I read your book the other day. You know, the one about the Unexplained Hard Time in your life. I’ve read it before, and truthfully, it’s one of my favorite books of its genre, because it gets down to the nitty-gritty. You learned better than a lot of us what life really means.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. The name of the Lord be praised.
Chapter 31 found my heart this time. By God’s grace, you had hit on something – a desire to live a holy, untainted life all your days. So I’ve tweaked some of your claims, and put them in question form. And I’m trying to etch them on my heart as deeply as they were engraved in yours.
1 – Have I looked at a man to lust after him? Have I in my heart placed desires or expectations on a man that I have no right to?
5 – Have I lived a lie, or has my mouth hastened to exaggerate or twist the truth to my advantage?
7 – Has my mind turned from God’s truth and glory, or my heart felt distracted by what I see and hear and feel, or my body participated in what displeases Him?
9 – Have I placed myself in a man’s path to try to tempt or distract him? Have I desired what I should not want and must not have?
13 – Have I let selfishness or injustice control my actions or judgments, or rejected correction?
16 – Have I been unkind or ungenerous to those who have less than I do, or passed by an opportunity to bless another?
17 – Have I hoarded the blessings that God has lavished on me, keeping them to myself?
19 – Have I lacked compassion when looking on someone who was in need, whether physically, emotionally or spiritually?
21 – Have I used my influence or reputation to harm someone else, or their reputation?
24 – Have I put my trust in my possessions, or put what I have “earned” and “accomplished” above God?
28 – Have I sought to show faithfulness to God by not bowing my heart or thoughts to the powers, pleasures, or principles the world celebrates?
29 – Am I glad when those who have hurt me or mine receive hurt themselves, or elated when they stumble or receive “their just desserts”? Do I speak badly about them?
33 – Have I hidden what is really in my heart and tried to appear more perfect than I am? Or am I afraid to let others who praise and esteem me see how much I really struggle with darkness?
38 – Can my life testify of my love for God and His holiness . . . or will my actions tell a different tale than my tongue on Judgment Day?
“I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’; and You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah.”
– Psalm 32:5
O God, You know my heart. I have loved You little, and broken Your law. I gave You cause to sorrow over me often. I am sorry. Give me a thirst for holiness like Job, and humble brokenness like David.
Dearest Child of Mine,
I see you. I see you as you were, as you are, and as you will be. I saw you yesterday when you fell. I saw you last night, when you wept bitter tears over the trap of imperfection you think you live in. But do you want to know the truth? It brought me joy. My heart broke to see you hurting and struggling, because you were not made for such things. But I smiled to Myself, too – because you are seeking Me. Grief over your sin today leads to victory tomorrow, if you only ask for My strength in conquering it. I can fill the cup of an empty heart, but a heart that is hard through and through only rejects My love . . . unless I allow it to break.
I know you often feel lonely right now, because You can’t see Me or feel Me. Sometimes the death-noise is so loud you don’t even hear Me. I feel your desperation, your clenched teeth and shaking hands, and long to go to you; and I do, but you don’t always know I’m there. I long for the day when there will be no barriers between us, and you can finally see My face, bright with love for you. I can’t wait to re-make you, and reveal the you that I imagined when I created you, the perfect, glorious, gifted reflection of My Image that you were meant to be. Ah, it will all be right, then. You’ll love what I have in mind! How we will laugh and dance together on that day, all of us together, as one.
Be patient, beloved. I lived and died there, too. I know your agony, and I have groaned as you do now. The world you live in is a dark, cruel, gray place – nothing like the vari-colored paradise I had in mind when I spoke it into being. But I will redeem all that will allow Me to. Wait for Me, My cherished one. This time of mourning and bondage will not be wasted, I promise you. I have a beautiful purpose in mind for it. Just as clouds that cover the face of the sun must drift away, so this time of shadow will flee away in its time. Hold on, dear child, for My sake!
