I realize it has been less than a year since this was posted, but in both a literal (aka, the stickers in my yard are firing up again and the 2009 sticker battle is upon us) and metaphorical spiritually sense (some me, sure, but seems like many folks in my life are needing this challenge right now), this post, one of my favorites, is timely...
As anyone living in North Texas (especially areas that are more rural, or at least recently were) can relate, sticker weeds are a BIG problem in yards. When we moved to our current home in winter 2005, we barely had a yard at all, and what we did have was mostly dirt and stickers. We tried all kinds of things. We dropped seeds. Spread fertilizer and "weed-and-feed". Even sought advice from others...my Granny read about using "dried molasses"...and we did. We hydro-mulched the yard with Bermuda grass hoping it would take over...and to a point it did...but the stickers remained. Occasionally we would have "sticker pulling sessions", but no matter how much we gritted our teeth and tried to pull them, it was always only a fraction of the problem...a multitude of stickers remained. In the front yard, it wasn't as much of an issue since we didn't spend much time there, but our back yard was often "unplayable" to us (especially our young son) due to stickers...
But we didn't give up.
This spring, my wife went to a local nursery and asked about further anti-sticker strategies, specifically so we could win the fight in the back yard so Jackson could run amok at will. She was shown a method that was risky, almost illegal (apparently not though), and had to be done a certain way. Well, we did it (you'll have to ask Missy exactly what it was...I can't even remember!), and waited. At first, it was a big "uh-oh", as much of our back yard began to die. The stuff we liked was turning brown! Did we just kill off our whole yard? We were confused...we were glad to be killing stickers, but in the wiping out of them we had to wipe some "good" stuff away, too...
Well, a neat thing happened, and it wasn't something we even realized immediately. Well, the first part we did: the "good yard" stuff came back...and we even added some new grass (pallets of St. Augustine) in areas that were dominated by dirt and wouldn't grow anything but a few wispy weeds. But then a funny thing happened...one day mid-summer while I was out walking the yard, I suddenly realized something: THERE WERE NO MORE STICKERS! I mean, zero. All other attempts had produced little "sticker removal", and even if they sort-of worked, ultimately they were futile attempts. But when we finally "gave up", and did the extreme thing, it may have hurt a bit, but it worked.
But it hasn't been completely without need to do "yard sweeps" occasionally...
You see, our neighbors' yards (at least on two sides...can't speak for behind us) are chock-full of stickers, and it doesn't seem like they care to fight them. So, occasionally one wanders under a fence, or sticks to a shoe when I need to go retrieve a ball, etc., and drops roots. But you know what? It is no biggie now...the fight doesn't seem "futile". Oh sure, sometimes a bit of pain is still involved, because pulling stickers involves, well, little pokey things that like to dig into your skin! BUT, since we pay close attention (even Jax is in on it now...he is a good "sticker hunter"), we just expose, pluck, and it's gone. And the yard is again clear and safe for free play.
(Waiting for the "life/faith parallel"? Here it comes haha)
We need to do "sticker sweeps" in our own life. We all have crud that holds us back. But the problem often is that we want the easy solution...hoping to "luck out" and it works. One of less commitment, or of less pain being involved. But at some point, we all must realize that dying to "self" is exactly that: dying. But we don't like that. We want to hold on. We want easy. But the only solution is one that is risky... Surrendering to Jesus. Completely. I know we like to say grace is a "free gift", and it is, and that all we must do is believe, and that's true...but anyone who is holistically surrendered to the Lord knows that the process of surrender involves a bit of pain, or change of comfortable attitudes and habits...because once we really give in to God, our "yuck" is exposed. The process of total surrender can even mean some "good" things need to die for a season (like our yard did) to get it to where it needed to be, but the good came back with abundance...and the stickers were gone. Not gone for good since our friends and neighbors may simply not care or understand about our personal sticker removal focus (and temptation and evil will always try to fight through...much like the stickers all around us still try to "jump the fence"), but after total surrender, with realization that Jesus wiped our sins GONE with his death and resurrection, when the stickers try to fight back, as long as we keep "searching our yard" of life often, they are quickly plucked away. And we are again able to run free!
All this also brings a few biblical concepts to mind. First is the concept of "thorns". Several places in the New Testament allude to "thorns". Here are some samples:
Matthew 13:22The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.
2 Corinthians 12:7To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.
Hebrews 6:8But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.
Thorns, like stickers, seem to be those things that take our true focus and allegiance from God. Essentially, sin. Sometimes we "know" God, but are just so hamstrung by the crud holding us back, like the Matthew passage. Sometimes we are tormented, usually when God is doing amazing things, by "thorns in the flesh", like Paul had. And sometimes, we need to realize that when the culture around us is just "thorns and thistles", like the writer of Hebrews says, we need to be wary because it will get thrown to the fire...and we need to often ask, "Lord, is that me/us?"
In the end, however, the hardest part isn't sensing the stickers, thorns, sin in our lives that hold us back from true freedom...it is the willingness to truly die to ourselves and do "whatever is necessary" to come back into utter allegiance to Jesus. It can't be just gritting our teeth and "Taking care of things ourselves", like we tried to do with our sticker-pulling parties: in the end, they were just band-aids and the stickers still remained in force. Ponder this:
Matthew 5:29-30: 29If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
That's the tough part...the desperate part...the, "but if I totally surrender, I may need to take some drastic measures in my life, and folks will wonder about me" part. But look at yourself. What is your thorn? What needs to be "cut off"? Do you need to quit running with a certain crowd because they bring you down attitudinally or through your actions? Is there a relationship that is pulling you from the Lord? Do you need to put your computer in a public place or get accountability software so you don't look at inappropriate websites? Do you need to humble yourself and seek help from a professional in some area? These are all things that are a part of the "cutting off" process...and it will hurt, expose, etc. BUT, just like our back yard died and came back...we need to "die" and let God regenerate us...so we can truly run, play, dance, FREELY, without fear, with great joy! I still have personal stickers that pop up here-and-there, but I admit a few places I've had to "cut off" or "gouge out", and man, I'm so glad I did. It may have been hard, may have involved some confession to God and others, and the risk of unacceptance, rejection, and embarrassment was there...but it was all worth it so I could again experience the freedom that Jesus speaks of...
"And the more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had an established rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild."
--G.K. Chesterton, from "Orthodoxy"
Let's do what it takes and free ourselves so we can run wild for Jesus!