i’ve had this picture stirring in my mind lately. one i can’t seem to shake. it’s a picture of a frozen tree set against a white field of snow. the tree is covered in a sheet of ice. frozen solid from the long, cold, hard winter.
everything is quiet. everything is still. there is nothing going on. it’s almost as if time itself is frozen in place from the cold. and then, unexpectedly, the sun makes an appearance. coming up slowly over the mountain tops. the mountains that provide a backdrop for this scene.
and as the first ray of sunlight hits the tree, the ice begins to melt. slowly. so that the only hint of any release from the freeze is a steady drip, drip, drip of water from one, single branch.
this is what life is like?
life is funny sometimes. not funny ‘ha ha.’ but, ‘are you kidding me?’ funny. ‘is life really going to punch me in the face again?’ funny.
we go through these stretches sometimes where it seems like you walk around one corner and you’re punched square in the face, only so that you’re holding your face from the hurt and find yourself unguarded for the next corner, where someone is waiting to kick you in the groin.
that’s kind of how life has seemed for the last little while. one thing after another. after another. for me. for us. for those close to us.
and it’s reason enough for anyone to say, ‘really?’…’this is really what life is like?’
not getting that job you thought you were a shoe-in for… the one you prayed for every night. for that pregnancy you want so desperately, but know you cannot have… even while everyone else around you enjoys their good news. cancer… for the first time. for the second–and final–time. death… the loss of life and all that comes with it. at such an early age that it doesn’t make any sense.
and it’s all so much. too much, at times. enough for us to ask, “when is enough, enough?” enough for us to say, “your Word tells us You won’t allow us to be tempted beyond what we can handle, but it seems like that point has come and gone.”
spring is my favorite time of year. the real kind of spring. not the fake kind. not the kind that feels like fall all over again. which we sometimes get here in the northwest.
after a long winter–be it cold and dark, or just grey and wet–there’s nothing better than noticing the days getting a little bit longer. the sun coming up a little earlier. the air slowly warming up. and the sky getting brighter. it’s as if everything is waking up from a long sleep. and it’s refreshing. it gives me energy.
i feel like my soul has been in a bit of a sleep as of late. tired. groggy. shrugging to shake off a darkness and a cold that doesn’t want to leave.
and this picture of spring–the one i opened with, the one that has been with me for a while now–it brings me great hope. as if to remind me of the fact that, no matter how long the dark days may seem. no matter how frigid cold the soul may appear. it will not last forever. the Light will return. the freeze will melt. all will be made right again.
invading the darkness
and i feel like this image reminds us of the coming of His Kingdom. in a way. of Heaven. and how His Light will invade this darkness. of how His Light is already invading the darkness. even through us.
i feel like it comes like an awakening. His Light in us. it feels like spring. like an opening of the eyes. a yawn. a stretch. and then the legs hit the ground. and life begins. and His followers go out. like seeds. like the cotton balls floating through the air on a spring day. a sign of Him going out. spreading His goodness. even through us. we are but conduits for His grace, love and joy.
He works through us. and those experiences we go through, the ones that feel like a punch to the face or a kick to the pants. the ones that make this all seem like a perpetual winter. they grant us opportunities. for conversation. for relationships. like a key that opens a door. this experience allows me to talk to you. that experience allows you to talk to them. and your shared experience grants you a common bond, creating between you a shared language. and, in that language, you will share what He has revealed to you. including Himself.
that is how it works. like spring. like the first rays of warm sunlight after a long, cold winter peeking over the jagged, frozen mountaintops. mountains raised up into the sky like tent tops. carving out the blue blanket of a sky that rests on the mountain’s shoulders. the sunlight creating a path as it goes out. calling out to the remains of winter to wake up. to see the new day.
so it is with Him. nudging us to wake up. to have a look at what He has been doing while we slept.