Meanwhile, treasure My Word, which I entrusted to My body. It is indestructible, for I would not leave you without something to remember Me by. It contains all that you need to live. All. I knew what you would need to hear: laments for days when you are almost in despair; psalms of rejoicing for times when you are restored to hope; truth and wisdom for moments when you feel uncertain or in need of direction; stories of My faithfulness for seasons when all else disappoints you and you need to be reminded that I am your Rock, who will never forsake or fail you. But in order for My Word to minister to you, you must make it part of your life. A doctor may prescribe live-saving medicine, but only the patient can choose to take it. Drink deep of the healing draught of Scripture, and let it both purify your mind and satisfy your fiercest longings. Commit it to memory, and let it fill your mind, by day and by night. Let My words sweep you up to where I am. Voices surround you; they call to you, tempt you and will deceive and distract you, if you let them. If My voice is to ring loudest, you must choose to listen to it more than all the rest. Read My Book. Be still, and wait for the stirring of My Spirit. Remember, My Word is living and active. It is a flashing sword, able both to defend you and wound you when necessary. Keep it by your side, for it will truly save your life.
If you don’t read it, you will lose sight of the truth. You’ll forget how I feel about you. You will start to grow far from Me, and I will fade from your thoughts. Your passion, both for Me and for life (for I am Life) will die, and apathy and restlessness will rule your heart. Your hand will pull away from Mine, and you will begin to stumble and wander again. When the frightening gloom of trials confronts you, panic will rise in your chest, for you will have left your light by the side of the road. If you cry for Me, I will still come to you, but you will have lost precious hours or days, perhaps even years. I would have you be at peace in Me always, even through sorrow and struggling.
I prize you so highly, and I want to hear what’s on your heart, so I have made it possible for you to speak directly to Me. I will hear you; I promised to do so in My Word, and My promises will stand long after this world is no more. I want to hear the beating desires of your heart, and to show you Mine. Just talk to Me; I’m a good listener, and I will laugh with you when you laugh, and cry with you when you cry.
I know you often feel guilty because you can’t seem to keep the fires of your passion going. Passion for Me is life to you; that’s why I wrote in My Word that loving Me with all your heart, soul, mind and strength is the most important thing in life. That’s why I pleaded with the Ephesian church to return to their first love. That’s why I groaned in the book of Hosea over my beloved Israel, whose love was like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears. I know you realize that your love often comes and goes in the same way.
It should concern you. But don’t wear yourself out trying to do My job. Creating passion is not your responsibility. It’s a task I reserve for Myself. That’s why David had to ask Me to create in him a new, pure heart and a steadfast spirit. I have endowed you with many gifts, but this is not one of them. Your part in this creation is obedience, dear one. I have told you what I desire: for you to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Me. As you attempt to do this, and seek My face and will in the quiet hours and lonely places, I will grow the fruitful tree of My special kind of love in you. Don’t worry; loving Me with your will is not doomed to be forever separated from loving Me with your feelings. But emotions, even those of love, are not to be trusted. Where they will ensnare you and lead you to do and be things that you will intensely regret, submitting your will to Mine shall, paradoxically, release you like the dove from Noah’s hands.
Remember, you may not be able to feel My embrace at times, much less return it; but there are so many who need My arms wrapped around them. When you show affection to them, My own heart is touched. You may not hear My voice clearly, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be still to listen. If the time is right, rest assured that you will hear from Me. You can’t see Me smile yet, but I’ve written down carefully for you the things that please Me: the prayer of the upright man, loving consideration of what is best for others (even at one’s own expense), obedience to those in authority, and quiet, peaceful lives lived in godliness and holiness.
I never change, never waver, never sleep. Cling to Me, and be safe.
The best is yet to come!
The I AM
“Ready for lunch?”
At Mom’s question (really, a statement) Saxon math books slam closed. Papers rustle into a semi-neat stack on the worn, grey couch, and a paper door slides squeakily open as Dad emerges from his office. The rice-straw mat floor under the faded brownish carpet groans a little.
Laura and I shiver our way into the kitchen, leaving the coziness of the “warm room,” the only room in the house with both heating and air conditioning. We grab a short stack of Corelle plates, a handful of silverware, a tower of green cups, and the beginnings of a meal and dutifully trot back into the living room to set the all-purpose card table. The cups balance jauntily at the tips of the knives, just as Dad taught us. A blast of cold air slaps at us as we return to the kitchen for the piece de resistance: left-over fried chicken from the night before. Mmmmm. Fried chicken. Its once crispy, crusty skin has been softened by a night in the refrigerator, but it still smells wonderful. We don’t have it very often.
