“Come, let us return to the Lord. For he has torn us, but he will heal us; he has wounded us, but he will bandage us…He will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.” (Hos. 6.1-3)
The storm we dreaded ravaged us. And it rescued us.
Things have been onerous in a manner not necessarily visible, or even easily explicable. While the quotidian continued along its usual and expected trajectory with intermittent periods of joy and frustration, ecstasy and drear, we became acutely aware of a spreading dryness. Scanning our landscape, we observed that areas, once lush, had become parched. Parts of our terrain had turned extremely and dangerously dry.
And all the while, an elemental pressure was building. We desperately needed the rain, but I lived with dread of the storm. I listened nervously for rumbling thunder and observed the sky for signs of electricity. One spark in this wasteland could mean devastation.
The configurations and details of our dreaded storms are individual and extremely personal.
Maybe, for you, the gathering pressure is financial. You’ve lived teetering on the edge, barely keeping your balance. You’ve attempted to outrun the impending inevitable, but now, faced with reality, you cower under the battering rain of bankruptcy and loss.
Maybe you have attempted to evade a worrisome health issue. You’ve ignored it and explained it away for too long before finally acknowledging it aloud. It’s all in your mind, you hope. It’s nothing to worry about, you pray. The physicians observe and test…and you wait. The phone rings, the thunder rolls in the sky, and you feel in your gut that life is about to shift.
Maybe it’s a relationship that’s been frustrating and so painful in spite of your many attempts toward restoration. You’ve read the books, you’ve prayed the prayers, you’ve visited the counsellors, you’ve had the conversations. But the storm clouds continue to gather and the sky threatens to open. Perhaps it’s sustained relational tension or even infidelity, suspected or confirmed. You’d never have imagined it possible, but you now stand overlooking the precipice of divorce.
Maybe your dreaded storm is a dark night of the soul or a total loss or restructuring of faith. You always thought you knew the answers. You tried to live faithfully. But now, large questions brew and swirl. And you know you must turn to engage them.
The storms we dread have this in common: they build over time and we live in the heaviness of them—waiting, ignoring, enduring, dreading, avoiding, slogging. The air is thick, suffocating, paralyzing. We try—oh, how we try—to fix our gaze on the positive, denying that the parched ground is smouldering, hot and dry, ripe for devastating fire. We pray for rain, but we fear the implications of the storm that will deliver the very thing we need. A tiny spark, combined with tinder-dry conditions, is all that is required for a catastrophic wildfire.
As for me, I kept one eye on the sky, trying to stay ahead of what I perceived would be the worst, most horrific thing. When lighting struck and the landscape of my life was ravaged by fire, the storm simultaneously broke. And the rain poured. The storm that ignited the fire almost immediately contained the fire.
The blinding flash and deafening crash of the storm finally breaking was dreadful, but in retrospect, I’ve come to believe that the drought conditions and the gathering storm were actually the harder part.
Though we dread it, the eruption of the storm—the actual crisis moment—can be the very thing to break the pressure.
Last week, I heard rumbling thunder in the distance, and my thoughts launched a scenario I attempted to capture with words. Though very simple, it felt revelatory to me.
I see a dark, foreboding sky and feel the brooding, angst-filled, low grade pressure of an impending storm. Lighting strikes, and with an overtly aggressive crack of thunder, the sky splits and drops begin to fall—giant, pounding drops. Slowly at first, but then faster. The drops conjoin to become a vertical flood. Releasing the pressure. Releasing the heaviness. Releasing the cloud sorrow that’s been held, though only barely, for too long. I dreaded this, but now I see that with the breaking comes relief. The water pours; initially tears and anguish unleashed, but then, fresh water…washing, rinsing, cleansing, quenching.”
The fire that was burning in my brain—the painful sparking of synapses with every thought, every flash of memory, every replay—has been doused with cool rain. The fire is extinguished and the swelling pressure is relieved.
The fire is out. Yes, it burned furiously for a moment, but it’s out.
In the aftermath of the storm I so dreaded, the atmosphere has changed. The air temperature is fresh and breathable. The thickness is broken and I move with ease through what was, but a short time ago, stifling, constricting and suffocating.
I didn’t want this fire. I didn’t seek this storm. But I notice something in its aftermath. The burning has removed chaff. The burning has removed facades. The burning has removed excess. The burning has removed ignorant certainty.
The fire was painful—sickening, undesired, charring, diminishing—but though memories of heat remain in my scorched skin, the rain has cooled and soothed.
The debriding will take time as the charred remnants of emotion, security and illusion are removed. It’s a tedious process, excruciating and ugly, but necessary for healing. This temporary pain is for restoration and regeneration. Superficially, there will be scars, but underneath, health abounds.
Though we grieve the loss of what was—what existed before—we embrace our new reality. Our altered landscape. The storm hit and we were ignited, but the rain came and saved us from irreparable devastation.
So now, we rise. Faces marred with soot and ash. Broken skin in the process of healing. We hold in our hands the precious and essential elements that resisted the fire. We have been refined. Love remains.
Beauty from ashes. Joy from mourning.