Clearing out the Dust in a Weary Soul

My son thinks dirt makes the best souvenir.

He grabs handfuls of it whenever he sees a pile of sand:  At the school   As we leave the beach.  Near the playground.

Sometimes I’m so busy hauling all of our supplies that I don’t notice right away.   He starts to  climb up into the minivan and that’s when I see it,  his small clamped fist holding his treasured dirt.

He has scooped up a clump of sand in a final effort to keep some of the fun going.  So,  it’s time to leave the beach or the park or the school or the zoo or wherever?  No problem.  He’ll just take some soil with him as a memento.

Earth.

Soil.

Dirt.

Dust really.   Just dust.

I don’t get it.  I’ve had kids carry home rocks and flowers and leaves.  I’ve even had daughters ask to transport tadpoles home in a pail of water.

But a handful of dirt is no treasure, so I nudge his fingers open and we brush the dirt to the pavement and then I let him enter the minivan.

Of course, some dust clings to  his skin.   And his  sneakers.  And anywhere else dirt can settle.  But, we’re as brushed off as he can get.

Why hold onto this, I wonder?  Why does he want fistfuls of dirt?

I  read in Psalm 119 and let this question dig deeper. David writes:

My soul clings to the dust;
give me life according to your word!  (Psalm 119:25 ESV). 

Have I been clinging to the dust?

That’s what I  wrote and underlined in my prayer journal a few months ago  and I keep circling back to what that must be like.

What would clinging  to the dust look like?

My commentary gives one meaning:  it’s being “laid low” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary), like as soon as you try to reach up or look up, you’re knocked down again,  face to the earth.

It’s like the mourning David may have experienced, how you put on the sackcloth and you covered yourself in ashes and sat in the dust. It’s sorrow you can’t shake, you’re imprisoned by the grief or the woe.

Unshakeable sadness: That’s clinging to the dust.

But also I consider how dust clogs up our soul and suffocates us.  Have I felt so pressed down into the dirt that it was hard to breathe?  Like what I really needed was the Spirit of Christ to breathe His life-giving breath into me,  clearing out cobwebs and grime and piles of sorrow or sin that have kept me breathless for too long.

And have I been clinging to this?   Clinging to earthly concerns.  Earthly worries.  All the trappings  of the circumstances around me.  Have they clogged up my spirit in piles of dust and I don’t know how to  let go?

Or have I clung to what’s earthly and missed out on reaching for what is heavenly and eternal?   Maybe by refusing to let go, I’ve been clinging to dust and not holding on to what  has real value.

Do I want a fistful of dust?

Or do I cling to something greater?

The Psalmist continued in this passage:

I cling to your decrees (Psalm 119:31 CSB).

Joshua had similarly instructed Israel:

to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

Cling to the Lord.  Cling to the Word.

I love  how the Psalmist turns his revelation, this recognition that he’s been holding on, laid low by the dust, into a prayer and a plea.

Give me life according to your word!

Another commentary I read says:

More life is the cure for all our ailments. Only the Lord can give it. He can bestow it, bestow it at once, and do it according to his word…

Life, Lord!  Give me life!  New, fresh, strengthened life!

I want to cling to you with everything in me, cling to your decrees, cling to your Word.  Help me to rise up out of the dust, to open my closed fists and let the grime fall away.  The worries.  The earthly pursuits.  The grief.  The unshakable sorrow.

And help me grasp hold of life in you and in your presence.

Do I Look Dead To You?

After we’ve packed the cooler, dressed everyone in bathing suits and sandals, double-checked the bag for diapers, towels, tissues, Band-Aids (for blisters), sunscreen, and more, and then loaded every last item and person into the mini-van, we have the same-old chat with our girls as we drive to Busch Gardens, the amusement park near our home.

First we begin with the safety reminders, about strangers, about wandering away from us, and what to do if you get lost.

