrance of Jesus’ gift of eternal life hide away to avoid offending those who smell death?
Paul tried to stifle those irritating smelly followers of Jesus for a while. (He condoned the cutting down of Stephen in his prime.) Then he met the One who changes everything – and the scent they carried began to remind him of freedom.