Two years ago, I reached the top of a mountain of pain and suffering, and paused to catch my breath. I'd been diligently doing all the homework of healing: the willingness to look around at my life and really see it, the heavy lifting of making amends, the slow waltz of true forgiveness.
I had the good counsel of others, and the path marked out clearly in front of me. I had all the tools, the lingo, the careful plans for behaviour that would lead, I thought, to freedom.
But my heart was slow. In fact, it refused to move at all. Soon I descended into despair, as despite the best intentions and hardest tries, I couldn't shake the past or the feeling I simply had a damaged heart, past repair, and no amount of awareness or counselling or prayer or the back-breaking work of self-improvement would rouse it to heal itself. I began to wish that I didn't know so much about my heart - I wanted to curl back up into denial and find another, softer path down the mountain. What good did it do to see all that was wrong, and know that nothing I had tried would work to fix it?
"I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, 'Son of man, can these bones, live?' I said, 'O Sovereign Lord, you alone know.'" (Ezekiel 37: 1-3)
Sometimes, when we are bold enough to look at things for what they are (our own sinful natures, the suffering of others, the true state of this seemingly beautiful city), we are rewarded with a terrible thing: a clear picture of utter lifelessness. In that moment, we often throw up our hands and throw out our hope that things will ever change, and mutter, "O Lord - only you know!"
If the conversation ends there, nothing will ever change.
And yet there is always more to say:
"This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord." (Ezekiel 37:4-6)
I came across this astonishing story at a crucial time in my own journey, and began to do as Ezekiel did. I simply said to my heart, "The Lord has spoken - healing is coming."
After being on the hamster wheel of self-improvement and failure for so long, I felt a little crazy, but I pressed on in my conversation with God - and these verses from Ezekiel clung to me, and I clung to them. And the more I spoke these promises, the more rattled I became.
But this is the exercise of hope: just as Ezekiel prophesied to the dry bones, and God delivered the miracle, so we need to leave the work of the impossible to God, all the while continuing to stand firm and speak the impossible - reminding ourselves and others that there is more to see in these valleys than bones.
Are we willing, like Ezekiel - to move past the place of helplessness at the sight of hopelessness? Are we willing to speak life and truth into things that seem dusty, dry and better off dead? Are we willing, as a church, to see clearly and not to give up?
Take some time today to consider the places in your life and the lives of others that you have written off, or laid aside in frustration because healing isn't happening. Ask the Lord to give you the courage to speak up - to look past the heap and into what could be, what will be:
"I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh...you will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God." (Ezekiel 36:31)
- Sarah Kift