When people ask me, “So, how are you doing?”, if it is a safe person and they are really asking, I tell them, “It has been a long slow fall down a winding spiral staircase.”
Although I am describing something of what my last few weeks have looked like with Jeff so sick in the hospital, I am also talking about our last 2 years. That word picture encompasses not only the emotion of the quick decline of Jeff’s health and how it has affected our family, but of our disappointment at not returning overseas, of the sad realization that our lives will look different than we had ever planned, of a difficult move to a new place that was not anywhere on our radar a few years ago, of the grief of several years of loss demanding expression and of my resulting depression.
A long, slow fall down a winding spiral staircase.
Just when I thought we had surely reached bottom, oh no…we weren’t even close. It has just kept going on and on and I have just kept tumbling down and down. The promised end has continued to stretch further and further out of reach until one day, weeks in to our recent experiences, I woke up and thought to myself, “How on earth did we get here?” And tangentially, “Where did all these bruises come from?”
I suspect many personal crises play out in a similar way.
Something happens. Reaction. Survival mode. Denial. Awakening to reality. Periodic gut-wrenching sobs accompanied by bouts of nausea. Asking, “What the heck just happened?”
At least that has been my experience.
In light of all this, a spiritual/theological question is rolling around in my heart these days…(and let me preface this with the full realization that many others have encountered much steeper, much longer and more painful falls than I)
Why the fall?
Sometimes life takes these odd twisting descents that lead us to places we never imagined we would have to go. Sometimes there is quite fall. And sometimes it takes a long time to get the ground back under us.
I say “sometimes”, but if you’ve walked in this world long enough, then I’m sure you have had a season where the road has disappeared. You’ve fallen. And I bet it all took longer than you hoped it would or thought it should. And I bet the sheer distance of the fall not only took your breath away, but it probably left some pretty decent bruises. Probably in some awkward and private places.
Is. 40:4 says, “Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.” The idea of God leveling out the rough ground is common imagery in scripture. (Ps. 26:12, Ps. 143: 10, Is. 26:7, Is. 45:2, Heb. 12:13) And no doubt, Jesus shows up and smiles on each of us with kind mercies, making our way sweeter and more joyful than it could be. He sometimes, but not always, buffers and takes the edge off. But honestly, my experience with God seems to involve quite a bit of rough ground. Leveling? Well, my perspective will be different in a few months, but right now? Not so much.
Because I live in a world where sin and its destructive power have roughed up just about every corner of creation. And Jesus doesn’t always fix things. Not right now, anyway. Not always in the way we had hoped.
The pathway to more of Jesus is often a descent. It can involve a fall through our direst fears, past our greatest weaknesses, filled with loss of the things we were sure we could never live without. It can be bruising. Yet…He goes with us. Making sure we are never alone. Accompanying us as we tumble. Showing us that it isn’t the fall that will kill us. It is a life without Him. A life ruled by our fears, defined by our weaknesses and filled with shallow imitations of what our hearts truly long for is far more dangerous than anything we might encounter on the way down.
A jarring tumble can be quite eye-opening, showing us things we just cannot see when blinded by good times. And a significant fall can crack open our hearts in a most beautiful way, making room for Him to join us in the dark places inside of us we may not even know are there.
And…I am learning to open myself up to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, He levels a different type of ground than what I expect or prefer. Maybe He isn’t always talking about the ground that makes my shoes so dirty.
Maybe, the level ground He is talking about involves the terrain of the heart. I know He makes the ground my heart walks on very stable indeed, regardless of what is under my feet. How else to describe how people endure horrible, devastating external circumstances, but manage to eventually recover and thrive? Just how DID Paul write so much of the New Testament from prison? How did Corrie Ten Boom survive years in concentration camps and come out loving Jesus even more than before? How do believers today walk with Jesus in some pretty dark places and still sing in worship and gratitude?
Jesus did something amazing in their hearts, that’s how. He healed what was broken. He filled up the holes. He smoothed rough ground. He was with them through the worst seasons of life. And He was enough. Even with the fall. Even with the resulting bruising.
And while I write about those who are much more deeply in love with Jesus, who bear His image so much clearer than I, He has also done this for me.
He has allowed me to glimpse something of how sweet it is to know Him in the midst of the fall.
(Update on Jeff’s condition: Jeff has made an amazing turnaround. He left the ICU this past weekend and is now walking around, eating solid food, smiling and chatting with his family and should come home hopefully this weekend. And for a while there, we weren’t sure he would. The best part of all this? I get more of Jesus…and I get my husband back too. We are so very grateful for the prayers lifted up on his behalf around the world. More of our story to come…please stay tuned!)