I came across this story while listening to the audiobook version of The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer. It struck me so profoundly I spent the next few kilometers repeating the stunned mantra of “oh wow... oh wow...”. I was so moved that I wanted to retell in my own words to reduce the risk of forgetting it but also in an effort to personalize it, if for no one else’s benefit but my own.
So here we go!
Once upon a time, Jon was working in the woodlot out behind his country home clearing away the over-growth. As it happened, while attempting to jerk a stubborn root from the ground, Jon fell backward. He landed with a thud, his pride hurt a little but he became aware of a stinging pain in his left arm.
Jon gave his head a shake as he regained his feet and turned his attention to the stinging in his arm. To his dismay, he discovered that the source of his pain was a large thorn that must have pierced his arm when he fell.
He reached to grab the thorn and upon just the slightest pressure it sent searing pain up and down his arm. Jon recoiled quickly and said to himself “I won’t do that again!”
Jon went about his work being extra careful as to not disturb the thorn in his arm. If he became too carefree, the brush of his jack or a stray tree branch on the thorn sent a very acute message that Jon needed to pay careful attention.
After a while, Jon thought he could come up with a solution to keep his thorn from being touched - banged accidentally getting in or out of the shower or puttering in his workshop. So he fashioned a type of plastic guard that he could wear around his arm, and the guard would keep things from inflicting more pain.
The guard worked well until the autumn came, and the cold north wind began to blow. It was time for a jacket to fend off the sharp cold wind. Unfortunately, his coats could not fit over the guard protecting the thorn in his arm. He decided to cut the arm off his coat to accommodate the guard. While it worked, it didn’t take long for the cold north wind to lash Jon’s arm raw.
Jon pondered this dilemma and decided he could make a full-length guard for his arm. Jon was impressed by his design and knew it would keep his arm warm and provide protection for the thorn in his arm. Somehow, it seemed like a small price to pay that the new guard made it impossible for him to do any work with his arm safely in the full-length guard.
In the fullness of time, Jon met a Judy. She was lovely in every way. He told her about the thorn and boasted at length at his innovation, along with a substantial list of the ways that he couldn’t be touched lest the thorn in his arm is disturbed triggering the intense pain up and down his body.
The relationship advanced, and they fell in love, and as most understand the acts of intimacy and affection threatened the thorn in Jon’s arm so much so that Jon would recoil in anticipation or shout in angry pain on the occasion that the torn was touched. Can you say “a mood killer!”
In utter despair, Jon built one more solution - a metal frame, like a roll cage that he strapped himself into to maintain a 2-foot barrier space between him and anything that could touch the thorn. It was an effective solution, but it also served quite well for keeping Judy out too.
This absurd little story serves to illustrate some of the lengths we will go to to protect the thorns in our life. It also illustrates how in doing so it has consequences for the quality of our lives and our relationships. Consider, if Jon had chosen to deal with the thorn, he would not have had to live his life accommodating and protecting it from the world.
While it's possible you may have an actual thorn you need to deal with, thorns can take many forms but are typically associated with some kind of significant emotional loss. Experts tell us there are over 40 kinds of significant loss that people can experience. There is a lot of energy (pain) around these losses in our life. What makes matters worse is the experts tell us that loss is cumulative - they build upon each other and can cause us difficulties in many ways.
I get it. There have been things in my life where I felt powerless and quite terrified to address. I have built barriers around my life to make sure nothing touched the thorn. I have been guilty at lashing out at those closest to me when they inadvertently brushed up against that thorn. Sometimes we feel like the only solution is to muddle through as best we can... until we can’t.
Sometimes the things we use to protect and insulate us from the sting of our wounds stop working or the side effects of our coping mechanism cause us a different kind of pain. It is here we need to make a decision - to address the wound, get some help, or look for another more isolating, short-term, toxic strategy of avoidance - at the expense of real life and relationships.
“With our thorns, you light a fire. The open wound in us is the place where your love comes flowing through.”
-Brother Roger, Sources of Taize
I am a huge advocate for life-giving spirituality. The reality is even when we feel most lost and hopeless, we are not alone, and we can ask for grace for the healing journey. A caveat if I may ... sometimes we can use faith/spirituality as a tactic to avoid dealing with our thorns. Sometimes we can build a spiritual identity around our pain, spiritualizing the pain and taking on the role of the suffering martyr. This can be just another kind of gimmick we fashion to avoid dealing with the pain. Faith is not a Free Pass for the pain and hurt of life. Rather faith assures us we are not alone and provides courage, strength, and hope along the way to healing.
The path to our healing is through our thorns - there are no shortcuts. When we decide to face and begin to deal with these thorns, we can discover life afresh. We are on our way towards a renewed vitality and resilience having worked through our pain.
- What thorns are you living with?
- What strategies are you using to avoid dealing with the thorns in your life?
- Do an inventory. In what ways are you not enjoying life as a result of your thorns?
- Is it worth it?
If the answer is no, Then maybe its time to remove the thorn. Prayer is a great start, and along with it, sometimes we need a faithful, forgiving friend for thoughtful support. For some thorns, it may be a good idea to connect with a mental health professional as well. Whichever you choose, this is the first step.
Don’t worry about the next steps right now. All I am asking of you is that you make this first step towards changing your life for the better.