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Why All the Thorns and Thistles?
By Robert Berendt

Why all the challenges in life? Parents naturally try to make life as easy as possible for their children. But is this really the best approach?

ife is amazing, marvelous and tough. Any living thing is a creation that boggles the mind, and it seems the closer we look, the more wondrous it is that anything actually lives at all! There are so many obstacles and enemies of life.

Humans are born through pain and difficulty. Parents then embark on a lifetime of care, fear and worry about their children. Scratching out a living involves a lot of work, and things continually seem to go wrong. Often our question is, "What next?"

A hard life on the farm

I recall some of the best vacations of my life on my uncle's farm. There was always work to do, it seemed -- and when it was just about completed, something else came up.

When I was a boy, my uncle used plow horses. On a given day anything from a broken horseshoe to a broken harness to some other mishap was common. It was a rare day when we did not need to stop for repairs or for unforeseen circumstances. When all seemed perfect, a neighbor would call and need some help or a piece of machinery would need repairing.

As I think back to those times, I also remember that I thoroughly enjoyed every minute. We learned great lessons with the events of each day. Patience, determination, commitment to a task, not allowing the unexpected to deter us and the pure joy of working -- these were among the many lessons that I benefited from.

When a person puts his or her mind to solving problems, he or she benefits in many ways.
I have often wondered why life needs to be as hard as it is. I have also noticed that the present generation, which has largely grown up in the city environment, does not seem to have the same drive toward work and responsibility. At least, that is the way it seems for so many. There are a lot of wonderful young people -- don't get me wrong on that -- but somehow there is an overall degree of character that has been diminished.

Opportunities to grow

"Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall" was a song and a theme that I remember. Without troubles we would grow to be self-indulgent, reliant on others and ill prepared to handle life. Troubles are opportunities to grow!

When a person puts his or her mind to solving problems, he or she benefits in many ways. First there are character traits that form. One is determination. Then there is the exercise of the mind in gathering information. From that point we move toward sorting and judging various approaches so that we can make the best possible decisions in solving our problems. We develop abilities in good judgment and ingenuity in this way.

Finally, there is the satisfaction of solving a problem. This leads to greater self-confidence and self-respect. God knew that hard work and "thorns and thistles" (Genesis 3:17-19) would be necessary for mankind to develop the kind of character that would allow God to trust His children-to-be (Romans 8:16-17) to inherit all of His creation. Only then would God trust us with spiritual bodies that never die or grow old, and with the ability to share in His great power (1 Corinthians 15:43-44,53).

Working on my uncle's farm and having little jobs to do as a young boy never hurt me. As a matter of fact, that was what made me a responsible adult. It was a job like the daily task of stopping at the home of the Hamilton family in my hometown to empty the ashes from their coal furnace that taught me to be punctual and to fulfill a responsibility. The pay was $5 per month and, for me, that was big money.

Parents hope their children will grow up to be responsible adults, and moms and dads rejoice when they do. There are times, though, when parents fret and worry because children seem to lack the drive and determination needed to succeed. They simply may not have had enough hills to climb or rivers to cross.

Nobody seeks or wants troubles and problems, but thorns and thistles do grow in our lives. In nature, we can marvel at the difficulty of removing such aggravations from a garden or the farmer's field. No sooner have we done a good job of destroying those bothersome plants than we turn around and there they are again.

A fresh look at thorns and thistles

Perhaps a fresh look at the thorns and thistles of life is warranted. Paul stated that he had learned a positive lesson from all his troubles. He learned to be content no matter his state (Philippians 4:11). Hebrews 5:8 tells us Jesus learned obedience by the things He suffered. Paul also showed concern about the wrong things that careless lives can lead to.

In 1 Timothy 5:13-14 and 2 Thessalonians 3:10-13, Paul encouraged people to work and be responsible. Idleness leads to aimlessness, gossiping and actions that result in a life that is less than full.

Children need challenges in their growing years so that they develop the character needed to fight all the battles they will face during their lifetime.
Children need challenges in their growing years so that they develop the character needed to fight all the battles they will face during their lifetime. Accepting challenges correctly brings about an excitement and zest for life. Life becomes an exhilarating daily experience. Thorns and thistles become instruments for our education, and the Bible explains that "the sleep of a laboring man is sweet" (Ecclesiastes 5:12).

We call God "Father" because He has our best interests at heart. Parents can emulate that kind of love. Some call it tough love. Making sure your children have just the right amount of thorns and thistles is a responsibility that benefits parents as well as children. Let us face our lives with clarity of mind and the expectation of being the better for all that life brings.

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Copyright 2010 by United Church of God, an International Association All rights reserved.

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