Recently, a friend of mine who lives in New Zealand wrote from Auckland about some career changes in his life, citing the familiar saying "You can be upset because rose bushes have thorns, or you can rejoice because thorn bushes have roses." He said that it depends on your point of view.
True enough. I know people who like the excitement and the generous salary that come with their job, yet resent the 12-hour workdays. And I have friends who are thankful to have a job in their senior years, yet at the same time wish they could have the leisure that retired people enjoy.
I've been dealing with some painful thorns myself lately. A member of my family recently suffered what I felt was flagrant verbal and emotional abuse. A seemingly sound marriage was suddenly foundering. She was pregnant, and facing the prospect of raising two children as a single mother.
She took temporary refuge in our home, and after many hours of praying together, she readily agreed that there was only one sure way to proceed - to take the hand of God and let Him guide her. No more agonizing, no more uncertainty, no more choosing among bad options. No more complaining about the thorns. Time to cultivate the roses.
The barbs of disappointment and discouragement had to be overwhelmed with love. I remembered how Jesus had explained the nature of love to his disciples when they were sorely tested. He said: "I've loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you'll remain intimately at home in my love. That's what I've done - kept my Father's commands and made myself at home in his love." And Jesus said he was telling them these things for a purpose, "that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature" (John 15:9-11).
In dealing with my own anxiety and disappointment, I became convinced that Jesus wasn't just offering a comforting pat on the back. It was a call to action. He was pointing to the unselfish and all-embracing nature of true love. He was insisting that the torch of love be passed from one to another - even in the face of rejection. He was making it clear that the love I express is born of God, secured by God, sustained by God. So I can't pick the ones I love.
In an encouraging passage in her book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," Mary Baker Eddy wrote, "Whatever holds human thought in line with unselfed love, receives directly the divine power" (pg. 192). With unselfishness comes power.
This confirms for me that I have a choice. I can really make an effort to love unconditionally, which blunts the thorns without destroying the rosebush - or I can allow myself to be manipulated by all kinds of personal feelings. And I know that God gives me the strength to choose His way.
As God's love grows deeper within me, I feel the need to set aside my opinions about who's right and who's wrong. Preacher and author Peter Marshall once offered this helpful prayer: "Lord, where we are wrong, make us willing to change. And where we are right, make us easy to live with."
If I let selfish emotions dictate my course of action and take control of my joy, the signals will always be wrong, however they look, good or bad.
And so my trust in God's power to anchor and bless our family is being forced to grow stronger by the day. I'm no longer trying to figure out or influence how this marital tangle will be resolved. And I've decided not to measure progress by how the details change from moment to moment. I'm learning how essential it is to be less sure of myself humanly and more sure of myself spiritually. And this is uncovering a whole bunch of neglected qualities I want to be more diligent about developing, such as cheerfulness, supportiveness, trust, gratitude, love.
I've made my choice. I'm cultivating roses.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society