Unwanted Thorns: The Grace of God in Suffering
I glared at my pointer finger for getting in the way of the thorn attached to the rose bush. In North Carolina, even though I’m not a fan of summer’s hot humidity and daily mosquito bites, I still enjoy going into the yard to cut flowers to make a bouquet for the kitchen table. Roses are some of my favorite flowers. My entire life, I’ve observed my mom take good care of her rose bushes and I’m grateful she has trained me along the way.
I have a few bushes of my own now, that I’ve nurtured over the years. One sticky, summer evening I decided to tend to my rose bushes. I don’t remember if I was in a hurry or too lazy to take the time to put on my gardening gloves, but I only grabbed the clippers on my way outside. While clipping half-eaten leaves off the bushes that aphids had munched on, and spotted leaves, I reached deeper into the rose bush with my bare hand.
Naturally, I yanked my hand towards myself and looked down to see a plump, deep red drop of blood blooming on my finger that stung with pain. I went back inside to wash the blood off my finger with water. This was not the first time this has happened, but once my finger was cleaned off, I noticed something different this time.
Wedged deep inside my finger was a new, unwelcomed guest. A thorn. For the next several minutes, I pricked myself several times with a pin trying to get the thorn out of the most tender part of my pointer finger, but I was unsuccessful. I figured it would come out on its own in a few days and settled in for the evening.
Thorns In Life
Thorns are part of life, aren’t they? Not just the ones on rose stems, but ones that prick and pierce our heart and mind and wedge all the way into our soul. Those “thorns” can be a discomfort, a constant bother, even painful. Thorns can be a lifetime battle with a chronic disease, a hurtful experience from former years that still comes back to haunt you, or a family member that debates everything you say.
For me, my thorns have been with me for almost 30 years. And it’s not the tender-to-touch rose thorn in my finger. These longtime thorns pierced into my life when a sharp blade was pierced into my head as my brain was exposed to sterile, hospital room air. My life was spared when I had a 50/50 chance of coming out alive after brain surgery. By the grace of God, the obstacle in my brain was fixed. By the grace of God, I was left with other daily struggles I was not expecting that I’d live with the rest of my life: a loss of vision, trouble finding the words I want to say (called aphasia), and flares of chemical imbalance in my brain due to the trauma my brain experienced when it was cut open. Okay, I’ll say the word – depression.
Those are the thorns deeply embedded into my body that probably will not come out in this lifetime. (The real rose thorn in my finger did eventually come out almost a year later.)
Thorns in Scripture
Thorns go all the way back to the beginning in the third chapter of Genesis, continuing to grow and weave themselves throughout God’s story in the Bible, and in each of our lives today. In Genesis 3 Adam and Eve gave in to the serpent and ate the fruit from the Tree of Life that God had specifically instructed them not to do. After they disobeyed, God told Satan, Adam, and Eve their consequences. Satan will be crushed to death, and Adam and Eve will experience thorns and thistles.
“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.” Genesis 3:17-18
Jesus was not exempt from the pain of thorns while on earth, either. After Jesus had been flogged, beaten and spit on, the soldiers put a purple, royal robe on his shoulders. On his head, Jesus was made to wear a crown with twisted thorns made by people whose hearts were also twisted with thorns. The soldiers intentionally punctured the sharp thorns into Jesus’ head. As he was ridiculed and alone, drops of blood rolled down his face like tears as the soldiers hollered to the crowd with mockery and laughter, “Hail king of the Jews!” (John 19:1-3)
That crown of thorns stayed pierced into his head as he hung on a cross. But that crown of thorns did become a crown of beauty when Jesus crushed Satan to death, just as his Father said would happen, back in the beginning, when he promised that to Adam and Eve, and to us.
Thorns of Grace
Thorns in our lives remind us that we are not alone and abandoned. All throughout Scripture, people feel weak due to the thorns of suffering and struggle in their lives, but as Paul tells us what the Lord said to him about thorns: “My grace is enough; it’s all you need. For My power is made perfect in weaknesses.” (2 Cor. 12:9)
Thorns matter. Even though we don’t want them, even though they can hurt, we’re given the invitation to tell our story that includes thorns and how God allows them to stay so we’ll remember how we’re strengthened through his grace. Our physical and mental thorns can prompt us to recall the thorns of our suffering Lord and His love for us.
The Art of Struggling was intently written to guide your soul from the black, white, and grays of struggling into a life filled with beautiful colors of hope. This book was created to draw you closer to God when your world feels like it’s falling apart. You can purchase it on Amazon.
It’s been rhythmically structured to include stories of people in the Bible who struggled in their lives physically, emotionally, or even spiritually, along with examples of how these days we face the same struggles. Through a collection of written prayers, a story, reflection questions, Scripture, and an artistic expression option in each chapter, this book befriends the reader through times of struggling and how to persevere with hope.
If you’d like to receive more information about The Art of Struggling: Finding Hope When It Feels Like Your World’s Falling Apart you can subscribe to Beth’s website: www.bethhildebrand.com, or follow her on Instagram @ bethnhildebrand_author and Facebook at www.facebook.com/theartofstruggling
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