Friday, December 27, 2013

Loving Thorny People: For the Love of Roses, We Must Tolerate Thorns

In the Spring through the Fall, I work for the family business doing landscaping and general shrub maintenance. When it comes to shrub and tree maintenance, the bulk of the work is trimming, and having been involved with this line of work for over ten years, I’ve seen a fair share of the good, the bad and the ugly.

For instance, there are easy shrubs that make one love the job, mundane ones that make one say TGIF, tall ones that require working from a ladder--usually on uneven ground (this keeps things interesting), small ones that require knee pads if you cherish your knees...and then there are the beastly ones that make one want an office job. The most annoying and irritating of all plants are usually the tall or massive shrubs, like cedars or spruce, which require standing on the section of the ladder labeled, “Do Not Stand or Sit” (a.k.a., the top)--on uneven ground, of course--with outstretched arms high above the head to reach the top of the plant with pruning shears; these massive ones are sure to make one sore by the end of the day. 

Besides the massive shrubs and tress, however, there are a couple types of shrubs that send “pricklies” down my spine--literally: rose bushes and barberry bushes. These shrubs have hellish thorns, and if they were removed from the face of the Earth, I would be a happy man.

Barberries are tolerable and I have managed to work with them (only with steel gauntlets, though), but rose bushes have incessantly provoked the defenses of my sanity for years. I hate rose bushes because they are from the pits of hell.

Do we seriously have rose bushes in our yards only because of their flowers? The destructive power of the barbs of death that line their branches far outweighs any beauty those pedals can emit. They ought to be destroyed.

Of course, the only ones complaining about roses are landscapers like me and robbers who happen to rob the houses with rose bushes. For the most part, though, people adore roses. Dozens of them make florists rich every February, and they brighten up centerpieces or bedroom dressers in no time.

Roses are perfect example of love because the flowers cannot be separated from the thorns without the picker being in danger of being poked by the thorns. Every time we desire the “good part,” (the pedals), we must handle the “bad part” (the thorns) in order to separate the two. Love consists of the good parts and bad parts, and rose bushes have them both. 

The question is, why is it so easy to focus on the thorns? When two people interact, it is likely that one (or both) will detect the “thorns” of the other. There will be something about the other person that repels the first person, and the other way around. Every given relationship between two people in the entire world will consist of them eventually finding something wrong with each other. Add a third or fourth person to the relational mix, and the thorns multiply. Why do you think slander exists?

Yet everyone in the world seems to find friends with a number of these “thorny” people. What determines which thorny bush will befriend another when they all have thorns? 

What makes us tolerate our friends’ thorns while rejecting others with the same thorns?

Why can’t we understand that there will always be thorns in people? 

This whole world is filled with thorns, so why do we make it such a big deal when we see them in someone else? 

I think it’s time to rethink how we view others--both friends and enemies. 

Personally, I abhor arrogant attitudes in people. I am repelled by many vices, but arrogance is the worst. The arrogant stature of a self-centered worldview is hard to tolerate. I would liken arrogance to a rose bush with only one half of a flower pedal and ten-thousand branches with a million thorns on each branch (I’m being hyperbolical). 

I forget, though, that I have thorns myself. I hate arrogance, but am I completely void of it myself? Certainly not. So who am I to insist that others change their arrogance when I possess the same vice? The same holds true for all vices that I hate. 

All that’s left for me to do is learn to live with the arrogance and vices of people, and only with the grace of God can I tolerate such thorns. Even if someone’s thorns may have pierced me and are imbedded beneath my skin, I still must learn to coexist with them. It’s hard, but forgiveness and grace are necessary if we are to live alongside thorny people who have jabbed us with their thorns.

Sadly, I can’t rid the world of rose bushes, nor can I rid the world of arrogance. What I can do, though, is let God rid the arrogance in me, and learn to live with the thorns of others. I may not be able to change the thorns of others, but I can do something about my own. I may not be able to change how my thorns affect someone else, but I can be gracious towards them when theirs poke back.

Forgiveness is hard to find in our thorny world, and I want to see more of it. Thorns of friends and thorns of enemies all require grace and forgiveness. It’s a necessary part of what it means to love others. I want to see everyone, myself especially, live with the thorns because love requires us to do so.

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