“look. do you see? it is good. and you are a part of it.
now go. and be in it. that you might bear My image.”
recognizing the difference between light and dark
but the long winter months of this life wear on and on and on. so long that we sometimes forget what the warmth feels like. so long that we forget what the Light looks like. so long that we begin to think this winter is all there is to life. so long that we begin to wonder if we’d even recognize the Light, were we to see It again.
and that thought–that we become so well adjusted to the dark that we wouldn’t recognize the Light at its first appearance–that thought brings me fear. for i want that Light. with all i have. that it might burn away the cold. that it might thaw the frozen spots of my soul. and so, thinking that i might not recognize the Light after feeling far from it for so long. or not as close as i once was. i find myself fearing i might miss out on an opportunity to feel the warmth of the Light when it does appear. and that thought scares me.
how do I know the difference between the Light and the dark, when the dark feels all too familiar, and the light seems like a distant memory? or when it feels like the hint of a dream? i know the difference between the two because i never confuse the Light for the dark, although i may confuse the dark for the Light, mistakenly.
or, to put it another way, when i am in the Light, i never second-guess myself. i never find myself walking in His presence halfway knowing i should be walking in the dark. however, when i am knowingly walking in the dark, after mistaking it for the Light, that is precisely what I find. i find myself knowing, even already one foot in, one foot out, that i should be walking in the Light.
like a long-lost friend
and yet, when the Light reappears, it is almost as if it had never left. welcoming us like a long-lost friend. you worry that it might be awkward. like a hug from a stranger who seems to know you, even though you have no idea who they are. but the first sight of this Light washes away any such worry. for you are too overcome with joy to think of anything but your delight in seeing It again. and the first sight of It is but a hint of what is to come. overwhelming your senses like a thundering wave of warmth crashing against the rocky shore of your soul.
and as we see that first glimmer of this Light, it reignites within us a deep thirst for more. so much more. that we might lift the cup It is being poured out from with both hands to drink It in. to gulp It down. hastily. so that some even spills onto us. we do so without regard. and we begin to feel ourselves filled, for the first time in ages. feeling It warm us from within.
the coldness that made itself at home there before now is but a distant memory. more like a nightmare. that we have trouble now recalling. even if we can still feel–in part–the sharp pains it once carried. but it slips away, back into our memory, in the presence of the warmth of the Light. the warmth reassuring us the Light is here. and where the Light touches, pain and darkness cannot remain.
the blessing of this life is that, from time to time, we find someone who is traveling a similar path as the one we are on. like a stranger in the desert. a complete surprise. an oasis, of sorts. and we find their experience somehow sheds light on our experience. and it is a gift.
for it reminds us we are not alone in this journey. even if we feel that way. even if the one, single unifying trait among us seems to be that we feel all alone. we are not a lone star in an empty galaxy, as it were, but one of many. with many shared similarities amongst the masses. no matter how alone we may feel, at times.
rumors of a Man
this is a blessing. this reminder that we are not alone. and we would do well to recognize it as such. even amongst all the dust and darkness and cobwebs this life sometimes carries. like a ray of shining light, peaking in from a single, lone window in the corner of the room. revealing, in part, the Light that awaits us outside of this room we now find ourselves in.
the door leading out is locked, for now. but there remain rumors of a Man who came through that door once. long ago. of a Man who was just as we are. flesh and blood. but Who was also fully Divine. Who had been with the Father since the beginning. Who–at times–radiated the same Light that now shines (dimly) through that lone window. and, after being with us for a time. after sharing with us of what lies beyond this room. of love. of joy beyond imagination. of grace. and of how we ought to live. after sharing all of that, He left. through the very same door He entered.
