Part of the consequences of Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the garden was that Adam would have to work the ground to provide his food, but it would produce thorns and thistles as well as food. Eden had no thorns or thistles, but Adam would contend with them every day outside of Eden. They were part of the landscape…part of how things worked outside of Eden.

Thorns hurt…a lot. They can puncture or tear flesh, and it may takes days for the pain to subside and the wound to heal. The thorns in our lives never go unnoticed. They are the big, painful events. They can look like a heartbreak, a crisis, a setback, or dead end. They do not go away quickly and they can leave wounds in our self-image and our dreams.

Thistles are not the big painful parts of life outside of Eden; they are more the constant, prickly irritations that we must work around every day. They look more like frustrating interruptions, unplanned complications, and difficult people. They are visible when our best intentions fall far short of our hopes and when our joy is stolen by petty problems and selfish people. These “thistles” can sidetrack our positive attitude and cause us to focus on the prickly present, rather than the ultimate good.

God warned Adam that he would face thorns and thistles in his life outside of Eden. For the rest of his life he would have to deal with them as he provided food for his family. As a result of disobedience, God could not allow him and Eve to stay in Eden. Leaving Eden was their punishment; thorns and thistles were just part of the way of life in the world outside the Garden.

We can’t go back to the Garden of Eden, but we can have intimacy with God in the midst of the reality of a life lived with thorns and thistles. They are not a punishment God gives us daily; they are just the reality of where we live. God can use them to strengthen us or to refine us, but how we respond to them is our daily choice. Adam had to produce a harvest despite the problems; so do we. May our focus always be on the abundant fruit God calls us to produce, not on the thorns and thistles vie for our attention.