“Sarah, will you pour milk, please?”
Brown, plastic pitcher in one hand and golden, microwave-melted honey in the other, I follow Laura’s butter and biscuits back into the warm room just in time to see Dad turn the TV on.
“Temps still in the single digits for tomorrow. Brrzee,” he observes.
Mom enters with the last items – carrot sticks, vitamins, and a plastic tray of coconut cookies – and we sit to pray. The TV suddenly finds itself mute, but the weatherman in his fitted, charcoal suit jabbers on, undisturbed by the development.
“Father God Most High, thank You for this good food, and for Your goodness to us. Please bless this to our bodies in Jesus’ Name. Amen.”
The lid of the chicken box pries off slowly, and there the little, rich, crumbly drummies lie in their bed of white paper towel. One, two, three, four . . . nine pieces. Enough for each of us to have two, and for Dad to have three. Three of us eye them enthusiastically. The box is passed, as are all the other foods.
A tall biscuit beckons to me, and I pluck it from the plate, splitting it exactly in half. I coat both flaky circles with a thin layer of margarine. “Honey, please.” A generous, sweet drizzle trails lazily across the bread. A bite and a sip of cold milk find their way into my mouth.
“So what did you learn this morning?” Dad’s question is receiving due consideration when it dawns on us that Mom has yet to take her allotted two pieces of chicken.
“Here, Mom.” The box is pushed her way.
“Actually, that’s OK. I’m not too hungry for chicken today. You girls can have mine.”
Laura and I blink, then squirm a little, torn.
“No, Mom, that’s not fair. You should eat it,” we begin, guiltily.
“Well, I want you guys to have it,” she smiles slightly.
“But it’s special. And you like fried chicken,” we persist, becoming determined that she will not sacrifice her lunch for us.
“Oh, well, I grew up eating fried chicken. I could eat it any time. It’s not that special to me,” she laughs comfortably.
Dad joins in – on the wrong side. “It’s true. She likes ham a lot better.”
“But what will you eat? You gotta have some meat,” we try the nutritional tack.
“I’m having some cheese. I’ll get protein.”
A moment of reflective, self-conscious silence. Then, dubiously, “OK. Thank you, Mommy.”
I could talk about the chicken more. It was good. I could tell how the drummies were different in size, and how Laura took a bite of my bigger piece so that the consumption of the forfeited chicken was equal and just. I could reminisce about how I realized that day that one more piece of chicken really does make the whole day seem good.
But the moment deserves a closer look from a much different angle. Dear Reader, this particular memory encapsulates for me one of the most outstanding virtues of my mother’s character: her selflessness. In my mind, this epitomizes her lifestyle – a mundane picture that somehow manages to capture the majesty of the divine Imprint that has been evident in her my entire life, and only grows bolder and more vivid with each act of self-denial. That day she gave up what, in our eyes, comprised a significant treat. Other days she has sacrificed precious time, money, sleep (which is scarce enough to begin with), and her rights. She has sacrificed her life, not in one magnificent, final act, but in thousands of small, unseen services.
I suppose that giving away two small pieces of chicken constitutes but a minute deed in the history of mankind . . . but then, so did giving away two small fish, at first. It probably cost my mother little thought, perhaps even little effort. I doubt she even remembers this event. But the trivial act became a turning point in a young girl’s thinking, and because the act does not stand alone, her lifestyle changed as well. I realized at that lunch table more clearly that I had ever realized before, that happiness is not having what you want. In fact, it’s not even wanting what you have. Rather, it is wanting other people to have, more than one’s self.
The relatively large guest room seated us all comfortably, reclining Roman-style. A warm, spring breeze slipped in through the eastward window to caress us gently. The low table (of rough wood, but adequate) graced the air with the scent of food and wine – the sacred Passover Meal. The third Passover we had shared. It is a solemn meal in itself, but this night unusual tension filled the air.
