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In Missouri this time of year, wild thistles are in abundance. Karen Estep explains what these weeds can teach us about the nature of sin.  

One day a few summers ago we met up with some friends at a local farm/orchard to have our kids play together. As we were walking around the property the four kids found this bright magenta flower. The other mom with us commented on how pretty it was, but my husband knew exactly what kind of flower this was. He quickly told the kids to put it down and not to play with any of the others around the property.

That very pretty, magenta colored “flower” actually belonged to a wild thistle. The stems of wild thistles are incredibly painful if touched because they are full of spikes, but the flower itself is a gorgeous bright color that holds all the seeds that then create future thistles … and on and on the cycle goes.  




While the flower part of the thistle is pretty, thistles themselves are incredibly harmful. They grow so fast that thistles will choke out any other plant around, especially if you have a crop that needs to be harvested. Thistles can also be dangerous for animals that are let out into pastures to feed. They are so harmful for farmers that my husband, who grew up on a farm, and his siblings were paid 5 cents for each thistle they pulled. The major part of the deal was the siblings had to pull the whole thistle up by the roots: no root equaled no money. They made so much money one summer that they were able to buy a swimming pool!  

In Missouri right now, thistles are in abundance. I’ve seen them on my nightly walks for the last month and some of these weeds are tall! (For a quick reference, I’m 5 '10 " tall, so for me to be aware that these weeds are tall is not a small thing… pun intended!) One of the fields I walk past nightly has become so full of them that the wildflowers don’t really have a chance of peeking past the thistles.  




These weeds remind me so much of how sin can look to us. The thistle flowers, much like sin, can seem beautiful and not harmful at all. So, we go and sin, pick up the thistle flower, and unbeknownst to us, we are really doing damage. The more we play around with the sin, the more sin we can spread, and the more harm we end up doing to ourselves and others. If we don’t pull our sin up by the roots, then we haven’t accomplished the whole task either. When we don’t figure out the root of our sin, we run the risk of that same sin growing all over again.  

As Christians we are called to use our talents to create a harvest. We cannot harvest anything when our own fields are being choked out by sin. As Christians we are called to use our talents to help feed others both physically and spiritually. We cannot do this when our fields are so full of sin that we cannot help people in need.   

The world right now seems to be so covered in sin, much like these weeds. It can feel like an impossible task to see the goodness among the sins, just like it seems impossible to see the wildflowers through the thistles. However, there is good all around us, even when we need to look longer or deeper in the field of sin.  




So, how do we move past the beautiful, bright, magenta attractiveness of the sin/thistle head? We pray, we do an examination of conscience, and we need to take advantage of the sacrament of confession. We need to always continue to put our faith in God, not on the things of the world.  

Sin can seem so attractive at first. We may even view it as the other mom did with the thistle flower and not realize how much harm it can do. However, we need to trust that God knows how much harm we are actually doing, just like my husband realized how bad that thistle flower was going to be if our kids kept playing with it. We also need to look for the good amid the sin too—just as I see the wildflowers trying so hard to share the same field among all the wild thistles.  


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We are called to use our talents to create a harvest. We cannot harvest anything when our own fields are being choked out by sin. #CatholicMom


I’m not sure whether heaven will have swimming pools. However, I do know that just like my husband’s earthly reward when he worked with his siblings to weed out all the harmful thistles, my reward of getting to heaven, after trying to weed out my sin, will probably feel as great as that swimming pool felt during a hot, Missouri summer! 



Copyright 2023 Karen Estep
Images: copyright 2023 Karen Estep, all rights reserved.