Then we remind them that we aren’t buying every snack, toy, or novelty item strategically scattered along our path through the park.  And no whining when it’s time to go home.

We finish up with the “friends speech.”   It goes something like this:  You are sisters.  God designed you to be best friends.  Don’t ditch your sister so that you can ride in a boat or car or dragon or whatever with some random stranger who you’ll never see again.  Sisters ride together.

This last speech generally elicits the most protests.  My girls are friendly people.  They like to meet new kids and form what they are certain are life-long bonds of friendship while standing in line at Busch Gardens.

So, it was no surprise that during our spring break trek out to the amusement park, my middle daughter stood in line for a ride and then announced, “Mom, I made two new best friends!”

Not just friends.  Best friends.

And how did she know these two new girls were now her bosom buddies for life?

“They told me their names, Savannah and Julia.”

That was it.  The loyal bond formed simply by exchanging names.

Friends, best friends, nice people you’ve only just met, a stranger whose name you’ve learned, sisters, the person you thought was your close friend but who gossips about you behind your back  . . . it’s a mesh of relationships they haven’t quite figured out yet.

Identifying true friends is a skill only learned over time after experiencing both hurt feelings and faithfulness, betrayal and loyal love.

A mentor once told me that women were designed for deep friendship. Every one of us needs a Ruth and Naomi relationship, not just casual acquaintances whose names we know after a few minutes of standing in lines of life together.

Unfortunately, life is busy, complicated, hectic, and hard, and investing time in those loyal friendships seems an impossible task.

Yet, Scripture tells us this is one investment that’s worth making.

We need a friend who loves sacrificially, and for whom we likewise will sacrifice.  Jesus commanded us to “love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends”  (John 15:12).

We need a friend who remains faithful even when we’re at our ugliest, worn-outest, saddest, and yuckiest, just as it says in Proverbs 17:17 “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”

And we need something else.

We need a friend who is not afraid to get dirty with us as we live this resurrection life.

Jesus stood at the entry to the tomb of his close friend, Lazarus.  He heard the weeping of others around him.  His own tears trailed down his cheek.  The crowd scolded him for not coming earlier and healing his friend while there was still time.  The pragmatic folks complained about the stink of death and decay wafting out of a reopened tomb.  Mary and Martha shot hopeless, hurt-filled glances in Jesus’ direction.

Undeterred, Jesus demanded, “Lazarus, come out!”  (John 11:44).  The shocked crowd watched as the dead man emerged from the grave, living, breathing, and walking—alive.

But he moved slowly, maybe a little like a mummy in a sci-fi horror flick that plays on Saturday afternoon television.  He didn’t leap out from the tomb and dance before the Lord with all the joy of a resurrected fellow.

Instead, “the dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.  Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go” (John 11:44 NIV).

Chris Tiegreen reminds us in One Year At His Feet “When Jesus raises us out of our sinful state of death, there is something left to do before we run free.  The grave clothes must go”  (p. 21).

That’s something Lazarus couldn’t do on his own.  Jesus instructed others to come alongside him and unwrap the linen bindings, the remnants of death and the grave that still had him hindered, trapped, and blinded.

That’s the church’s job.  That’s the job of a loyal friend, who patiently strips away all the habitual sins, guilt, shame, false beliefs, hang-ups, terrors from the past, and hurts that trip us up and slow us down.

Sometimes we simply require a love that doesn’t give up on us.

Sometimes it takes someone holding us accountable with truth and lovingly showering us with grace when we struggle with the ugliness of sin.  Proverbs 27:6 tells us: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (ESV).  Only a true friend skips the flattery and digs past the superficial chicanery of niceness in order to challenge us with a truth and encourage us to change.

Only a friend tells us when they see some of the grave clothes stubbornly stuck to our skin and then lovingly and patiently unbinds us so we can live in the freedom of new life.

We need a friend like that.  We need to be a friend like that, who brings grace and freedom to another.

You can read more devotionals on this topic here:

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King