|Last of October, 2.5" x 3.5" gouache|
Let me start with Jesus' story about what has happened to me. You remember the parable of the sower, don't you?
“Behold, a sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth.6 But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. 7 And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. 8 But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” (Mt. 13: 3-8)
Altogether He describes four different kinds of soil. I live in the desert southwest, so I have a yard full of the first three:
- The hard path where the dirt is packed like concrete and nothing grows.
- The stony, sun scorched earth, where little plants wither away.
- The corner where the weeds are tangled up together in an impenetrable mass.
In some places there's also healthy, dark, rich soil where good, green plants thrive. In theory.
When His disciples asked Him for an explanation of this parable, Jesus further described that third soil this way, "Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful." (Mt. 13:22)
When I was a girl we had a large, untended pyracantha bush sprawling up a wall in one corner of our yard. Mom wore thick garden gloves to cut long branches that she carefully arranged in a big vase from time to time. I knew it was thorny, and had been told to stay away from it, but it was around the corner in a side yard where I didn't usually play. One day my beloved soft, gray rope got twisted under the big bush and stuck fast. I pulled and pulled, really leaning on it, but it wouldn't budge, so naturally I decided to crawl in under there and untangle it from the twisted trunks and branches. The thorns, as long as your thumbnail, run all along the branches, but all the little rounded green leaves and pretty red-orange berries disguise them. Once I crawled under the bush there was little I could do. Bleeding, I yelled and yelled until my dad finally came to painfully disentangle me from some very nasty spikes stuck in my head, hair, arms, hands and back. The rope came out of the encounter a few feet shorter, leaving a part beneath the bush that progressively frayed into a soft, fuzzy mass, never to completely disappear.
I'm not surprised Jesus used thorns to describe the state of one who hears the word but lets stuff steal her fruitfulness. Those thorns can be so subtle, disguised by things that look pretty and appealing, but once you're caught it's really painful to try to get free. The hurt is sharp and deep, and you bleed. In some ways it's tempting to just stay put and not move, but you'll only get more tangled up. In fact, you often have to wait for help, even when you discover your trouble, because the struggle only catches you faster in the grip of thorny pain.
I know the word. "Do not love the world or the things in the world." (1 John 2:15) "...do not be conformed to this world..." (Romans 12:2) But I'm tangled up in cares and riches. Again. Don't get me wrong. I'm not rich by American standards. I don't have enough material possessions for most people to consider my cares to be too significant. But anyone may be caught in these thorny weeds, from the richest CEO in the biggest international corporation to the poorest, most pitiful street beggar. Thorns come disguised in all kinds of ways, ready to capture your heart with selfish wants and cruelly deceptive 'needs.'
Yesterday, when I tearfully described my predicament to my husband, he prayed for me and handed me this: The Blessedness of Possessing Nothing by A. W. Tozer. Tough read. Tozer doesn't back down from the truth. Amid his wise words there you'll find these:
The way to deeper knowledge of God is through the lonely valleys of soul poverty and abnegation of all things. The blessed ones who possess the Kingdom are they who have repudiated every external thing and have rooted from their hearts all sense of possessing. These are the "poor in spirit." They have reached an inward state paralleling the outward circumstances of the common beggar in the streets of Jerusalem; that is what the word "poor" as Christ used it actually means. These blessed poor are no longer slaves to the tyranny of things. They have broken the yoke of the oppressor; and this they have done not by fighting but by surrendering. Though free from all sense of possessing, they yet possess all things. "Theirs is the kingdom of heaven."If you find yourself pierced by the realization that things, including beloved people, material possessions, God-given gifts or talents, have you tangled up in them, stuck fast so that if you move you'll bleed, I recommend reading it. And praying.
My earthly daddy untangled me from a bush when I was a foolish child. Now I'm confident my heavenly Father will come to untangle me spiritually, as I surrender and call out to Him.