It is 4:37 am on a Friday morning, and I am at Bill's Donuts. For those of you who know me well, no need to worry. I am not sitting here with multiple donuts, let alone one donut. Instead, I have chosen this location to pour my heart out in writing over a cup of coffee solely for the smell. It is like coming home. It reminds me of a time in my life as a child when I felt the closest to people. When I loved without inhibition. When my heart felt safe and protected. When I knew very little about the fallenness of man and sin.
Today, I sit in this local favorite donut shop with a heavy heart. I am broken, I will admit it. I am that fallen soul, in desperate need for intervention. I am that heart crying out to a God who cares. I am deeply aware of my need for grace, and yet my flesh's tendency to still try to do this thing called life on my own. In the recesses of my heart, I know that there is something deeply broken within me. Parts of my ugliness that are unloveable, untouchable. Places that no one wants to enter into...no one except One.
I am reminded of a Puritan prayer in moments like these that take me back to the cross. It takes me back every time that His way for me is not the easiest way. It isn't the pain free route. But it is the only path that leads to true healing and lasting change. It is the valley of vision.
"Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
Where I live in the depths but see Thee in the heights;
Hemmed in by mountains of sin
I behold Thy glory.
Let me learn by paradox
That the way down is the way up,
That to be low is to be high,
That the broken heart is the healed heart,
That the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
That the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
That to have nothing is to possess all,
That to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
That to give is to receive,
That the valley is the place of vision.
Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
And the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;
Let me find thy light in my darkness,
Thy life in my death,
Thy joy in my sorrow,
Thy grace in my sin,
Thy riches in my poverty,
Thy glory in my valley."
("The Valley of Vision" from A Collection of Puritan Prayers)
There is always more room at the foot of the cross. Who will enter into my brokenness? Will anyone dare go to the places that most avoid in this wretched heart? Jesus will. In my times of feeling deeply misunderstood, unknown, and at times falsely accused, I know that there is always room here. In many ways, the 24-hour availability of Bill's Donuts and it's free smells take me back to the uninhibiting grace of God. Christ died a brutal death for this grace to be mine, so it was anything but free. But this gift that cost so much frees me. It enters into the darkness and bears light. It brings forth a response of falling to my knees, on my face, before a holy yet loving God. It always initiates. It is always available. It never avoids. Grace has taught me who I want to be through Christ, and who I already am in Christ.
Isaiah 45:5-9 promises us that God creates calamity, but He also heals us. "I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things. Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit; let the earth cause them both to sprout; I the LORD have created it. Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, 'What are you making?' or 'Your work has no handles'?" I often resist calamity. I don't want to endure the pain and suffering that often is God's cup for me. Sometimes I want to run and hide. And then my eyes return to the third verse in this chapter of Isaiah, "I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name." (Isaiah 45:3) In these precious words, we realize that there are treasures in darkness. That there is a gift in suffering that can only be received when we are undone. It is best to remain. It is most profitable to endure hardships with God's help.
2 Cor. 4:6-12, 16-18 also holds the promise that there is a faithful intention of God in and through our brokenness. "But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you... So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."