“Thorns and thistles”, I muttered under my breath as I watched forty pounds of dry dog food come pouring out of the torn bag and onto the floor of my vehicle. I was loading groceries into the back of my Expedition and as I attempted to slide a bag of dog food over to make room, the corner of the bag caught the edge of a dog crate and ripped open, hemorrhaging a river of pellets into my trunk space. Thorns and thistles. This has become my mantra over the past couple of years. There was a time in my life when the brokenness and difficulties of life were intensely frustrating to me. I wouldn’t have been able to articulate it at the time, but I was living with a notion, just below the surface of consciousness, that life was suppose to be a certain way. And I was reasonably disgruntled that my life was not as I supposed it should be. I would catch myself saying, if not aloud then certainly to myself, “Why does everything have to be so difficult?”. Now I know why things are difficult; thorns and thistles.
Cursed is the ground because of us; Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for us. (Genesis 3:17-18) Life is struggle, brokenness is the norm in this post-edenic world that we inhabit. Rather than lament the toil and adversity, we should be astounded when things go smoothly. While I use to rail against the audacity and injustice of a world relentlessly opposed to my agenda, I have come to terms with the reality of humanity’s desperate situation. My desperate situation. Life only makes sense when viewed through the lens of the Genesis narrative. The days of our lives are punctuated by toil, by the sweat of our brow will we obtain sustenance until we return to the dust from which we were taken. This somber truth resonates within all of us whether we like it or not.
The past couple of years have been especially heavy as we’ve had to say goodbye to a few of our bulldogges who had entered into old age together. Death is never easy to accept, but it’s particularly difficult when it swallows up multiple loved ones in rapid succession. I found myself increasingly aware of the corruption that permeates all of life, the pervasiveness of calamity. All of our splendid moments are riddled with imperfections and woes. No longer embittered by the eventuality of all things, I passively accepted the paradox of life. And with that acceptance came a subtle sorrow that gently enveloped me. Lurking just around the corner of every glorious moment is a darkness that threatens to frustrate all that is right in the world. In the midst of the swirling absurdities, a light pierced through the thick haze of heaviness that was the atmosphere that I breathed. Thorns and thistles are the reality, but divine intervention has set into motion the restoration of all things.
The addition of several puppies into our family over the past month has proven to be a blessing that I couldn’t anticipate. As I soak them up and breathe in their sweet breath, I’m keenly aware of the presence of God pouring into the deepest recesses of my aching heart. Thorns and thistles trampled and beaten back by raw, undiluted love. That’s the antidote, after all. A love powerful enough to reverse the curse. As I contemplate the profound blessing of puppies in my life, my thoughts find their way to the Christmas story. Because of thorns and thistles, the God of the universe penetrates our shattered world so that we might be saved from the ravages of our own deeds. He enters into our brokenness, He restores all of creation from the inside out through unrestrained love. And it’s because of Christmas that we experience the glorious moments, the beauty, the glimpses of perfection. Because God is with us, life is good. It’s not as it should be, but it’s good. We live within the tension of brokenness and restoration knowing that a day is coming where everything sad will become untrue. Puppies are proof of that future reality. They’re the incarnation of divine love, a glimpse into the life our hearts long for. And so tonight, on the Eve of the celebration of the birth of Christ, I mutter under my breath, not “thorns and thistles”, but “Merry Christmas”.