This is bull nettle. The stickers on the leaves cling to socks, shoes, and pant legs and impale bare feet and bare legs. I used to encounter this weed on a daily basis a hundred years ago when I used to play in the field behind our house, and I quickly learned to swerve around it.
Later on in life when I had my own lawn, I learned that bull nettle is happy to grow anywhere. From flower beds to grassy lawns, it’s a tough weed to eliminate.
It’s been many weeks since my last post because some weeds grew up around my heart and started choking my faith. I didn’t share my struggles while I was mired in bull nettle because I didn’t want to discourage those who might chance across my path.
Irony provides the color in a black and white world. You’d think that the writer of a blog titled ‘Everfaith’ would be a person who has the kind of faith that endures…well, forever, right?
The truth is, faith can be shaken, uprooted, crowded out, choked, withered and buried. Jesus talked about this as recorded in Matthew 13:
“Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground where they did not have much soil. They sprang up quickly because the soil was not deep. But when the sun came up, they were scorched, and because they did not have sufficient root, they withered. Other seeds fell among the thorns, and they grew up and choked them. But other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundred times as much, some sixty, and some thirty. The one who has ears had better listen!”
The people walking around with Jesus had no idea what he was talking about, so they asked him what he meant by this story. Here’s his explanation:
So listen to the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches what was sown in his heart; this is the seed sown along the path. The seed sown on rocky ground is the person who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy. But he has no root in himself and does not endure; when trouble or persecution comes because of the word, immediately he falls away.The seed sown among thorns is the person who hears the word, but worldly cares and the seductiveness of wealth choke the word, so it produces nothing. But as for the seed sown on good soil, this is the person who hears the word and understands. He bears fruit, yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.”
I’ve had worldly cares crowding in my life like bull nettle, and my faith suffered.
My daughter has been participating in a speech and debate club. It’s been my prayer all along that her involvement would lead to friends for all of us — friends with common interests. The problem with being a brilliant fifteen year old girl is that many kids your age become glassy eyed when you begin a conversation about black holes, string theory, evidence for creation, philosophers, Keynes vs. Hayek, founder’s intent, etc. She actually had one girl ask her to “stop using big words!”
So after the first day of debate camp last summer, my daughter was excited because, in her words, she and the other kids “got” each other. She found a niche with some other highly intelligent people who accepted her as she was.
Yet my daughter continued to feel like an outsider looking in. I realize this is a Fifteen Year Old Girl malady, but I prayed about it nonetheless because she was feeling sad and lonely. Then we went to a national open competition, and it was at that competition, way up high in the mountains, that I found myself feeling almost hostile towards God as I received this text message from her during the tournament down-time:
I’ve no one to talk to and I’m on the verge of tears. Scratch that I’m crying. Why won’t anyone talk to me this weekend?…Fine. Ignore me.
Three hundred students and she felt all alone. I’ve felt that way before. I had been hoping and praying that she would “click” and find some kids to hang out with during the very brutal 7:30am-11pm tournament schedule, but no such friend materialized.
And I got mad. Mad at God for this pattern in her life (as this was not the first message I’d received from her regarding the lonely topic). Mad at her for not reaching out. Mad at myself for failing to teach/model friendliness. Mad at God for taking her potential brothers/sisters before they were even born. My angst just snowballed, and I found myself mad at everything, from the cold weather outside to the dirty bathroom floor to the Father above who didn’t appear to hear my prayer. Bull nettle stuck to my clothes, my mind, my heart, and my soul.
Diligently I kept up with my nightly Bible reading, but my heart wasn’t in it. Questions that lurked below the surface that I usually refused to confront began begging for a hearing. If God hated human sacrifice, why allow His son to do so? Why did God demand total annihilation of the people in Caanan? These questions led to a real crisis of faith as I began doubting whether God even existed. Are we really just bundles of atoms and molecules randomly assembled?
I began prefacing my prayers: “Lord, if you’re really there…”
Consequently, I felt lost and abandoned. Bull nettle pierced my deepest thoughts as I watched prayer after prayer going unanswered, a little piece of my heart tearing away every time.
Then, nearly two weeks ago, a good friend of mine lost her twelve year old son in a terrible accident. Immediately I cried, “Why, God?” — and in an instant, I realized that I DO believe all along. How can I approach the throne –even reluctantly, even with anger in my heart — if I don’t believe that there is Someone listening? Who else can I get mad at when my friend’s son’s life was cut off in a heartbeat?
The same day we learned of that tragedy, we found out my dad has cancer.
Again, I cried, “Why, God?” Again, I realized that I can’t be mad at Someone I don’t believe in.
Fast forward to the Regional Invitational speech and debate competition which my daughter qualified for. The first day of the tournament, I found myself once again speeding off to find medicine for her very sick stomach (a trial she has endured with every tournament this year, and one which I had prayed over and over and over.)
But this time, I was furious. You see, I stopped reading my “through the Bible in a year'” program and had begun a short devotional series on faith. The night before, I read Jesus’ story about small faith leading to big results. To be sure, my faith was small. Do you know how small a mustard seed really is?
That’s pretty tiny. Jesus said if my faith in Him was as big as that seed, I would be able to TELL A MOUNTAIN to MOVE, and it would.
I tell you the truth, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)
Well, I knew that my measly faith was small. Maybe it was just microscopic, but still I prayed that my girl would be able to do this tournament without suffering such pain as she had in the past. She’d begun making friends (answered prayer) and feeling connected (answered prayer), but this pain led her to text me that this would be her last tournament. She just couldn’t handle the pain. Previous tournaments led to all-day sickness for her.
So I raced home to grab the prescription medication and proceeded to scream at God the whole way. Seriously. I yelled. Have you ever done that? Nobody else could hear (unless the NSA was listening in through my phone or my car or the streetlights…)but I yelled and cried and told God that I’d had it with anxiety in my life, and now in my child’s life. I’d prayed over it, cried over it, received therapy for it, and have medicine for it–yet it still interferes with living. Like bull nettle, it’s invasive and attacks without warning, leading to all sorts of sickness.
In Bible days, people thought sickness was the result of a demon. Jesus rebuked it, and it left, period. He gave that authority to his disciples — to rebuke sickness and demons, but there was one time that it didn’t work. They had faith, but they couldn’t heal a little boy, and they asked Jesus why their authority didn’t work.
“So they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw him, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell on the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. It has often thrown him into fire or water to destroy him. But if you are able to do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Then Jesus said to him, “‘If you are able?’ All things are possible for the one who believes.” Immediately the father of the boy cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
Now when Jesus saw that a crowd was quickly gathering, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “Mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” It shrieked, threw him into terrible convulsions, and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He is dead!” But Jesus gently took his hand and raised him to his feet, and he stood up.
Then, after he went into the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we cast it out?” He told them, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” (Mark 9)
If you are able? That was my prayer! And I reminded God that I had just read that story, and my faith was feeling pretty shaken what with finding out about the cancer and the 12 year old who died senselessly, and I really needed help yanking the weeds out of my heart because I was feeling in danger of losing what little faith I had to cynicism and unbelief. Like the father in the story, I yelled out, “I believe! Help me with my unbelief!”
By the time I drove back to the tournament, she didn’t even need the medicine, as her pain was gone. And I shook my head, marveling.
Is screaming at God all it takes to remove those thorns that choke out faith? As my daughter would say, that’s empirically denied, since I have scream-prayed before, to no effect. But this time I needed help with my unbelief.
And God delivered.
Thank you, Jesus, for kicking that bull nettle to the curb.