Meet the beautiful barberry bush, popular with landscapers for its striking reddish leaves and year-round hardiness. This bush grows near a corner of our house, but I admit that it has not been near and dear to my heart! If you look closely, you’ll see the long, dark brown, spiky thorns that line each branch. A few years ago I was painting that corner of our house, and decided that bush needed to go–it was much too painful to be around!! But as you can see from the picture, the bush remained. What the barberry bush is not known for is its tiny, barely noticeable flowers. But up close, those flowers are beautiful! If I had not taken the time to really look, I would have missed them.
People can be a lot like the barberry bush. Sometime life’s troubles lead to thorny growth meant to protect our hearts, and those spikes end up staying long past the threat of danger. Perhaps a parent’s words, ridicule from childhood peers, or some form of trauma has caused a us to become harsh and unpleasant to those around us. In trying to protect ourselves, we end up pushing away those who could bring joy to our lives.
God doesn’t want us to live like that! He wants to give us a tender heart (see Ezekiel 11:19) and a life full of His joy. Jesus says in John 14:9-12, “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you” (NLT). Loving God and loving others softens our hearts and brings us great joy.
Now think about the people around you. Do you have someone in your life that resembles a barberry bush? Someone who is thorny and painful to be around? Look for the blossoms. They are there, I promise! Those flowers may be small and hard to find, but the reward is worth the effort. Focus on the blossoms, and the thorns will fade into the background. You can’t change anyone, but God can. God loves them more than you can conceive, so leave them in His hands.
Change your focus, live out God’s love, and let the joy of the Lord be your strength!