but He didn’t leave us hopeless. no, He left us with the promise that He went to prepare a place for us. with a promise that He intended to bring us with. that, at some point, a point not yet made known to anyone, that the door would be unlocked, and that the outside Light would change all that we now see before us. the dust. the darkness. the cobwebs. all left scrambling for fear of the Light. and that we, too, would be changed for the entrance of the Light. and that, in a way, things would be as they were always intended. that the darkness of our present conditions, that the darkness we have even grown accustomed to, would be a thing of the past. a distant memory. a bad dream, of sorts. the freeze will have completely melted. there will be only Light and warmth. “the bad dream will be over, it will be morning” (c.s. lewis, mere christianity, p. 200)
salve for our souls
i think His desire is to break through the darkness in our lives. into our hearts. like the first ray of sunlight shining forth into a dark room as the door opens. and, as He does so, it’s like salve to the calloused parts of our souls. cooling our painful wounds and healing the cracks. providing refreshment and nourishment as only He can.
and this happens as we approach Him. as we come to Him. for healing. for newness of life. where before there was only death and darkness and sadness.
His is a presence of warmth. even in the dry, frigid, wintry desert of our souls.
a snake oil god
but it is here where i wish to be perfectly clear. i am not suggesting we market Him as some snake oil sort of god. one we over-apply to any and all of our wants. that we simply have to rub on here and there and suddenly all of our desires are fulfilled.
“job trouble? you need to pray more.” “money woes? buy this book, so that He can do great things…” no, that is not what i am implying here at all.
i turned on the tv the other day. mostly to provide some background noise for a sunday afternoon nap. and i was greeted by a televangelist telling me if i sent $1,000 for his ministry, that i’d get a book in the mail teaching me all about how to be successful (i wish i were making this up). he talked about sowing a seed, and how God would show up and provide a garden more bountiful than we imagined if we did this. he went on to share a recent conversation he was having with a man from africa, and how, after hearing this message, this man had asked if this held true for him as well. even in africa. and the televangelist assured him it would. and that’s when i had to change the channel. i couldn’t believe it. it was embarrassing. that He was using God in this way. it was disgusting.
for starters, that’s a really expensive book. on top of that, i don’t think God is interested in selling us success via self-help books so that He can build His Kingdom. no, i think He is far more interested in dealing with the darkness that ravages our souls. so that we might reflect His Light.
a magic wand God that we have to simply wave in the direction of our desires He is not. particularly for what we think we need (be it success or otherwise). He is so much more than that.
no, that is not the image of God i am trying to paint here at all. my application here is much more like that of handing someone who has thirst a glass of water. for that is what they need. so it is here. your soul runs on Him, just as our bodies run on water. just as a car runs on fuel. when the light of our souls has dimmed, He is what we are lacking. for, in this arena, He is the solution. He is the Good Medicine, if you will. He is what you need in this case–what i need in this case. when all seems so very dark. when our souls seem so very cold.
as children, we rate medicine on how it tastes. the better it tastes, the more willing we are to take it. if it comes in the shape of a gummy bear, that’s bonus points. but as we get older, we assess the quality of a medicine on whether or not it resolves our illness, as opposed to whether or not it tastes good. indeed, often times it is that medicine that tastes the worst–that falls furthest from what our tastes would prefer–that actually leads to the quickest, healthiest recovery. so it is with our faith.
like many religions, Christianity acknowledges that something has separated us from God. from eternal joy. from a right relation with Him. the Christian faith calls this barrier sin. and, in most religions, what we find is a list of things we must do to make right what has separated us from god. there is something we must do to appease this divine being. if we try hard enough. if we pay enough. if we live a pure enough life. if we do this. or, often times, if we don’t do that. then we can somehow make things right between us and this god. and, in each case, the weight falls on our shoulders.
and such belief systems beckon to our desires. we like this kind of thinking. it makes sense to us. and we can take pride in such religions. “i deserve this,” we think to ourselves. or, “i earned this.”
but here, in Christianity, we find something very different. we find Him saying, “you are broken. you were separated from Me by your very nature. but I have already made things right. I have already paid the price for you. you can do all you can to try and earn this, but the fact of the matter is, I’ve already earned it for you.”
