When Jesus explained the parable of the soils to His disciples, the first thing He said that the thorns which choked the plant represent are the “cares of the world” (Matt. 13:22, Mk. 4:19) or “cares of life” (Lk. 8:14). What are those cares? In the broadest sense, I believe those cares are simply the stuff of earth–good and bad–that we deal with on a daily basis. As Rich Mullins sang, “The stuff of earth competes for the allegiance I owe only to the Giver of all good things” (If I Stand, 1988).
One of the reasons why solitude can be so refreshing is because in it we can temporarily set aside much of the “stuff of earth” that we otherwise have to deal with. The difficulty, though, is that when solitude must end, all of those cares come rushing back and threaten to overwhelm us. That was certainly the case for me coming back from my solitude retreat recently–I drove directly from the retreat house on the mountain to the Talbot campus for a class (over 2 hours in traffic!); that day was also my daughter’s birthday and I had a small window of time to see her before my class and give her a birthday gift; I was hoping to also eat lunch with my daughter but the traffic delays were eating away at that window of time; there was a Scripture memorization assignment due in class that I was rehearsing as I drove; and so on. None of those things are sinful or wrong, but they are all things that I care about–they are cares of life. But the attention given to those cares has the potential to crowd out my attention on Christ and thus keep me from bearing fruit in Him.
From the time we drag ourselves out of bed in the morning to the time we drop back into bed at night–and sometimes even through the night–our lives are filled with cares. The assignment due today. The unfinished assignment due yesterday. The decision in process. The car that needs gas. The meal to prepare. The toilet to clean. The phone call to return. The exercise that still hasn’t happened. The bill to pay. The doctor visit to schedule. And that’s not even mentioning the child who needs help with homework, or the neighbor whose mother just passed away, or the spouse who is angry, or the lonely friend who keeps texting. Our lives are filled with cares.
I don’t think the solution is to not care, though there are likely some things that we could care less about. So how do we keep the stuff of earth from choking out our fruitfulness in Christ? Perhaps one way is to think deeply about what matters most to God, so that we give priority and attention to those cares rather than being driven by the urgent matters of lesser importance. When we care most about “the one thing that is necessary” (Lk. 10:42), we will stay connected to Jesus, and fruitfulness comes through that abiding relationship.