Sometimes it feels like I have enough just to deal with the mess inside my own soul. And the dysfunction in my own little circle of relationships. We all have it. Every family, every friendship has its own form of dysfunction. Sometimes its not even visible to people on the outside, but it's there. Because we're not in Paradise. We are broken and hurting people, and we hurt each other.
But then you pile on top of personal brokenness the mess in lives of people I care about, that seems to be moving ever closer to me. Friends getting cancer. Friends with hearts broken, strong godly relationships threatened. People coming into my circle who are dealing with very messy pasts, and horrible things done to them. It's the kind of stuff that makes me want to turn and run some days. To curl up somewhere in a safe little hole where I can just look after my own needs.
The more you love, the more you give yourself, the more you open yourself up to pain. The greater your risk becomes.
No one did that more than Jesus.
So in the midst of trying to balance the pain and the fear and the questions with the hope and joy and peace we have through Christ, I was reminded of this Scripture. It's a prophetic passage, speaking of the coming of God's Anointed One, and what He would do.
"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound. To comfort all who mourn....to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness..." Isaiah 61:1-3
And I'm praying for God to give beauty for ashes in these lives that touch mine.
So this morning, as I was praying for a friend, God reminded me of a book that I love very much. It's called Hinds Feet on High Places. It's an allegory of the transformation God makes in the life of a believer. The story follows a woman named Much Afraid, whose name embodies her character. She decides to follow the Shepherd, who promises to take her to the High Places of the mountains, to the Kingdom of Love. He promises to take this crippled, twisted, fearful woman and transform her into someone fit to leap and run on the mountains like the deer and enter the kingdom where no ugly or evil thing is allowed. Along this seemingly impossible journey, Much Afraid has these points of surrender, where she lays down a part of her own will and builds an altar to offer it up to the Shepherd, who of course represents Jesus. Each time she builds an altar, fire comes and consumes the sacrifice, and from the ashes left behind, she is urged to choose a stone and carry it with her as a reminder. She amasses a large collection of these stones, all ordinary, rough, and ugly. At one point on the journey, as she and her companions huddle in the shelter of a rock and wait for a storm to pass, she dumps the stones out of her bag and ponders what to do with them. A storm rages inside of her, and as she remembers the circumstances and the offering each stone represents, and looks at them in their ugly heaviness, she wonders if it is worth going on. If she will ever reach the end of the journey and receive what the Shepherd has promised. She almost leaves the stones behind in frustration. But she gathers them back into the bag and carries them onward.
True to the Shepherd's word, after much pain and suffering and hard sacrifice, joy comes in the morning! He brings Much Afraid to the High Places. He heals her crippled feet and crooked mouth and gives her strength and beauty. He gives her a new name....Grace and Glory. She can leap and run with Him all over the mountains, and He grants her the deepest desire of her heart....that if she would allow Him to plant the seed of Love within her, she would be loved in return.
And the stones? The ones she carried all that long way, the reminders of everything she gave up in hopes of something better? They were changed into beautiful, precious jewels to be set in a crown for her to wear!
Ashes to beauty. Stones to gems. Joy for mourning.
Our Good Shepherd wants to do that for you and me. So don't throw out the rough, ugly, heavy stones that represent the pain and loss and hard of your life. Don't try to run from them. Cling to them, like He clung to the rough, splintered wood of that cross. For love of you. Walk through the pain with a spirit of surrender, for love of Him, knowing that He is carrying you through it. One day the weight of our suffering is going to be eradicated by the overwhelming weight of the glory into which He will bring us!
And your stones will become jewels. Don't lose heart. They are worth carrying.