that’s the difference. there is no other religion (that i know of) where God says, “this is what it will take to make things right, and here is Me showing up to do it for you.” in Christ, we have Divinity arriving in actual history to make right our wrongs. in the flesh and blood of a Man. into a body that needed air to breathe and food to live. into a body that felt hunger and cold. into a body that felt pain, just as we do. so that His blood might make payment for the price His perfect law demands. so that He might pay for our sins. that’s why this faith is filled with words like grace and good news. because it’s not about us. or what we’ve done to earn this. ours, unlike any other, is a faith of divine charity.
here, we find God holding out His hand. holding this gift. saying to us, “this is what I did for you. before you could ever dream of deserving it. while you were still broken. laying down the life of My perfect Son, for your sake. so that you might be saved.”
in the case of Christianity, we find a diagnosis that says, “you suffer from an eternal wound that goes so deep you cannot possibly heal on your own. no amount of right-living or wisdom or anything else can mend this brokenness.” while, at the same time, offering a prescription that says, “but I can. and I will send my own Son as payment. My blood in place of your blood. so that you might be healed. so that you might have life, and life to the fullest.”
that is not the kind of medication many of us would choose for ourselves (even less the kind of prescription we would invent), were we not wholly interested in getting better. yet that is precisely what Christianity prescribes for the condition of our soul.
the truth is, i need Him. i need Him so much. like medication for my soul. so that it would re-awaken. to newness of life. that it would shake off the weariness brought on by a long, cold season that feels so much like winter. and so that it would feel the warm presence of His Light. that my soul would soak Him in. so that, ultimately, His goodness would be reflected in my life.
unfortunately, the repeated, day-after-day darkness of this world has a way of blinding us to His goodness. it has a way of covering our eyes with scales that try with all it has to block His Light from shining in. so that we’re left blindly fumbling about in the darkness. and so many of us are in this spot. some who have never seen His Light. others who have, but whose eyes have been now covered for so long.
and, as we fumble around in the dark, looking for something–for anything–that will help our present condition, the prince of darkness is running about shouting, “here, here! this is it! this will help you!” and we shuffle about. in the darkness. trying to find our way to what he is directing our attention. and just as we reach it, he quickly runs to another spot and shouts, “no, no, no. over here! this is what you’re looking for!”
all the while we tire ourselves out. stumbling blindly in the darkness from here to there. bumping our head into walls. bloodying our nose and bruising our foreheads. looking for a solution. time after time we are met with only pain. and we fall on our hands and knees. our head hanging low, tired from the exhaustion. blood streaming from our wounds. pooling beneath us. and we strive to work up enough energy to lift our tired, worn frame off from the floor. only so that we can do it again. “this time it will work,” we think to ourselves. “this time will be different.”
and this scene must grieve Him so much. because He loves us. and He cares for us. and because He wants what is best for us. truly.
and because it’s only His light that can peel away the scales. it’s only His Light that will bring about healing. it’s His Light that we need so desperately. in this present darkness we now find ourselves in. so that He might revealed. in all His goodness.
and He is. through the Christ-sized hole in the darkness. the Good News is that the battle is won. the good news is that the darkness is rotting from the inside out. and this kind of rot is bringing about our healing. His Light is breaking through the darkness. even now. the night is slowly pealing back, and the darkness is trying with all its might to grasp at every soul it can as it is pulled away.
taste for Him
and so we ask Him to give us taste for Him, when we don’t have taste for much at all. we ask that He will create within us a desire for more of Himself. for what we need most. to heal us. to cure us. to chase away the darkness in our souls.
that we might hunger and thirst for Him. so that we might delight in drinking Him in. so that we might be filled. and so that we might be awakened to new life. but that desire for Him is a gift. it is not something we are capable of creating within ourselves. but, once we have it. once we have tasted it. we are awakened to our hunger for more of it.
when hayley was in the hospital those five days. on life support. i hardly ate. it seemed like my desires for everything else faded away in light of my desire to be by her side. in case she woke up. in case something happened. in case nothing happened, but so that i could just be present for each and every possible second. to listen to her breathing. to enjoy her just a little bit longer.
