The following tale is installment three of one pilgrim’s fictional journey up the hill of Golgotha to the place of Christ’s crucifixion. Join me on this journey over the following six days as we prepare our hearts for Easter Sunday. If you are new here, read installments one and two to catch up.
By late afternoon, the heat of the day had really begun to do a number on my strength. Over the last hour or so, I had been forced to take small sips from my thermos to prevent dehydration. Even though my thirst was assuaged by the warm water, there were few things I wouldn't have done at that time for a drink of cold, refreshing water! Shaking my thermos in a swirling motion, I began to worry over my depleting water supply when I came to a fork in the path.
All was quiet around me as I thought through which direction to take. I desperately needed to find a creek or water source to refill my thermos, so I examined each path and considered my options. The path that forked to the left appeared to slope upwards in a smooth manner. The desert tree coverage was thicker, meaning I would not be completely hiking under the heat of the sun. Yet as I looked that direction, I felt an uneasiness in my spirit about this trail. On the other hand, the path forking to the right seemed to be a much more challenging hike. The tree coverage was sparse, and the path appeared to be rocky and steep. Yet even though I did not want to continue in the sun, I was drawn to this more difficult path.
“Which way, Father?” I asked out loud. But no answer from heaven came.
This is the way. Walk in it. I felt a gentle stirring in my spirit as I looked to the right. I began to rummage through my sack absentmindedly as I wrestled with my decision. Deep down, I knew that I needed to follow that gentle prodding to continue on the more difficult path, but everything within me wanted to go the easier direction.
This is the way. Walk in it. The stirring became more insistent as I looked to the right.
“I am so tired, and I feel like my best bet would be to take the trail to the left,” I reasoned as I continued to shuffle supplies around in my sack. “Water is most likely this direction, as the vegetation seems to be healthier.” I wrestled within as my spirit waged war with my mind.
This is the way. Walk in it.
I gestured to the path on the left. “Look at that smooth path! The shade is calling out to my weary body! I’ll bet there is water this direction, too,” I repeated as I spoke out loud, talking more to myself than to my Father. I listed the many reasons I should continue my journey by taking the trail to the left until, finally, I wrestled into quietness that still, small voice. The uneasiness in my spirit began to lessen, too. I zipped my sack closed with a quick gesture of finality and erased from my mind any considerations for the trail to the right. I chose the path to the left without another moment’s hesitation, for every sensible argument led me to conclude that this was the better decision, no matter what that still, small voice might have said.
As I continued my hike with determination, the silence of the afternoon put me in a rather contemplative mood. The gentle hike was a welcome relief to my aching muscles, and I began to whistle a cheery tune as I enjoyed the scenery around me. “I will find water soon enough!” I exclaimed with excitement. But much to my chagrin, time passed and I found myself no closer to water than I had been at the fork in the trail. Instead, the vegetation became more and more sparse, the trees thinned out considerably, and the trail became steep and rocky. What was worse, I glimpsed at my compass and realized I was heading in the wrong direction. This path, with so much promise at its beginning, was turning out to be quite a disastrous decision. I can fix this, I thought, all the while fighting back a great feeling of foolishness over my decision.
I had been hiking for what seemed like hours when I noticed a throbbing sensation in the sole of my left foot. Spotting a large boulder a little ways off the trail, I took the opportunity to rest and examine the cause of my foot pain. I dropped my pack to the ground with a loud thud, thankful for the opportunity to relieve my back of the heavy load. Situating myself on the rock, I removed my left sandal and watched as bits of dust and a tiny pebble fell to the ground. I then reached down and began to massage my aching foot. That small pebble had created quite a sore! I had been so preoccupied with my thoughts that I had not noticed the slight irritation. I began to grumble out loud at my predicament.
“Why did I choose this path, anyway? Why did You not tell me this trail would lead me in the wrong direction?” I said with strong emotion as I accused the Father. He knew the fruitless direction this trail would take me. Why had He not spoken up sooner and warned me of this? He could have stopped this. I searched in my sack for the ointment and a bandage to wrap my foot.
“You led me astray,” I continued, as I applied the ointment and the bandage. “You could have prevented this if you would have just spoken up.” But even as I said the words, I knew that He had directed me, though not audibly. Was that not His still, small voice that had urged me to continue on the path to the right? Had he not whispered within my spirit, “This is the way, walk in it”?
