I've been thinking a lot about fruit and thorns lately; in my unrelenting restlessness they've been topics of internal and external conversations. But even though "fruit and thorns" sounds like a masochist's notion of an ideal breakfast cereal, I'm referring to the spiritual kinds of fruit and thorns.
In pondering thorns, I Googled why roses have them. From what I've been able to find, it turns out Bret Michaels isn't exactly right. They don't all have thorns, but they all have at least some sort of prickly thing, and the prickly things serve as protection for the rose. So what we find to be a nuisance when handling a rose, or a clever metaphor for love and life when philosophizing, are there for a purpose grander than our own designs and intentions. Isn't that the way it always is?
The spiritual thorn. Paul talks about this in 2 Corinthians 12. The dictionary holds at least two definitions of a "thorn", one being the rose thing, and the other being as something that causes distress or irritation. I've always interpreted this last definition into the biblical passage, as it is something I wish was not there; it gets in my way, it envelopes me at times, I can't see past it, can't see any good reason for its existence...yes! Distress and irritation! But I started to think about how a spiritual thorn in my life may take on the role of the rose's thorn. I had never considered this stubborn, enigmatic chancre of an issue I'm dogged with could be for my own protection.
I'm almost totally committed to the belief that I have one. Over the past couple of years I've analyzed its purpose in my life. It's much more complex than just a source of temptation. Its presence blocks me from fully submitting to God's plans, entirely abandoning control in many facets of life, staying focused on Him; it consumes more than its fair share of my available mental and emotional vacancy, it causes me to react in ways that my maturing self has grown past in almost every other way. In short, it drives me up the wall and I have no control over how it affects me. I've pleaded more than three times for it to be taken from me. It never has been. In fact, I have prayed (just as recently as yesterday) that either I can finally see some fruit and purpose come out of it or it be removed entirely. Its sluggard presence, refusing to move in either direction, brings abrasion to no end. And yet, the ways in which I have seen God's presence within this thing has blown my mind. I don't see the fruit, but I see the watering. His grace is enough. It's meant to be there.
Fruit. I've never been much of a fruit person, and that's because it's messy and inconvenient. I have to cut my fruit into slices; I never just grab and take a bite. Another area in my life where I've been alarmed in discovering control-freak tendencies. I thought about it...I don't want to be surprised by what may be in the fruit. When I slice it beforehand, I get to see all of it first. I can remove any parts that aren't appetizing to me. I know entirely ahead of time what I'm getting into, and how long it's going to take me to complete the task. Plus, I just hate getting my hands dirty and this way I stay cleaner.
And also, as always, the events of the physical parallel the spiritual. I also want to be in control of my spiritual fruit. Or at least the event coordinator for how the fruit will come about, since the fruit is really character growth, reflecting how the presence of Jesus has changed us into something just a little more resembling His likeness. I am unable to control that, but I'd like to be in charge of how it comes about. And I sense that my struggle right now is in believing that the back-and-forth maddening cycle of being totally overwhelmed and utterly consumed by monotony is any sort of fertile field in which fruit can grow. A big waste of potential...my looming legacy, in my mind. I see a vast plain of nothing coming out of whatever gifts I've been given. The notion itself is preposterous and yet feels as real as the crumbs on my kitchen floor.
Well, I've got some activities coming up on my calendar that appear to be scheduled spiritual growth. I tend to look to this stuff so I can point to something that says I'm doing something meaningful. I just don't want to feel left behind, and while I know that seeds sown both today and long ago will sprout at some point, this waiting period seems to infinitely go on. The thorn rubs this in.
Perceiving my thorn and all that I'm struggling with as protection, though, brings me to a new level of awe when I consider the Lord's hand on me. The need to feel control is so pervasive, and it really is about how we define success, fear, and failure and how our worth in our own eyes is shaped by these things. Someday I know I will see the greater purposes in my thorn, but also the fruit I never had a glimpse of while residing on this earth that came about because of the thorn.