There was no going back. Flying high above the ocean in the middle of the night, we were hurtling inescapably to some far-off place halfway around the world. Fear, anxiety, dread, and despair engulfed me like the crashing waves thousands of feet below. I closed my eyes, tried not to cry, and prayed for dear life. Finally, it was over. I opened my eyes to see a new day dawning. The sun was shining, I was still breathing, and friendly faces were welcoming. There was no going back, but somehow I knew it was going to be okay.
That's the defining moment of my childhood in 100 words or less. The day when we moved to Germany and everything changed forever. A different country, a foreign language, a new school, no money, few friends. It wasn't easy. Sometimes it was downright painful. If not for a gracious God and generous German relatives, we wouldn't have made it. In the end, it turned out to be a good experience for me and my family. But that doesn't mean it wasn't difficult to go through at the time.
I went to a retreat in Kansas back in the '90s that was about dealing with grief. I remember the speaker saying that every loss in this life is like a little death. Whether it be losing a pet, having a bike stolen, going through a divorce, enduring a pandemic, or moving halfway around the world, experiences like these are all little deaths that we must grieve and mourn. If we don't take the time to do so, we won't be able to move on with our lives. Not that we ever fully get past these experiences, but somehow, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can rise above them.
This is not an easy process. It demands an open and honest look at our lives in order to reveal who we are and what our world is really like. As Paul David Tripp puts it ...
"We are all theologians, building some kind of belief system.
We are all preachers, proclaiming some type of message.
We are all philosophers, discussing meaning and purpose, and identity.
We are all archaeologists, digging through mounds of relationships and experiences, trying to make sense of our lives."
As we undertake this excavation process, we must choose our tools carefully. The Book of Hebrews helps us out in this endeavor. "The word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating and dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow, as it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." (Heb. 4:12)
The sword of the spirit in Holy Scripture does indeed show us our sin, but thanks be to God, it also shows us our Savior. It does this through the scalpel of the law and the soothing salve of the gospel. The law comes to convict us and kill us, while the gospel comes to calm and comfort us and make us alive again, gracing us with the love and forgiveness of God in Jesus Christ. As Keith Getty puts it, "there is a sword that makes the wounded whole."
This can be a painful process to be sure, but like the bronze serpent in the wilderness, the curse is part of the cure. The antidote is a person who has survived the poison. Jesus came to take on the power of the enemy, to actually become sin for us. He was accursed, forsaken, and abandoned by his Father for us on the tree of Calvary. He took the sting of sin with the full power of the Law’s venom. He took it with him to the cross and to the grave, and on the third day he rose victorious and triumphant over sin. death, and the devil.
The victory has been won, but there are still some battles left to fight before the war is finally over. We press on toward the goal, following our Captain who goes before us in the fight. We know where we've been and where we are going, but in the meantime, we also realize there are some things that won't be resolved, some wounds that won't fully heal until we arrive on the other side.
"Alas, there are some wounds that cannot be wholly cured," said Gandalf. "I fear it may be so with mine," said Frodo. "There is no real going back. Though I may come to the Shire, it will not seem the same; for I shall not be the same. I am wounded with knife, sting, tooth, and a long burden. Where shall I find rest?”
“Then the ship went out into the high sea and passed on into the west, until at last on a night of rain he smelled a sweet fragrance in the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And it seemed to him a dream, as the grey rain-curtain turned to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.” (Tolkien, Return of the King)
“Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:28-29)
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