Why do some people seem able to float along life’s surface; to remain perpetually buoyant? Conceivably, it’s by nature of their personality type, or equally likely, I’ve fallen prey once again to the myth of shiny paint. As one who is highly sensitive and who feels everything deeply, I’m sometimes envious of those whom I perceive to be unaffected (though I know, in reality, there are actually about zero people in this category). Surely they just hide the hard stuff or manage it better than I do. In any case, I am not one of these people.
I am in the thick of it. I feel every single jarring step, every blow, every unintentional slight. I sometimes feel like I’m slogging, waist-deep, through swampy terrain, or like I’m in a video game where the goal is to dodge flying debris—duck and weave or endure constant collisions.
Being sensitive and feeling deeply makes life harder, for certain, but it also forces me into God. Though I occasionally complain and rail against hardship, I would not change my journey. I have learned to war. I have learned to know peace. I have learned to live with deep joy in the middle of the mess. God has enabled me to walk on the heights.
I seldom re-watch movies or re-read books; plot lines stick with me, so it feels like wasted time. If a book does make it onto the “re-read” list, it’s because it has affected me profoundly. “Hinds’ Feet On High Places” by Hannah Hurnard is one I have read multiple times. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.
“Hinds’ Feet on High Places” is an allegory that tells the story of a fearful, young woman named Much Afraid (aka. you and I) who desires to reach the high places. Her journey with the Shepherd (aka. Jesus) is not what she expects. While she assumes the voyage will be from point A to point B, as the crow flies, the way up actually includes long deviations in (what she perceives to be) the wrong direction via the Furnace of Egypt, the Forests of Danger and Tribulation, the Valley of Humiliation, the Sea of Loneliness, the Precipice of Injury, the Valley of Loss and the Grave on the Mountains. The handmaidens chosen to accompany her on the path set before her are named Sorrow and Suffering. (Awesome. Thanks, Shepherd!) Her journey to wholeness includes seasons of foggy, hindered vision and painful experience (sound familiar?). But these very trials that we would confidently place in the category of bad are actually what heal and refine her, enabling her to walk on the heights. The Shepherd keeps his promise and delivers Much Afraid to the high places. And then he changes her name: she is no longer Much Afraid, but Grace and Glory. And those seemingly ill-chosen handmaidens, Sorrow and Suffering, become Joy and Peace. The interesting thing is that once Grace and Glory arrives in the heights, she chooses to follow the Shepherd back to those valley places, so that she may encourage others to make the journey.
Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms that things won’t always be easy in this world:
I have told you these things so that in me, you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16.33)
He never promised we’d be immune and that hard things wouldn’t happen. We’re humans living in the world and as far as I know, there’s no vaccine to counter the human experience. Except for Jesus. What we DO have is the assurance that he is with us—all the time, no matter what.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.”
And I would add…
When you feel exhausted, he gives rest.
When you grieve, he gives comfort.
When you don’t know what to do, he gives wisdom.
When you lack direction, he knows the plan.
When you lack hope, he is hope.
When you feel alone, he doesn’t leave your side.
When you feel lost, he knows exactly where you are.
When you feel unseen, he sees you.
When you feel unknown, he knows you.
When you lack anything, he is a father who gives good gifts to his children.
As I was sitting in bed this morning, drinking coffee and writing in my journal, all of this came pouring out. He whispered, this is what I want you to tell them—this is what I want them to know today. So here it is, raw and relatively unedited (which makes me terribly uncomfortable):
He is stable, level ground under your feet—even when the ground heaves and swells and even when sink holes appear. He is stable when unexpected things erupt in your pathway, when the ground feels like a fun house floor, shifting and jerking startlingly. He is stable when it feels like you’re running a gauntlet; when it feels like life is a reality TV game show, not unlike “Wipeout.” He is stable when it feels like you’re being stalked or you need to fight for your life, like in “The Hunger Games.” Even then. He is level ground under your feet.
The noisy and worrisome things of life vie for our attention and demand our focus. Don’t give it. Be stubborn! Ignore them today. Choose to hear the quiet voice of peace. Listen for his still, small voice. Listen to the one who is not intimidated or thrown off by your circumstances; the one who isn’t distracted by the world’s clamouring. He speaks peace. He tells it to be quiet.
He will make the ground level under your feet. He is unchanging. He is above your circumstances. He is under the shifting ground at the most foundational level. There is nothing that can undermine him. He is the solid bottom of it all. Referencing Narnia, he is the Deeper Magic from BEFORE the dawn of time. Deeper than the superficial powers that look as though they rule your life. They don’t. No, he is under it all. He is before all things and in him all things hold together. Even you.
Don’t look at the uneven ground. Look up. Walk with eyes forward as though the ground were level before you. Not timidly, as when you’re uncertain as to whether there’s another step remaining in a flight of stairs, and you do that weird searching foot thing. Step confidently and assuredly.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.” (Isa. 40.4)
Let circumstances be what they may—actually difficult, actually uneven, actually unpredictable, actually painful—he can cause your experience to be one of level ground under your feet.
Trust him. Try it out. Eyes on him. Eyes on his goodness. Eyes on his unchanging nature. Eyes on his faithfulness.
I understand the longing for heaven, because things will never be perfect here on earth, but I don’t believe we need fly away to the celestial shores of heaven to know his perfect peace and incredible joy. We can know his goodness right now in the middle of the imperfect.
I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.” (Ps. 27.13)
As much as the journey can be arduous and not what we expected, I believe the Lord when he says we’ll know his goodness now, while we’re alive on this earth. He made this beautiful earth for us to care for and to enjoy. While we certainly do live in “the now and the not yet” of his kingdom, there is some now to be had. We don’t need to hold out for the other side. We can experience his presence and the comfort of his steady hand now.
Jesus is our source of strength. He is the one who enables us to navigate rough terrain. We can do hard things! We can handle uneven ground. We can tread on the heights.
“The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights.” (NIV, Hab. 3.19)
This hooked wall hanging of one of my favourite verses was a gift made for me by my talented friend Deb McCready.