The Swedish writer Ellen Key (1849-1926) is reported to have said, “At every step the child should be allowed to meet the real experience of life; the thorns should never be plucked from his roses.”
They are sentiments that I can certainly agree with, although as a parent also ones that a part of me instantly questions.
Roses come with thorns and those thorns can hurt. Were my child to, in response to the fragrant beauty of the rose, reach out and roughly grab at the rose would it not cause him or her pain? Do I as a loving parent want for my child to feel hurt? And yet does not the feeling of that hurt teach the child not to grab the beautiful rose so roughly and in the process therefore not educate my child in some way?
Surely my child’s age and thus his or her ability to understand the purpose of those pain giving thorns must come into consideration here? Is he, is she, old enough to process what it happening and thus to approach the rose more delicately? And yet the thorns are not developed for the sake of my child but for the sake of the rose.
Would a true loving parent not have heartfelt compassion and indeed understanding when it came to the presence and indeed the effects of any thorns in their child’s life and decide when and how to remove them accordingly?
And there within we meet, I would suggest, just one of the considerations that all parents face at one time or other. When to protect the child from making mistakes and getting hurt and when to allow the child the freedom to make mistakes and get a little hurt so that he or she can learn from the experience.
But more importantly, or rather more significantly in respect of this piece, we also meet the reality that roses have – or so I am led to believe – developed those thorns specifically to act as a defense mechanism as their fragrant beauty attracts attention not only from bees and wasps etc (who do them little to no harm) but also of animals and people who do do them harm.
Now I have never considered myself to be a beauty and as far as I can recall neither have I ever claimed to be a rose but I would be remiss if I were not to acknowledge that in my life I have met any number of beautiful people who have as a result of their experiences developed their own thorns by way of protection in their vulnerability.
And that is the thing of it all. I may not consider myself beautiful but haven’t we all got something that is appealing about us and equally haven’t we all got vulnerabilities?
My children and my parents find my inability or at best reluctance to accept affirmation and to consider myself worthy of affection very frustrating. “I know you don’t see yourself this way, but you are beautiful” is a statement that is often used. Even my Momma’s song for me (we all share special songs with each other) is John Lennon’s Beautiful Boy for the specific reason that she does see me as being beautiful in her eyes and does recognize my vulnerabilities.
A lot has happened in my life and having experienced mental health issues all of my life – or at least as much of it as I can remember – I had and still have vulnerabilities and how no doubt that I have developed my own protective thorns.
In this series I am taking a close, open and honest look at my isolation, where it comes from, why it exists and indeed what it is doing to me. Can I truly do this without accepting that some of that isolation may well be resultant from the very thorns that I have consciously or subconsciously developed to protect me?
I look back at what few pictures of myself as a child exist and I can see those vulnerabilities and yes I will even admit that I can see that beauty that others speak of in me. And yet I also know those thorns we there growing and developing.
Whether needed in reality or simply in the perceived reality generated by my mental health they were there and I want to be very candid about this and admit that a very large part of me has to say that regardless of whether that reality existed or was only perceived it was none the less the reality that I knew and thus those thorns had a very real place and purpose.
Now don’t get me wrong here – at no point, in my personal situation, were they obviously threatening or obviously extreme but they did exist and did without doubt have a very real impact (albeit it often very subtly) on my relationships.
Just as a rose develops thorns to protect it and to influence and in some way control the way it is approached, handled and treated so too do we humans and so too did I. And I would venture to suggest that I am not alone in this.
So I have no doubt in my mind that those thorns did influence my relationships and have an impact on how people would treat me and respond to me. But perhaps more significantly I have to accept that those relationship (colored, influenced and controlled to various degrees by those thorns) then shaped and colored and controlled future relationships which in turn influenced future defensive thorns. There is a cycle here, a vicious circle isn’t there?
And what happened to those thorns? Did they fall off when they were no longer needed or have they remained? Or did others simply grow in their place or even develop and grow along side them? I have little doubt that they did/have and that saddens me greatly. But what saddens me even more is the thought of the relationships that have been lost or denied or damaged as a result of my thorns.
As I said before, In this series I am taking a close, open and honest look at my isolation, where it comes from, why it exists and indeed what it is doing to me. If I am to fully consider this I must consider those thorns, their effect, their possible existence and purpose in my life even now and indeed whether I need to work on removing some of them.
A rose is, without doubt, a thing of beauty and appeal and it’s beauty and appeal should be apparent and whilst the presence of any thorns understandable they should not be so great as to rob that rose of its beauty or to detract from it.
Of course, without wishing to reduce my own responsibility in this I also want to acknowledge that much of that is dependent on the person observing or approaching the rose and what they choose to focus on and/or see. I think it was the French critic Alphonse Karr who stated, “Some people are always grumbling that roses have thorns; I am just thankful that thorns have roses.” (Or something along those line.)
And is there not an even greater consideration here? As a Christian I have given my life to Christ and am an ambassador for Christ. Whilst those thorns may well have had a place and purpose in my life before and indeed may well have been designed as a deterrent and a defense, can I in all honesty accept their presence and function now? Am I not meant to be welcoming and inviting and to rely and trust in Christ?
Should I be allowing such thorns to prevent others from knowing me fully and thus having a chance to see Christ in my life?
Does Christ know of and understand those thorns in my life? Yes absolutely. Does He think any the less of me for their presence? I seriously doubt it. Does He want them in my life? Well in answer to that I have to return to the beginning of this piece and something that I said then…
“Would a true loving parent not have heartfelt compassion and indeed understanding when it came to the presence and indeed the effects of any thorns in their child’s life and decide when and how to remove them accordingly?”
Yes those defensive thorns serve a purpose in the life of a rose and indeed our defensive thorns can serve a purpose in our lives but at what cost?