“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:8-10, ESV).
This scripture has been following me for the last week. The author, James, is pleading with God’s people to turn from their worldly ways, their sin, and humbly grieve sin and all its consequences. Cleanse your hands of the sin and worldliness you partake in, even the “small” sins like white lies and insecurity and manipulation.
Let the reality of sin and shame have its full effect in mourning, gloom, weeping and humiliation. When we grasp the utter depravity of humankind because of sin, when we can see what our sin does to our relationship with the Father, to one another, and when we experience the true depth of impact sin has on our heart and mind, we can’t help but grieve.
Jesus said that those who mourn are blessed and they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4), but until we mourn the comfort will elude us. How can we be comforted when we refuse to accept and embrace the reality of our plight? How can we accept the love God has for us when we can’t even acknowledge where we have been using our own sin to occupy the space God longs to fill with His love?
I long to experience the love of God the way Paul talks about in Ephesians. When I start to think about the depth of God’s love written in scripture, and the moments He’s blessed me with the ability to have a glimpse of the overwhelming love He has for someone in front of me, I can’t help but cry. Still, there’s this Grand Canyon between my brain and my heart that struggles to experience it for myself.
A wise person once told me that when it comes to being a Christian, your feelings don’t get a vote in your walk following Christ. They can have a voice, but they don’t get a vote. Another wise person told me that when it comes to following Christ, the cross of Christ must always be the anchor that keeps me on course. In the last few years as my emotions have acted like a pinball in a pinball machine, and every “good” thing about being a Christian went out the window, all that remained was the cross of Christ. I couldn’t seem to feel anything about Jesus, but the cross remained.
God continues to draw me into the deep. He guides me, or sends me, down the dark hall of my mind and invites me to open doors I’d much rather leave locked and barricaded. The thing about being transformed in the renewal of your mind, however, is that Paul is talking about the whole mind - not just parts of it (Romans 12:2).
This means being willing to explore the areas of my mind still carrying shrapnel from the explosive trauma I’ve experienced. We all have pain. Some of us have simply done a great job of self-medicating ourselves, or turning it off entirely while it slowly infects our relationships. The idea of taking a long look at the wound and digging deep into the flesh with a pair of tweezers to pull out the shards is not appealing.
However, if we’re going to heal we have to be willing to take an honest look at the wound. Not analyze it, not ogle at it, but look at it for what it is and be willing to dig out the sin, pour scripture into it, bring it to the Great Physician and let Him work on it the way only He can.
After a week of this scripture coming to mind during the rare quiet moments between activities, I had three difficult conversations with three different women who don’t know one another at all but all know the Lord. Each had a word of truth that coincided perfectly with what the other had to say. Songs that came on the radio were far too perfectly timed to my thought processes to be a coincidence.
I finally trekked up a grassy hill on a friend’s property to talk to God. When I got there, I didn’t know what to say. A soft breeze cooled the warm afternoon and the tall grass, adorned with wild daisies and purple flowers I couldn’t begin to name, swayed in encouragement. “Talk to me,” He seemed to say. “Just talk to me.”
I’m sure what I said was unfair, unkind and certainly unwise. I’m positive I spoke from a place of ignorance and pain, and yet my Father’s invitation to share my pain with Him, however misplaced my anger and hurt, was undeniable. I could feel, more than I could hear, His longing to know me, even though no one knew me better than Him.
As I sat there I wrestled with the consequences of sin. “How could you allow…?” Came from my lips more times than I cared to count. Still, He listened. The pain of sin committed against me welled up in my eyes and I fought it. How could this pain exist when I’d surrendered it all to Him?
“Samantha,” He seemed to say, “a patient can completely surrender herself to a doctor for healing, but surrender doesn’t eliminate the suffering that comes when the doctor removes shrapnel from the wound.” Surrender doesn’t remove pain. It simply makes the pain purposeful. I prefer the pain of pulling out a piece of metal lodged in my thigh than the pain of infection spreading.
We all have pain. Tribulation is a promised part of life (John 16:33). Jesus didn't come to eliminate pain but to give it purpose, and that purpose is to glorify himself through us and the work He predestined for us to do (John 17:3-4). Sometimes healing hurts.
Only those willing to dig out the shards of sin from their hearts are able to experience the love and comfort that God promises to those willing to weep and mourn over the consequences of sin. This isn't an excuse to circle the drain, but rather an invitation to get through the pain it by learning what needs to be learned and moving forward having grown from the experience. He exalts the humble.
You can't call yourself healed if you've never acknowledged what needs healing. And there’s no point in seeing a doctor if you’re unwilling to acknowledge the true extent of your wounds. We can't heal or remove what we don't know needs healing, so we have to look.
In that looking I know some have experienced complete and total restoration instantaneously, and I praise God for His mercy in those circumstances! For some of us, and certainly not all, there seasons of healing. As we grow and learn we become aware of ways we were holding onto sin and sickness without realizing it, and we have another season of deeper healing.
Even in the slow and steady process of letting go, of looking at the pain and handing it over to the Lord, He is faithful. My feelings are fleeting, the pain is certainly sharp, but the cross remains. When the pain begins to fade, the glory of the cross shines even brighter than before.