Peter and John had made the preparations, according to the Master’s instructions. The man carrying a water jar had led them to a suitable room, just as He had prophesied, and they had procured the lamb, the unleavened bread and the herbs with which to remember the day of deliverance. It was not until the rest of us had arrived and taken our places that we realized that there was no servant here to tend to us. There had been a moment of silence. Several nervous glances were exchanged. A few joking comments came and went, and still we lay, staring at everyone and no one. We could feel His eyes – neither angered nor amused – passing over us, face by face. None of us met His gaze. I became very absorbed with a shallow chip in the worn, brown brick of the floor beneath the table. We all waited to see who would take the towel and bowl, and shame himself by washing the feet of the rest.
Who was the least important of us – or, more to the point, the greatest?
The sun beat down on the dry earth at the foot of the mountain. The crowd murmured and exclaimed over the boy, walking slowly toward home with his joyous father. Both faces still showed signs of tears, but glowed with happiness. No longer would the evil spirit torment the child.
We stood with arms crossed, more than a little bitter. All our efforts had not exorcised the demon from him – but at one word from the Master, it had fled.
Simon the Zealot started it. “Well, it was beginning to respond to me when the Master walked up! I could have gotten it.”
Phillip drew his belt a little tighter and snorted. “Yeah, I could tell by the way the convulsions were increasing that you were really getting places!”
Levi broke in. “You should have let me have a little longer with him. You know that when the twelve of us were sent out, I cast out the most demons, hands down.”
Nathaniel rolled his eyes. “Yeah, that makes you the man for the job, all right. Too bad you ran to hide behind Judas when the violence started. You looked like that little kid over there, hiding in the folds of his mommy’s tunic!”
The argument grew more heated before Master’s voice silenced us. He called the little boy to His side. The child responded with a delighted laugh, black curls bouncing as he trotted over to take the big hand offered to him.
“Whoever welcomes this little child in My name welcomes Me; and whoever welcomes Me welcomes the One who sent Me. For he who is least among you all – he is the greatest.”
But the Master’s words had gone right over our heads, and we continued to discuss it often, especially when He wasn’t around.
Some of us glanced meaningfully at John. As the youngest, typically he would have been relegated to such tasks. But none of us really expected him to get up; he belonged to the Master’s inner circle, and we all knew it. Perhaps this night our feet would just stay dirty. The thought made my skin crawl for a moment, both because of the dark film of sweat and street dust that covered them, and because it just didn’t seem right – especially on the night of the Passover. But one by one, we gave up trying to stare each other into doing a task from which our pride vigorously recoiled, and turned our gaze to the head of the table.
We waited in expectation for Him to begin the litany of blessings over the memorial foods and cups. But He did not raise His eyes, much less His voice. His attention was fixed on the lamb, in the center of the table. Roasted and glistening brown, the rich, meaty scent of it made my stomach growl and my mouth begin to water. But His expression told me that food was the last thing on His mind. The ultimate symbol of the Passover, its blood had meant salvation to those whose dwellings it covered those thousands of years ago. It reposed on the platter, spotless, and with bones unbroken, its death representing life for us.
Downstairs we could hear the low buzz of other voices partaking of the sacred feast. Thaddeus stirred a little, restlessly, and his dark hair fell over his eyes. Just as Peter began to speak, He suddenly got to His feet. Some of us started at the unforeseen motion, and all eyes watched Him intently.
We all remained dumb as He stepped away from the table, and began to remove His cloak. Some rose to a fully seated position as He folded the long, drab piece of material and laid it down with the fluid, deliberate motions with which He did everything. Still He did not speak. Then He bent and picked up the towel.
Immediately, most of us stiffened. Low murmurs spread as He wrapped it around His waist, outside His interior garment with skilled, practiced hands. He secured it deftly, and leaned to take up the heavy, clay pitcher of fresh water. He carefully poured it into the basin next to it. John groaned softly, his voice muted by the trickling of water, but still no one stepped forward to take it from Him. Somehow, I think we didn’t really believe He’d go through with it. We judged Him by our own weakenesses.
