By Daniel H. King
M. P. Horban once told the story of a retired businessman who took great pride in his yard. But he had a problem. Try as he would, he could not get rid of the pesky crop of dandelions that ruined his otherwise perfect turf. He used the finest grass seed and the newest weed killers. But the dandelions still appeared, bright yellow over his beautiful lawn. Finally he wrote to a gardening expert. The reply included several suggestions and closed with this advice: “If none of these work, I suggest you learn to love dandelions.”
You know, that simple observation is filled with insight and instruction that we would all do well to comprehend. There are few Christians that I have ever known for any length of time and with any depth of relationship that have not, after a time at least, vouchsafed their gripes and complaints to me. Now, I am not looking down my nose at them in saying this, because I usually took the gracious opportunity which this situation afforded and unloaded a few of my own on them. You see, I am a complainer too. Most of us are. That does not justify me-or you, but it does make us come to grips with the reality of it in our lives. I do not like to look at myself in terms of the Israelites who “murmured, and perished by the destroyer” (1 Cor. 10:10). I had rather turn away from the spiritual mirror with a different perception of myself from what I actually am (Jas. 1:23). But, alas, I go to the mirror often enough that I cannot help but see the real me. It is a harsh reality. For I know that there are many things that are far different from the way that I would like them to be. Sometimes I meet real hardships, problems seem unsolvable, obstacles unmoveable, rifts unbridgeable, and the terror that arises from the simple realization that I cannot do a single solitary thing to change them makes me feel like a cornered animal, crippled and helpless, at the mercy of the Hunter. And the Hunter is God! Or, so I come to think in my moment of depression and desperation. For though I do not point my finger in his majestic face and question His existence or blaspheme His name or make some horrendous charge against His justice-yet I do something very akin to that. I complain.
When I come to my senses and get my feet back on the ground, my eyes focused and my bearings straight, then I realize what an incredibly foolish thing I have done. I am always sorry and repent and determine not to do it again. After a while I push the whole affair to the back of my mind and forget about it. (It is easier to do that when it is my sin than it is when it is someone else’s.) Then when I am sitting alone in my study, turning the pages of the Old Testament, probing its truths and pondering its mysteries, I wonder at the unbelievable stupidity of Israel and her hardness of heart as she wandered through the wilderness, saved from bondage by God’s matchless love and manifest power, and sustained by his benevolent bounty. How could her people have been so incomparably ungrateful as to complain and grumble and murmur as they did? And then I look at myself and I know. I am no better than they. God has bestowed upon me a plenitude of good things, good friends, loved ones, material and spiritual blessings. My way is generally pleasant. Yet when I am faced with one silly road-block that I can not get around, what do I do? I complain.
And so it is with most of us. And so it was with Paul, for a time anyway. Commentators have long puzzled over the exact nature of the “thorn in the flesh” which troubled the apostle because the Bible does not reveal the details. However, Scripture makes several features of the problem crystal clear (2 Cor. 12:7.10):(1) Paul had a problem, a painful and persistent one; (2) The Devil was the perpetrator of this molestation; (3) God, though he certainly had the ability to make this aggravating circumstance disappear, was not disposed to do so and thus took no steps to intervene; (4) Paul complained about the matter to God-not once but three times; (5) For his importunity (Lk. 11:5-8) he received only the mild rebuke. “My grace is sufficient for thee; for my power is made perfect in weakness.” But the simple statement was enough for Paul. As Horban said, “If we can’t change our circumstances, we can change our attitudes toward them.” The profound insight of this reflection is revealed in Paul’s faithful resignation to the will of God which attended it. Assuredly it should make us all ashamed when we complain: “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Wherefore I take pleasure in weaknesses, in injuries, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” Paul had learned to love dandelions!
How immeasurably hard it is for us to “count it all joy” (Jas. 1:2). Yet in the example of Paul we can derive consolation from knowing that it can be done, and as well, how to do it. It. It does not have to do with our circumstances. Rather, it has to do with our attitudes. If we can fix our attitudes, then our circumstances will not matter as much. Of course, it sounds easier on paper and in theory than it really is, but that should not send us “back to the drawing board.” Instead, it keeps us right where we belong-in the work shop, trying with all of our being to trust those words: “My grace is sufficient for thee . . . .” How can such irksome and unpleasant things as sickness, death, failure, etc., be described as “grace,” a “gift” from God of which we are not worthy? Only when we see them from the perspective that Paul did will we able to call them that and endure their vexations without our usual gripes and complaints. As an unknown poet once wrote:
Strange gift indeed-a thorn to prick,
‘To pierce into the very quick,
To cause perpetual sense of pain.
Strange gift! But it was given for gain.
Unwelcome, but it came to stay;
Nor could that thorn be prayed away!
It came to fill its God-planned place
A life-enriching means of grace.
O much-tried saint, with fainting heart,
The thorn with its abiding smart,
With all its wearing, ceaseless pain
Can be your means of priceless gain.
And so whatever yours may be,
From God accept it willingly.
But reckon Christ-His life, His power
To keep you in the trying hour.
And then your life will richer grow
His grace sufficient He’ll bestow.
In heaven’s glad day your praise will be,
“I’m glad for thorns; they strengthened me.”
Learning to love the dandelions that grow in our own yard is no easy job. But it is a chore that must be done. It will save us from bitterness and resentment and a host of other destructive emotions. Life will be more pleasant for us and those around us. And the service of God even under the most trying of circumstances will take on some semblance of design and purpose, and there is no question but that we will be better people and more profitable servants because of it.
Truth Magazine XXII: 12, pp. 202-203
March 23, 1978