We are fellow pilgrims upon the way—each of us experiencing it through our own eyes from our unique point of view, bearing in our backpack the private history we bring to be addressed. We journey the way by foot, which takes great effort. But the far country only enters our soul as we walk it out thoughtfully, one step at a time.
Our journey has the potential of bringing us a great gift from even our most hurtful of experiences, but only if we walk the path with rigorous intentionality—having the courage to embrace what is asked of us in our purposeful encounters along the way. The vistas can break your heart with their raw beauty, and sometimes with their raw pain. And the scenery and weather can change quickly—from the ease of bucolic sunlit fields to a sudden storm with wind that howls and tears upon rocky perilous steeps. Nothing accidental happens on the way—all of it, every inch is meant to speak to us, if we just have ears to hear!
This Way is the path of life
upon which we are all being taught by God. [i]
The ground beneath our feet reverberates with the one thing we most need to know right now. Our tenseness in the present encounter, what we fear, what we are resisting, what we are grieving, the thoughts that continually circle overhead, the stirring to action—this is what God with us is poised to address, right where we are, right now.
Those who thrive most powerfully on this journey are not those for whom the way is easiest or most “blessed”—but those who have determined to learn by engaging God in all they encounter. This is how we become intimately in touch with The Divine Dialogue unfolding in our life—by engaging Him confidently in every experience, even our most painful, refusing to leave that place until we have seized the victory of learning what He can only teach us there. If we carry wounds that never seem to heal, it is because we have yet to fully engage with Him, hearing what He has to tell us in that place.
When we finally do hear—what He gives us will become a treasure we will carry to the end of our days–because it commemorates the place where we embraced the truth that enabled God to make us whole.
* * *
The auburn highlights of my daughter’s long dark hair glimmered in the sunlight falling across her shoulders. It was a rare delicious moment for me to sit with two of my girls, sharing what we were learning on our journeys. Courtney briefly paused, looking deeply into my eyes before she continued. I felt myself tense just slightly, sensing that she was gauging my ability to hear what she was about to say, weighing the words she was about to speak..
“One of the most precious things I’ve learned has come out of some of my most painful experiences. At one time or another every person in my life who I thought was supposed to protect me failed to. This realization hurt deeply and caught me off guard, when the person whose responsibility it was to keep me safe didn’t.”
My stomach dropped as shock, guilt, fear and remorse coursed sickeningly through me. I was her mom, and to whomever else she might be referring, my daughter was speaking of me. In my quick flashes upon our past, Courtney’s words echoed true.
“But, Mom,” she now looked full in my face, her tears flowing freely, “it is okay! I’ve learned the difference between the feeling of being safe and the knowledge of being under God’s protection. It was terrible before I knew the difference. But having been through it, I wouldn’t give anything for what I have now—my utter confidence that I am under His protection—the knowledge, the deep trust, that He will never fail me. He is my protector and defender. He will never let me experience anything that He cannot ultimately use or redeem for His purposes. Nothing will ever befall me that I will not be able to look back on, someday, and trace the hand of His mercy and purpose even in the midst of my darkness. My comfort is knowing that in His love, my pain is not for naught, and that He is my just avenger. But there is a difference between feeling safe and being safe. We do not always feel safe even when we are under His protection.
“I am convinced that God allowed those times when I didn’t feel safe or cherished, when those who were supposed to protect me didn’t, so that His Protection would become all that much more meaningful to me. When I was most hurt, alone and vulnerable, He showed me that He was there. He became my protector. He communicated His father’s heart to me, so that I knew He felt everything a father feels when his child has been wounded. He taught me how to trust Him, bringing me to the place where I could surrender my pain, and even my own need for vindication and justice. Until I did that, the redemption couldn’t come. His protection of me is also about deliverance – deliverance from the potentially devastating bitterness, judgmentalism and self-pity that we all feel entitled to feel when a loved one fails us. To be under His protection is to yield all that stuff. . . but when I did, Mom, I experienced this amazing release of His supernatural healing, strength and freedom into my circumstances.”
Courtney quieted, but I did not want to break the holy stillness with my own words. And then she finished:
“Mom, terrible things happen. But I believe that even the most painful things have had to pass through His fingers before they reached me. Not that it comes from Him, or He wills it—but all must pass through His beautiful, strong and tender hand—which I picture palm up, water pouring through those fingers as He watches carefully, with gentleness, what He will allow to come into my life. I love that picture and cling to it when the waters feel rougher than I would like for them to!”
As Courtney finished, I found myself at a place, where the vista was breaking my heart with its raw beauty as well as its raw pain. None of my children know the innumerable dark nights of my soul when I am easily overwhelmed by grief for those moments when I failed them, who deserved better from me. But Courtney instinctively knew that if she shared this treasure from her journey, I might find the gift I had yet to receive from my own.
There was no retribution, pride or calculation on Courtney’s face, just the tears of being able to tell me her sweet secret, feeling like she could trust me to bear what she longed to tell me.
It happened. I understood what this moment was about, why and to what the way had brought me. He was giving me the reason to yield the forever burden of my powerful grief, in awe-touched gratitude for what He had done instead—for what He had proved Himself to be to Courtney. Bowing in my spirit I embraced the much better of hearing her describe Him as her defender and protector, than the “if only” I had held on to for so long. I gave up the mother I wished I had been for the God He was.
We who thrive on this journey
are not those who have made the least mistakes,
or those who have been spared the greatest pain,
but we who have determined to learn
by engaging God in all we encounter
refusing to leave each place He brings us
until we’ve seized His victory out of our sorrow.
In every situation and circumstance, this is God’s forever purpose—to deprive every sin, suffering, wrong, ignorance and sorrow from having continued power in our life.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits;
Who pardons all your iniquities;
Who heals all your diseases;
Who redeems your life from the pit;
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;
Who satisfies your years with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.
Psalm 103:2-5, NASB
[i] Jesus said, “It is written in the prophets, ‘AND THEY SHALL ALL BE TAUGHT OF GOD.’ (John 6:45, NASU)
I will instruct you and teach you
the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Psalm 32:8, RSV
teach them the statutes and the laws, and make known to them the way in which they are to walk and the work they are to do.
Exodus 18:20, NASU
You shall walk in all the way which the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land which you shall possess.
Deuteronomy 5:33, RSV
Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
Ps 25:8-9, RSV