“have you eaten anything today?” my wife asked. the late afternoon question a reminder i hadn’t. and those who know me knew how unlike me that was. those who knew about my two dinners a night routine.
and so they’d encourage me to eat. but eating seemed so inconsequential. it seemed only like a distraction. stealing me away from hayley’s side. to the cramped waiting room. squeezed in when we were removed from hayley’s hospital room for testing.
i didn’t feel like eating, but i knew i should. i knew my body needed it. and when i first took that bite of food, after not eating for a day or so, i was instantly reminded of that need. my mouth and my stomach thanking me with each bite. and my hunger–the hunger for food i seemed to have lost before–was now returned. growing with each bite of sandwhich. of left-over pizza and cookies. what was missing in the absence of food was now returned. fully. in the presence of food.
and i think that’s the way we work with Him, a lot of times. when we go without Him for a period. we tend to get used to it. so much so that our desire for Him seems to wane in His absence. we don’t desire to seek Him in prayer like we once did. we don’t desire to find Him in His Word like we did before. and it only seems to get harder and harder to find ourselves wanting to do so the longer we go without It.
but then, when we finally do return to Him. in His Word. in prayer. we find our hunger for Him renewed. like a long-lost hunger washing over us at first taste. our awareness of our need for Him, and our absence of His presence in our life, now pouring over us. crushing our senses. overwhelming us. so that we cannot get enough of Him. we taste Him in His Word. we feel His presence in our prayer. and it was like He had never left.
breaking through the shell of our soul
if that’s you. if that’s where you currently find yourself. feeling like life is kicking you in the teeth at every turn. feeling surrounded by unending fields of waist-deep snow and cold you cannot escape. i pray you would seek Him. i pray you would ask that He fill you with a deep-rooted desire and hunger for more of Him.
and i pray that as you approach Him, that He would crack open the shell of your soul with His Light. with His grace and tender mercy. with His love. with His joy. that it would permeate every corner of your soul. that His delight would become your delight. and that your delight would be found in Him.
and the Good News is that Jesus has done this. He has broken the cold shells of our souls. He has already redeemed us from our fallen state. breaking into our story so that His Light might shine into this darkness. waking us up from this slumber. from this sleep-like state.
and as we approach Him, this Light is made brighter and brighter in our lives. and so we do that. we run after Him with all we have. so that we might be changed into His likeness. and so that the frigid parts of our souls–the ones that pull us down and away from the life He desires for us–might fall off. and so that they might be left behind. like an old sweater pulled off and tossed overhead as you run headlong into the approaching summer sun.
warm, loving arms
and if ever you feel as though you are not worthy to approach Him with such desire. or if ever you feel as though you might be met with a slammed door in your face for such effort. i would tell you this. He will meet you with open arms when you go to Him. with an earnest heart that desires Him. and you will find Him in all His righteous love. the love of a tender Father waiting for His child to return home. and anyone who tells you otherwise would do well to know more fully anyone they attempt to speak of. because, it is His grace which gives us this opportunity. it is His grace which lays the foundation of the path we walk, from where we stand to where He is. it is not because of anything we’ve done or anything we do or do not deserve. it is only by His grace.
His goodness provides the light for our footsteps. into His warm, loving arms. loving arms that will peel back the ice that covers our souls, so that the Light might come in. it is dim now, to be sure. but it will appear in its full brightness one day. He will reappear one day. in all His infinite splendor.
until that day, i pray His grace and the warmth of His presence would begin to melt away the remains of winter from your soul. that you might reflect His goodness. His love. His joy. His peace. and His grace. to others, even while the final hints of this long winter still remain.