There once was a man, found him a treasure
buried out under a tree, sold all he had,
just to own it forever
The treasure is you, you see.¹
There was a time when I wanted an experience of God in an extraordinary way, but since I have learned to see Him in His servants, I realize that I have more of Him than, quite honestly, I can usually handle in my frailness most days. I’m walking through a garden of a thousand burning bushes², as one songwriter put it, for I am well surrounded by friends.
Seasons change and people change, I know, and although I can’t imagine who I would be without them, it is the way of life on earth for relationships to move throughout the seasons. It may be naive of me to say this, but I do not think a thousand autumns could alter my love or appreciation for those surrounding me today.
The life-giving words spoken to me this past year have flooded my way with light. Each person who let me see their broken vessel and did not hide their cracks, (as I so pitifully could not hide mine if I tried); from those deformities shone the light of the gospel of the glory of God, as it says in Second Corinthians. And without fear of mixing metaphors, because God does it so often, I was like a ship through troubled waters, and each bright hopeful star that lead me home was a hole in the earthen vessel that was my precious friend.
And- this is where it gets me- somehow, I am that for them too.
I spoke with a friend today about life seasons. “You are in the support season,” she said without hesitation. I nodded, imagining myself strengthened and buoyed by her and all my loved ones.
“You are holding people up,” she said. And I laughed to realize that she was imaging an opposite image from mine— of me supporting others.
It’s all happening at once, you see. We’re not taking turns, it’s not like, you get to be the jar of clay today and I’ll do it tomorrow.
When I was little I often pondered on something until it hurt. I would consider eternity until my brain felt like it would explode, and I liked that feeling, so I would do it again, trying to imagine a new color not derived from any other, or a creature not based on any I have known, like something from Revelation. That’s the feeling I have now when I imagine this:
I am made by God into who He wants me to be, largely through those darling second causes surrounding me, and then I make them who they are too, and we each form a different inner circle, sometimes overlapping, yet quite unique, and then the influence and leaning gets more and more complex and intricate and unfathomable as you go out and out. God is making it, and He’s got it all under control and it is beautiful. Sometimes you get glimpses of it, as when my friend told me about her uncle who had changed her life as a child and I see that, in her, he changed mine too. Or when my sister tells me what she is going through, and although I may never experience it, I really don’t need to now, in order to empathize with some stranger who has.
I’m not sure we can really stop this process, but we can reject the grace of it. We can isolate ourselves, seek foolish friends, live in fantasy lands and tell people who love us to back off. Even this does not thwart the plan of God, but it is a tragedy, because the glory of God on earth is men and women fully alive, people who, when broken, blaze that Gospel light to illumine the way for those around them, people who gladly walk through their days in the brightness of others. This is when the reality of our standing as sons and daughters of God becomes believable to those who watch, and to ourselves as well.
It is no wonder C.S. Lewis said, “If I had to give a piece of advice to a young man about a place to live, I think I should say, sacrifice almost everything to live where you can be near your friends.” For, when sanctified, a Christian in context— holding, held, speaking, listening, offering, receiving, touching and feeling— is what the good fight, the worthy race, is all about.
If, my forbearing reader, you are still with me, in the words of the iconic television salesman: But wait! There’s more!
For, as beautifully supportive and powerful our friends are, they will fail us. Individually and perhaps, some dark night, corporately. Loss, betrayal, abandonment, division, mere frailty… those things are real. And what then?
Then Jesus becomes the fairest of ten thousand to your soul.
Then the hymns you grew up singing become your heart-cry:
Dear Refuge of my weary soul,
On Thee, when sorrows rise
On Thee, when waves of trouble roll,
My fainting hope relies
To Thee I tell each rising grief,
For Thou alone canst heal
Thy Word will bring a sweet relief
For every pain I feel³
And the glorious Word of the Dear Refuge says, “I have called you friends.”
Jesus is the hub of every living inner circle! He is the light of every broken vessel!
For, wonder of wonders, not only does He love us, but He lets us do some of His loving for Him, despite the likelihood of us messing it up. You see, our frailty and weakness is the treasure, for it shows that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
I once heard a man say that Christ’s greatest display of leadership was not His miracles, His dying, or His defeat of death through resurrection, but His leaving, for slowly and surely He would make us His hands and feet. Through the work of the Spirit, the Comforter, He will have His friends in every inner circle in the world, till every knee bows and every tongue confesses Him as Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
All through friendships. Illustrated, in my life, by an old man on the phone, a little girl reading a story, a plane ticket purchased from across the sea to my hometown, coffee-stained letters on my desk, crocheted gloves on my hands, sticky-notes for me all over the house of an old lady, a tea party written in on my calendar, a busy man sitting with me on a swing, a hot drink made sweet and creamy without request, daily words on the lips of my sister, the teasing of my brother and in the giggle of the baby who enjoys my funny face, in counsel, in jokes, in warnings, in stories, in silence, in song, in frustration, in uncontainable affection, in prayers…
In short and in the words of Charles Williams written to his friend, C.S. Lewis, “My admiration for the staff work of the Omnipotence rises every day.”
¹“You Can Always Come Home to Me” Andrew Peterson ²“A Thousand Burning Bushes” Andy Gullahorn ³ Hymn by Anne Steele, click here to listen