It's so natural, intuitive even, to settle one's vision on the rough parts of anything. It's the way we protect ourselves.
Whenever we know exactly what we are dealing with, we feel we are better prepared to fight against it or rise above it or bring it under our control. When there is an enemy, it is always better to have the upper hand. And the way to gain that advantage is to know every side of the evil.
So, we study it. We caress it's edges. We keep it close at hand so, in the moments between other moments, we can pull it out and remember how it wants us.
And oh, how it wants us.
Its pursuant tendrils silently wrap and curl into our shadowed folds and feed on the darkness. And the rough and the dark? They become silent, parasitic partners.
We believe we are armed for battle when, really, we are wasting away in our deepest places.
In nature, thorns are fortifications that protect a plant from being eaten by predators. A great many fruits and edible flowers are kept alive by the trails and rings of thorns surrounding them.
My life this past year? It has been rife with trails and rings of thorns. Walking alongside my mom through her illness and chemotherapy and eventual death was the most difficult thing I have ever done. And my default? More often than I care to admit, it has been to succumb to the vacuum of scarcity that Life's defense manufactures. Because when all I see and feel and experience is prickly and nettlesome, I can't help but feel shut out from the beauty.
But that's exactly the arc of the great ache--that our experiences that are often strewn with thorns are but stations on a path ringed with beauty and joy. If a thorn's design is to protect, then it follows that their presence is purposeful and necessary. They remind us that all the things that are true and noble and reputable and authentic and compelling and gracious are prized and sought after. They remind us that joy and pain are profoundly intertwined.
For me, this is where my faith in a God of grace and mercy becomes manifest. For when I am willing to take the joy and the pain in both hands, God's immense love and care for me provide yet a third cord. Taken together, they become a holy braid that is not easily broken.
Where are you, today, friend? Are you knee-deep in the pain and struggle? Do you feel wrapped in thorns, as if Life wanted to "protect" you from the good you see and that others seem to have in spades? Perhaps, your go-to response is bitterness, anger or, worse, indifference. What if there was another way?
I wrote today's post as a way of partnering with Margaret Feinberg and to help spread the word about her latest book Fight Back With Joy.
This book began as an intense study of the over 400 references to joy in Scripture. Margaret was in the final stages of writing her book when she received a cancer diagnosis. Suddenly, all the sources of joy that she had discovered were turned on their head in the shadow of her illness. In an instant, her understanding of true joy was called into question. In writing Fight Back With Joy Margaret "discovered facets of joy that no one ever taught me—more than whimsy, joy is a weapon we can use to fight life’s battles."
You can purchase the book at both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Margaret has also created a 6-session DVD Bible Study kit that is available for purchase.