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Friday, September 23, 2016

Broken and Stripped Away

 As helpless captives caught in our own despair, we increasingly find ourselves being broken and stripped of anything we had placed our belief and trust in. We have become so disillusioned by our life on the other side of the door that we begin to feel like there is nothing whole about our existence at all...we are a shattered identity, a fragmented reality, a pile of pieces destined for the trash heap. Nothing really has meaning anymore. All we seem to do is wake up each morning and fight the war all over again; we battle the endless reminders of our past, and it makes us hang between two realities: the way things used to be, and the way they are now. Somewhere, back in the memory, we know life was;t meant to be like this. We remember brighter days from way back, but now things seem to be in such a state of dis-repair that we give up hope that the light could ever return - we think that our broken lives can never be made whole again. 
 And yet...this is God's way. By breaking us down, He builds us up. As I noted in a journey entry sometime ago, 

"...God has a way...of disarming us of whatever it is that 
is a supplement to our faith and trust in Him. He uses
trials that strip away our faith in things earthly, break our
hearts of stone, and grind us until we are like powdered
dust. It is then that we have nothing - we are nothing. We
are crushed to the point that nothing can help us beyond
His mercy...At this point, we come to see that we are but
empty vessels that need to be filled. Even when we feel 
like we are unable to trust Christ altogether, we anew
understand that God loves and will not despise 
'a broken spirit and a contrite heart' (Ps. 51:17). No matter
how broken we are, He will not turn us away - ever!
Man's help is temporary and will fade away, but the
mercy of God beckons, even if all we can utter is,
'Help, Lord!'"

 Here is where we arrive at so obvious and yet so profound: all of what has been uncovered about our inner selves, every step of the journey into the chasm, has led us to realize that we can't solve these issues on our own. We are so desperate for someone to save us - to redeem us, to rescue us from this prison called self. We know we're trapped. Our pride is crushed. We have tried to escape on our own so many times but to no avail. 
And so we ask the big question: who can save us? More importantly, who will?
When my dad was hospitalized for so long that summer of 2007, I found ways to escape from the situation. I recall this blue armchair in the waiting room that I would sit in and stare outside, enclosed by the walls of both the internal prison and the external. As one day of uncertainty blended into the next, I looked out at those big windows toward the mountains to the East. Alaska, where I live, is known for its impressive mountain ranges...peaks rising strong to touch the expansive sky, placed there by a masterful Designer. I was used to looking at this amazing creation all the time. I had driven by these very mountains time and time again, but I never stopped to look at them as I did now. Every day, I would come to visit my dad and, every day, I would sit and stare at those mountains. After awhile, a scripture would come to mind:

"I life my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from?"
(Ps. 121: 1)

I asked myself that so many times: where does my help come from? From God? From myself? From someone else? Who would deliver me from my darkness? I wasn't sure anymore. I knew I ought to believe the second part of that beautiful verse:

"My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth."

But somehow, I didn't believe it. I didn't think I could. Sometime later, I wrote:

"It takes belief to know that this darkness, this shadow,
will give way to a brighter tomorrow. I often lack the
faith to obtain that belief. I find that my hope is false 
and empty and that I stand clinging to a yesterday that
will only be a memory. I watch dreams die before me,
and I do ask questions: could a better life ahead replace
the comfort of the way it used to be? Will this inner dark-
ness remain forever? Can the light be restored? I guess it's
just that God hasn't showed me enough of the future that
I can truly believe. But should it take such proof for me to
trust a God that I profess to know?"

It wasn't until quite sometime later that it began to dawn on me that every other solution to which I had looked was coming up short. My real problem was that I felt like I didn't need God. I thought I could find a way out of the darkness on my own. Now, I realized that only He could provide the means of escape. And only His path was the right one. All other paths would lead to a dead end: if I kept on following my own way, I would still find myself a prisoner. I would still be trapped on the other side of the door. I didn't fully understand where God's road to deliverance would lead or what it would cost me to take it, but I was desperate enough that I was willing to try.
 It was at this point that the words of Francis Lockwood Green became my newfound prayer:

"Teach me the truth, Lord, though it put to flight
My cherished dreams and fondest fancy's play;
Give me to know the darkness from the light,
The night from day.

Teach me the truth, Lord, though my heart may break
In casting out the falsehood for the true;
Help me to take my shattered life and make
Its actions new.

Teach me the truth, Lord, though my feet may fear
The rocky path that opens out to me;
Rough it may be, but let the way be clear
That leads to Thee..."

Until we realize that our lives are incomplete without Christ, we will continue to walk in falsehood and live out a lie. The hunger that is born in each of us won't be satisfied unless we find Him to be fully satisfying. Everything else ew attempt to fill that void with will only leave us desiring more. Our shattered lives are only repaired when we allow God to invade our darkness and become our Light. It is only in recognizing our need for God that life-change will ever become a reality. He is who gives us hope. He is the way out. 
 No person is too shattered, no heart too broken, that He cannot mend it with a touch of His nail-pierced hand. We are blind guides and will continue to stumble until we are given the Light to show us the path (Isaiah 50:10; Prov. 14:12). If we truly want to become all that God wants us to be - if we truly desire to step from our past a better person, our journey must begin with five simple words: 

Teach me the truth, Lord.

The decision is ours: no matter the cost, are we willing to follow Christ into the paths of peace?