Thornsgiving—that’s this T-day, right?
Scottish pastor George Matheson (1842-1906) has a great deal to teach us about thorns and thanks. A popular preacher who overcame a handicap I’ll explain in a moment, he once said, “My God, I have never thanked Thee for my ‘thorn!’ I have thanked Thee a thousand times for my roses, but never once for my ‘thorn;’ I have been looking forward to a world where I shall get compensation for my cross as itself a present glory. Teach me the glory of my cross; teach me the value of my ‘thorn.’ Show me that I have climbed to Thee by the path of pain. Show me that my tears have made my rainbow.”
Matheson’s use of the word ‘thee’ is charming, isn’t it? A whisper to the past is heard like a distant church bell during an unexpected yet welcomed moment of silence during the now too familiar grinds and groans of the day. The word ‘thee’ brings us back to a God who is more rock and dirt than modern-day dispute, division or indifference.
Matheson did have tears and writes not from pleasure but pain. Many of us can relate to the depth of hurt and heartbreak in what could be called a Thornsgiving, 2020. Matheson, however, makes one thing clear. This is not gloom. This is no sour end or long season of winter despair. Rather, our thorns are gifts. Our problems are pathways not to more aches or even martyrdom, but to life and light, meaning and messages.
Matheson certainly shoveled his way through his hardships. He became blind as a young student studying the Word of God. Some church historians and commentators report that, as a result of this fate, he lost his one and only love at this time in his life. He never did marry. This loss for him likely sunk deeply and heavily in his soul. A connection cannot be made, as Matheson himself is not direct about this, but likely grief from this broken heart hit him hard the evening his sister, who cared for him and helped him through his theological studies, married.
This man of God who called many to the pews was able to write numerous articles and books in his lifetime including a simple hymn on the night his sister, the bride, started a new chapter of her life. If Matheson is anything like me, a single person hardwired for love and romance, his sister’s marriage against his single heart likely spurred a godly lament. Tears to God are always felt, especially when they are spilled from the heart.
The hymn Matheson crafted on his sister’s wedding night was titled, “O Love that Wilt Not Let Me Go.” Later, he shared the following about the hymn’s conception:
My hymn was composed in the manse of Innellan [Argyleshire, Scotland] on the evening of the 6th of June, 1882, when I was 40 years of age. I was alone in the manse at that time. It was the night of my sister’s marriage, and the rest of the family were staying overnight in Glasgow. Something happened to me, which was known only to myself, and which caused me the most severe mental suffering. The hymn was the fruit of that suffering. It was the quickest bit of work I ever did in my life. I had the impression of having it dictated to me by some inward voice rather than of working it out myself. I am quite sure that the whole work was completed in five minutes, and equally sure that it never received at my hands any retouching or correction. I have no natural gift of rhythm. All the other verses I have ever written are manufactured articles; this came like a dayspring from on high.
Perhaps you’ll never write a hymn, or even poetry for that matter. Nevertheless, I wonder what your message is, or what your message will be. When we lose the love of our lives (or loves, hopes and dreams in our lives), we can either live somehow with a gaping wound, and this is a clamorous ride, or, like Matheson, we can turn our pain to praise. Hear me out. This is no fast turnaround. But if we are to follow Christ then we will, in time, mirror Him in a prayer life that does include our asking God to teach us the value of our thorns. Our tears do make rainbows.
It’s true. This Thanksgiving may be a Thornsgiving for you. Don’t give your thorns away, or wish them away because this is true: no one can take your thorns, and thorns, as the Apostle Paul will tell you, never go away (2 Corinthians 12:7-8). Thorns do, however, hold information. They help us see Christ, the suffering servant. They also help us grow in a love not of this world, but in a love that helps this world experience Christ in us who are broken with a beautiful message not of self but of our Savior who saves. Like a dayspring from on high, yes, hallelujah, our thorn-crowned Savior saves.