For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,
Being justified freely by His grace,
through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. - Romans 3:23,24
Light breaks through the dark of night with icicles in its wake. I woke up a few times during the night to hear the sleet pelting the tin roof with a rapping scraping rhythm. So it was no surprise to see the mountains draped in white through the parting clouds. Ice still clung in crusty patches to the deck. The window panes were partially frosted with condensation where the warmth from within met with the freeze from without. Then sun struck the treetops and split each particle of moisture into glittering reflections of light. Watching it all from an easy chair next to the fire seemed limiting, so I quietly crept out the door, feet crunching and slipping on the icy surface. A merciless breeze nipped at my skin and found a way through all the layers of clothing into the marrow. I resisted the urge to go back inside for a little longer, and stood feeling the wind burn, tossing my hair into my eyes. I feared the mountain chill when we first moved here. I did not think that a sun-lover such as myself, could ever adapt to such a seemingly harsh environment. I denied and defied it by keeping the curtains closed on grey days, hiding under ever increasing layers of clothing with stiff fingers and a rigid back. I cannot honestly say that I have since embraced the bitter cold. I have just been given the grace to see the beauty in it, the possibilities as well as the limitations.
I read the other day that "pain is a magnifying glass for beauty". It rang true. Still more - it makes that of eternal value the most urgent and beautiful of all. None choose pain, but how sweet a drop of water tastes on parched lips and tongue, how much more magnificent is the sunrise after a dark night of torment. How could I ever know the overwhelming wonder of God's love and glory if not contrasted against my own black heart. I always thought that I have lead a reasonably "good" life so far. I didn't break too many rules or cause major scandals. I often felt rebellion in my heart, but never lived it beyond the extent to which it caused more than a few ripples in the lives of those who love me. Or so I thought.
Slowly I am becoming more and more aware of my own depravity. This may sound self-effacing. As if I have a need to wear a coarse cilice (hair shirt) against my skin - but it has in fact been very "freeing". Most of us are familiar with the analogy of how stars are best seen when it is truly dark. They are still there when it is bright and light, but are not visible to the human eye. I have recently heard this metaphor used to contrast our sinful nature against the glory of God. If I were so "good", why ever would I need a redeemer, the Redeemer. While it is true that God does not see my sin when He looks at me, He sees Jesus, it does not mean that the sin is not there anymore.
The me in me still wants to scream at my children, slam a door when I'm angry, become snappy when I feel insecure. My thoughts are still often dark, my heart turned towards self-pity, my needs too often selfish ones, and laziness sets in as I justify prolonged periods of "rest". I still tend to inwardly gauge my sins against my "neighbour's", my self-worth against what I achieve each day and my spiritual growth against the time I spend reading scripture and in prayer.
This is then obviously followed with a thorough dumping in the guilt-well. Resulting in more inertia en self-searching and gloom. But as in many of the amazing accounts of people chosen by God to reveal His glory, there is the "but then" turning point in the tale of woe.
From the pit, confronted with the consequence of my own slippery slide, a loving Saviour calls. And when I look up it is not a condemning, frowning face I see. Like a little child standing before a parent, conscious of his misdoing, eyes averted and shrinking from what may follow. Then there is the moment of unbelief when the parent crushes the child to his breast and whispers: "I love you so much, now please go play and don't do that again". Over and over this is repeated, and so secure is the child in the parent's love, that the inevitable discipline that follows is met with shock, anger and even defiance. His security seems to be shattered and it is only when he finally creeps back to apologise to the parent, who seems to have turned his back on the child in anger, that the little one sees the same pure love in the face that looks at him. Feels the same warmth in the embrace. But if he cared to linger and look, he would see a glimpse of the hurt that his wrong has brought the parent, the hope that this time the remorse would be real and deep and the wish that the lesson was learnt well.
What trumps the realisation of my own hopeless state, is the place it forces me to. On my knees before God. Faced with the sin I was born into, which ever pursues me and threatens to engulf me at times, I'm drawn back to His throne. Stripped of all that I thought gave me worth and esteem. Laying it all down, holding nothing back. Ironically this is exactly the point where, at a backwards glance, I see the "but thens" in my story:
But then... empty of all she thought she was or had become, HE was able to fill her with all that HE is and always has been. And as HE reached down with a nail scarred hand, she placed her hand there, was lifted to her feet, and led with yet faltering steps onto a path where HIS footprints were etched, for her to follow. Where HIS light ever broke through the treetops to reveal yet another step for her to place her foot onto. As her tread grew lighter, she no longer needed to scan the path to find the prints of his presence. Her feet had learnt the feel of HIS way. Now she only kept her eyes on the beautiful light before her. What joy that upturned face brought HIM. She feels it, He marvelled, my beloved, my own.
A consciousness of sin hurts. It should hurt. It should remind me of the pain it caused Jesus, who without as much as a stain, was willing to take the consequence of sin, my sin, onto His bloodstained back. To be rejected by all humanity, forsaken by His Father, to descend to hell and claim the keys to the place of eternal burning, where I was destined before this sacrifice. Could the glory of Jesus' victory over death, the magnificent reality of heaven - now my undeserved destiny, ever be appreciated unless set against the weight of my own sin?
This is not intended to weigh you down. Does a man who feels living water flow down his burning throat and fill his whole being with relief and freedom from thirst, sit down in the hot sand and lament the time of drought? No, he dances, he sings - he takes draught after draught of that sweet water. Growing stronger and praising - not his limbs for their renewed vigour, but the WATER which brought it.
When Jesus compared life with Him to a never-ending, thirst-quenching spring, the image resonated with a hardworking Samaritan woman. Water got her attention, for she was thirsty. But salvation kept her attention, for she was "dirty" and longed to be clean. An awareness of thirst is good, for Jesus can quench it evermore, but an awareness of filth is crucial, for only Jesus can wash and clothe me in such a manner that I may walk in His righteousness, head held high.
"In the dry desert season of the heart, we are watered by God’s promise of sustenance and fullness of life to come." – Wendy M. Wright