Slipping my sandal back onto my foot, I acknowledged the truth to myself, that the fault was mine entirely, and at once the dam released as a flooding sense of shame fell upon me. I covered my eyes as I moaned. ”Why do I always do this? I always screw things up, and now look at me! My foot is aching, my water is almost gone, and I am lost on this rotten trail!” I fidgeted distractedly with something in my hands as I wrestled internally over my predicament. Instead of quieting my spirit and taking the time to seek my Father’s wisdom, I allowed memories of past failures and sins to fill my mind. And as I contemplated those memories, I recalled the many labels I had held throughout my life:
It was almost as if they were true of me again. The shame was palpable as I dwelt upon the reality of the person I once was. Who was I to think I could even complete this climb? How was I worthy of such an endeavor? I looked at my pack on the ground and knew it was time I head back down, even as more of my sins accused me in that moment. Selfish. Greedy. Hateful. Prideful. I wallowed in regret for my past choices, and my shame became a garb of heaviness and embarrassment upon me.
“This was a wasted effort, Father. Who am I before You? Look at me! I’m nothing but a mess. A terrible, sinful mess.” My eyes seemed to be blinded by my shame, so I closed them as if to hide from my own awfulness. A lump of grief settled upon my chest, but I couldn’t even release the tears as I tried to hold myself together. I rubbed my face roughly with my hands before kneeling to place my supplies back in my pack. It was time to head back down to where I belonged. My spirit quieted as I arranged everything, and a sweet, melodious song reached my ears. I listened intently to the words of this song:
In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. (Is. 30:15)
I laughed allowed and shook my head. “This is a song for someone else. Someone more deserving.” But the song continued:
Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore He will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for Him! (Is. 30:18)
“A God of justice, see? And what does a guilty man do in the face of justice? He flees! There is no other course I can take. I stand before You, lost on a trail of my own doing, and I am guilty!” I zipped up my bag and noticed, for the first time since I had chosen this trail to the left, that my hands were still occupied with something.
I must have taken them out when I had rummaged through my sack earlier, when I was considering which trail to take! And now, here I was hours later, having had absentmindedly carried these chains the entire time. I looked over the cold, hard metal, running my fingers along their smooth edges. My skin had that knowing sensation, for these chains brought a familiar feeling to my fingers.
These were not just any chains. These were my chains, the chains that had held me in bondage for most of my life. Most of my life, that is, before Christ. These chains, though no longer bound upon my wrists, still bound me to my past. As I studied these chains, the song continued:
He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry.
As soon as He hears it, He answers you. (Is. 30:19)
I dropped to my knees. “Father, my shame! It accuses me! These chains, they bind me still! I call to You now. Please deliver me from my regrets!”
And though the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction,
Yet your Teacher will not hide Himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. (Is 30:20)
“Yes, Father, may I see You? Will You show Yourself to me now?” I called to my Deliverer as the words of His song filled my spirit. I was desperate for the grace He offered me.
And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,”
When you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. (Is. 30:21)
At once, I turned and looked to my right, and there before me was a new trail, one leading back into the wilderness and in the direction of the original path I should have taken. I must not have seen it earlier because I was so preoccupied with my thoughts...and my chains. Tears slid down my cheeks as I rejoiced in this new direction. I quickly reached over to retrieve my belongings, and the Father at last spoke to me as I stood.
"Will you bring the chains?" I stopped, examining the chains as they glistened in the late afternoon sunlight.
“My child, when you were young, you called upon me, and I saved you then. You are right in knowing that I am a God of justice, and my holiness requires that the guilty be punished. But don't you see? Through the redemptive work of my Son on the cross, your guilt was satisfied before Me. When you called upon me in repentance and for salvation at a young age, I released you then from the chains that bound you". I listened quietly as His words washed over me. "But Beloved, you chose to keep your chains in a safe place.”
As He spoke, the chains felt weightier in my hands. Though they no longer bound my wrists, they had for so long bound my heart. For as long as I could remember, these chains had been a part of my story, my journey. In a sense, I realized, they had been comfortable for me to carry.
I knew it was time to release myself from this reminder of my past. The Father's words pierced my heart, for I had fruitlessly and needlessly carried around these chains for years.
The Father continued: “These chains and the shame they bring, you must leave them now. They have no place in your life, for in Me you are a new creation. ‘The old has passed away; behold, the new has come’ (2 Cor.5:17). Leave them now, for you are not defined by these chains, but by Me.”
I lifted the chains high in the air, offering to my Father the shame of my past. It was time to completely rid my life of these chains and all the memories they carried.
Tears gently rolled down my face while His redemptive words loosened the grip of my hands upon the chains. And then He said, “This, my child, is an act of restoration.”
I turned, and with all my might I threw those chains down mountain, and with them the shame that had bound me for so long. I began my hike upon the new trail, and it was not long before the Father led me to a spring of fresh water. I knelt, drinking deeply of the cold water, and I laughed in the freedom of Christ.
Questions to Ponder:
- Are there sins or failures of the past that you still hang onto? If you have confessed and surrendered it to the Lord, Christ has covered those sins. Release that false sense of guilt today! Talk with a friend, a pastor, or a counselor if you struggle with letting the past go.
- How does shame keep you from living fully in the freedom of Christ? How can you release that from your life?