He crossed the room to stand by James. He knelt, with movements neither hurried nor slow. He was on His knees before His own disciple. The Rabbi that all Judea was talking about, He whom we had seen raise the dead, had just deliberately placed Himself in a posture of dishonor. He reached for James’ right foot. James drew his breath in sharply, and held it. Fright and confusion filled his eyes, and he looked frantically at the rest of us. Do something! But we didn’t know what to do. Or rather, we couldn’t bring ourselves to do what we knew we should. Peter’s mouth opened, then closed; then opened, then closed again. The right foot. The left. James was clean.
Tender-hearted John was next. He blinked hard against tears, trembling a little as His Master cleaned the feet of His beloved spiritual son. Time crawled by. The food sat untouched, but no matter; our appetites had gone. The weight of the paradox before our eyes crushed us. The towel around the Master’s waist began to look damp and streaked, as the stain of our dirt transferred to His person.
Sitting next to John was Judas Iscariot. The Master’s movements continued, with an inexorable, mesmerizing regularity. Such gentle hands. The right foot. The left. I caught Judas’ eye. He shrugged slightly, and looked away.
Then He came to Peter. The silence became unbearable as He held out His hand for a foot. Peter finally exploded. He tried to stand, but lost his balance and quickly found his seat again. “Lord, are you really going to wash my feet?”
The Master’s eyes reflected sorrowful patience. “Peter, you don’t realize now what I’m doing . . . but later you will understand.” Trust Me.
What was there to understand? He was acting as though He were a slave and we were His masters, not His apprentices!
“No,” Peter shook his head furiously, “you’ll never wash my feet.” I won’t let you shame Yourself on my account.
The Master’s tone grew stern. “Unless I wash you, you have no part with Me.”
This only increased our confusion. What significance did this humiliating ritual have for Him? We had been with Him for three years, and we didn’t yet have any part with Him? What did it mean? Peter didn’t bother to ask. Eyes widening in alarm, he changed tack in mid-argument.
“In that case, Lord,” he shot back, “don’t stop with my feet! Wash my hands and my head, too!” His tone was partly jocular, partly anxious. He struggled earnestly to keep this from being just a lowly foot-washing. Sometimes the Master needed to be saved from Himself. Calloused, hairy, fisherman’s hands stretched imploringly toward the man with the towel.
But the Master shook His head. “A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean.” Peter threw up his hands in frustration. Shock faded into mere discomfort and irritation. Grasping Peter’s dusty feet, the rabbi began to bathe them. But as the washing went on, something happened to Peter as it had to the others. He said no more, but his shoulders slumped, and his eyes grew suspiciously red. He wiped his hand down his face, and looked away.
Then it was my turn.
The strings of my sandals were deftly loosed, and the shoe removed gently. The warmth of His palms took me by surprise. I began to weep as His tender fingers grasped my sole. He dipped my foot to the ankle in the lukewarm water, and His thumbs worked to rub away the grime. I wept from shame. And I wept for love. The hands that I had seen command wind and waves, halting thunderbolts in their paths and pushing back dark curtains of stormcloud and torrential rain, tended to one of my basest needs. The lips that I had heard pronounce the judgments and prophecies of The One Who Is Too Holy To Be Named moved soundlessly in earnest prayer – over me. Shoulders that would soon bear the heaviest burden in all of history bowed intently over my uncleanness. And He was enjoying it! He took pleasure even in this ignoble act of washing my feet – because through it, He could express His glorious love by caring for me as a servant. His act of supreme submission unleashed power of a sort we neither knew nor understood. True power, not of this world, but able to conquer it. Power to do what we could not do for ourselves. Power born of love, not pride. I have never felt so cherished. I would have done anything for Him at that moment – or so I thought.
What manner of Man is this?
When He had dried and re-shod the twenty-fourth foot, He washed and wiped His wrinkled fingers, untied the towel and folded it, and took up His cloak from the floor. Shaking out its folds, He settled it once more around His shoulders, and walked back to His place at the table. Our heads followed Him. Seating Himself, He lifted His eyes and smiled.
“Do you understand what I have done for you?”
“You all call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should also wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example so that you would do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master . . .” at this we cringed “. . . nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
He turned His eyes again toward the lamb, then lifted them and began to pray.
“Blessed are You, O Lord our God . . .”
Copyright 2010 Sarah Juve