Like everyone else, I've had to deal with my share of thorns in my rose. I think I might even have been one to someone else a time or two. It's possible.
Anyway, during last Sunday's sermon our pastor at Peace Lutheran, Doug Warburton, told a story about a couple of thorns he had to deal with years ago when he was a young pastor in a new church.
He had been given his first congregation here in the Columbus area and among this congregation were a couple who were unhappy to have him as their pastor and constantly let him know it. They didn't like the direction he was taking their church, they wanted things done the way they wanted them done, which was not the way Doug was doing them. He endured these people until the day he pulled up the courage to tell them that if they were unhappy with him then perhaps they should seek out another congregation that was more in line with what they wanted. It was a difficult, unpleasant confrontation for our good-natured pastor. But the people did leave his congregation.
At that time Doug was volunteering as a Big Brother, and one morning some time after his last altercation with the troublesome couple he took the boy who was his Little Brother out to breakfast at First Watch. The couple was there in the restaurant.
"Can you imagine," said Doug, "being in a restaurant with fifty people and all you can focus on is this one couple sitting across the room from you?"
I could imagine it.
Anyway, he couldn't relax, he couldn't enjoy, he couldn't listen to what his Little Brother was saying to him. The very presence of these people was draining the outing of any pleasure.
Doug decided to face down the situation. He walked over the the couple's table and said hello and introduced his Little Brother.
Now, Doug was honest enough to admit that he wanted these people to see that he was a Big Brother volunteer, as if to say to them, hey, you see what a good person I am?
The encounter ran its brief course then Doug and his Little Brother returned to their table and ate their breakfast.
When they were finished Doug went to the counter to pay the bill but was told by the cashier that his bill had been paid. By the couple.
Doug's initial reaction, as he described it, was, "Grrrrrrr!"
Now at this point in Doug's story the verse from St. Paul Romans 12:20 popped into my head:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”
St, Paul obviously knew something about human psychology.
But then Doug went on to tell us that later, after some time had passed, the thought occurred to him that maybe the couple's motive in paying for his meal might have been something other than the snarky put-down it appeared to be. Maybe something else was going on that he didn't understand at the time. Maybe paying his bill was actually this couple's way of saying "Let's move on," and that it was time to let it go.
And that was the end of the story.
Now, I know the message of Doug's story was that sometimes there are things in our lives that we need to leave behind so that we can get on with our lives. But for me his story also served as a reminder that the people who are or have been the thorns in our rose don't really scratch us very deeply. They pop up on the surface of our lives, give us grief for as long as they're around, then when we're finally rid of them their memory leaves no more sting than an old mosquito bite, to the point that we can sometimes even spare a charitable thought towards them, if we ever bother to think about them at all.
It's probably better, though, if we don't run into them in a restaurant, right?