A small group of friends from church recently spent a delightful 24 hours away from our busy lives, our cluttered homes and those “joy-filled yet sometimes soul-sucking” dependencies of our kids, to focus on fellowship, faith, service and connection. We stayed at a lovely retreat center in a place set apart. We had deep discussions and we worshiped together. We had time of fellowship and laughter around a campfire. We pulled ourselves in to be filled up so that we might be free to go out into the world sharing Good News.
(We did this last year too. I think we’re addicted! See: Leave your kids and be a good parent!)
We included time for service, which was important for me! I wish we would come together more often to meet needs in the community around us. Easier said than done! Life is full of distractions and our own schedules take over.
So, I worked with the volunteer coordinator in the weeks before our retreat, hoping to find an impactful project for us. We came up with an idea – but only a few days before our retreat, severe weather came through and the lake flooded! (I hope this did not happen because of my plea for an impactful service project!)
Camp gathered us with other volunteers on a beautiful Saturday morning to do the glamorous work of cleaning docks, picking up sticks and clearing away mud. I unfortunately do not have the “after” picture, but we were able to make a visible change during the short hour we worked. It was exciting! Then the project coordinator pointed to the grassy hill on the side of the dam. It was filled with what I thought to be lovely purple flowers. He said, “Pull those thistles out.”
Um, what now?? This sloping landscape had hundreds of purple, prickly thistles.
Botanical.com (didn’t know this website existed – thanks Google) informed me that in agriculture, the thistle is a recognized sign of untidiness and neglect, found in good ground not properly cared for. It has always been “a plant of ill repute.”
So we grabbed shovels and spades and other sharp tools and attacked these thistles. I learned that thistles do not want to leave their good ground! At first, my husband and I worked alone on the hill while others continued work at the nearly cleared dock. I would stop, straighten my back, wipe away the dripping sweat, and then just stare at the seemingly endless field of purple!
We quickly realized we would not make a dent in this project unless we all worked together. So by the end of our service time, we were all attacking thistles and together we were able to clear that hill.
Our time was up, so we gathered together to pray before heading to the next activity. As we stood in a circle celebrating our achievement, someone noticed one lone purple thistle standing tall on that hill. The sight was met with simultaneous groaning and laughter!
But this image was captivating for me – it was convicting!
The thistle is like sin; it finds “good ground” – lives fertile and eager to trust God – and it tries to take over. It works to destroy what is good and separate us from God. We must be deliberate and forceful, and cast sin out! And to do this well, we join as community and allow God to dwell in our midst!
Yet we must know that thistles will never be gone entirely – sin will always hover nearby. Our humanness and our cultural tendency towards greed and selfishness stands tall before us – just like that lone thistle. This is our reality. It is not a view to be met with fear or despair, but with an understanding that we must continue to stand together, God among us, and continue to attack those thistles; continue to overpower sin with kindness, love and mercy. In all we do, with all we meet!
“For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” Romans 6:14