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.

For the days your heart is tender

This week I have teared up in a restaurant and in the basement of our church and in the minivan.

It’s been a bit of a cry-fest frankly.  And it doesn’t stop there.  I’ve been ready to cry over documentaries and books about wars fought between 70 and 150 years ago.

Seriously.  A war documentary made me cry.

I don’t normally consider myself a “cryer,” but this week has been a  week of sad news for those around me.  I mourn with the brokenhearted wife, with the brokenhearted mother, with the brokenhearted family.

And I find my heart a little battered and bruised just by feeling the weight of sorrow:  the divorce, the goodbyes, the mourning, and the prodigals.  It’s been tenderized by a hammer of hurt, so now I’m in need of tissues everywhere I go.

Maybe that’s the way it should be, though.

Not that people should be hurting or going through hard times and not that I need to carry a box of Kleenex with me, but that we should be gentle enough to notice, compassionate enough to care, and tenderhearted enough to mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep.

Jesus did that, as He stood just outside his friend Lazarus’s tomb and the Savior and Messiah heard the wails of those in grief.  That’s when we read those two powerful  words:

Jesus wept (John 11:35).

He didn’t wail and scream like those around them.  He wasn’t in despair and He knew He’d see Lazarus walk out of that tomb within a few minutes.

But He felt compassion for the crowd and so His tears fell because these people were hurting and because they felt overwhelmed by deep  sorrow.

Do we weep also?

Do our hearts break at the brokenheartedness around us?

Paul wrote to the Ephesians:

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32 NASB)

May that be us.  Oh, may we be the ones covering others with kindness, forgiveness, and caring.

But if that is us, what then?

Jesus walked right up  to Lazarus’s tomb and demanded resurrection.  He brought life to the dead simply by the power of His words.

As much as I wish I could say the word  and heal the hurts of those around me, mend the marriages, raise the dead, carry the prodigal home, I cannot.   I cannot fix the broken or mend the mess.

But our compassion does still matter.

It propels us into kindness, practical acts that make a difference.

It stirs us to intercession and passionate prayer on the behalf of others.

It compels us to share the heart of Jesus, who wept when others wept.

It emboldens us to share with others the reminder that this is our God:  the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort.

That’s what Paul said:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ (2 Corinthians 1:3-5 NIV). 

God’s very character is that of compassion and comfort.  He never wastes the stories of our own pain, those times we ourselves trudged through valleys of hurt or sorrow.   He redeems those hard seasons by carrying us through them and then allowing us to be that comfort and that compassion for others in the future.

And as much as suffering abounds, God’s comfort abounds, too.  He is close in our times of need.

He draws us in.  He hides us away in places of refuge.  He holds our tears in a bottle, never missing even one of them.  He sends others to care for us.

And then He sends us out to care for others.

How can we minister to the hurting this week?

Bible Verses For Those Who Mourn

  • Psalm 23:4 ESV
    Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
        I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
        your rod and your staff,
        they comfort me.
  • Psalm 30:5 ESV
    For his anger is but for a moment,
        and his favor is for a lifetime.
    Weeping may tarry for the night,
        but joy comes with the morning.
  • Psalm 34:18 ESV
    The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
        and saves the crushed in spirit.
  • Psalm 46:1-2 ESV
    God is our refuge and strength,
        a very present[b] help in trouble.
    Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
        though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea
  • Psalm 73:26 ESV
    My flesh and my heart may fail,
        but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
  • Psalm 119:50 ESV
    This is my comfort in my affliction,
        that your promise gives me life.
  • Psalm 147:3 ESV
    He heals the brokenhearted
        and binds up their wounds.
  • Isaiah 53:4 ESV
    Surely he has borne our griefs
        and carried our sorrows;
    yet we esteemed him stricken,
        smitten by God, and afflicted.
  • Lamentations 3:31-33 ESV
    For the Lord will not
        cast off forever,
    32 but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion
        according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
    33 for he does not afflict from his heart
        or grieve the children of men.
  • Matthew 5:4 ESV
    Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
  • 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 ESV
    Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 ESV
    But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.
  • Revelation 21:4 ESV
    He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Ask Me More: The Unexpected Ways of Grief, and the Expected Presence of our Savior

Grief has a way of surprising you.

It’s the impish way memory has of trampling in all unexpected and unannounced in moments you least expect and on the most average of days.

It wasn’t ever my dad’s birthday or father’s day or even the anniversary of his death when the sadness came heavy.

No, it was when I walked into the fire station for my four-year-old daughter’s field trip years ago.

A dozen preschoolers clamored for a chance to scramble up into the driver’s seat of the fire engine.  I sucked in my breath, blinked tears out of my eyes and then wiped them off my cheek, trying to look natural, like there was just dust in my eye.

My dad was a firefighter.

I explain this to someone else: that sometimes it’s not the days when you are most prepared for grief that are the hardest.  But it’s the way an unexpected sound or sight or smell can usher in a memory that just knocks the breath right out of you.

She speaks wisdom in return: Better to have those memories that stir up grief than to completely forget.

Yes, how much better not to forget because, given time, Jesus turns those ashes right into beauty and surely we wouldn’t want to miss the sight.

Somehow even the pain and the tears become sweet when we bring them to Jesus and receive the memory not as bitter loss, but as a precious gift that He gives.revelation21

When Mary Magdalene sat outside the empty tomb of Jesus on Resurrection morning, she cried with hopelessness.

Grave-robbers.  Defilers.  Someone had been in there and taken the body of her Lord.

She still called Him, “Lord” even after she’d seen Jesus hang on that cross.  Even when others might have been stunned by the failure of the man they thought was Messiah, still she believes at least this:  He is still Lord.

Somehow she clung to belief and managed to carry it even with her sorrow.  She held on tight to see what God would do.

After the disciples rushed into the tomb, saw the emptiness and ran back to others with the news. still Mary lingered outside the last place she’d seen Jesus.  She “stood outside the tomb crying” (John 20:11).

It’s not to Peter or John that Jesus appears first. He doesn’t rush into the town to show the crowd His resurrected body.

He appears first to this weeping woman at the grave and asks,

“Woman, why are you crying?”  (John 20:15)

Jesus met with her in her despair and asked her to bring the grief to Him.

Maybe her eyes were so cloudy with tears or maybe her brain just couldn’t comprehend the matter, but she thinks Jesus is no more than a gardener.  So, she begs him to tell her where Jesus’ body may have been moved.

He stops her there, not just in her sorrow, but in her accusation and anger, and He reminds her of His presence by just speaking her name– “Mary.”

Did she recognize the way her name sounded when Jesus spoke it?  Did He open her eyes to see what had been veiled before?

Whatever happens, she realizes it’s Jesus Himself, not some gardener laboring over weeds.

“Rabboni!” (Teacher), she yells as she worships a risen Savior.  That becomes her testimony and her joy, “I have seen the Lord!”

And over time, slowly and without me ever knowing when it all happened, the memories I used to meet as a shocking reminder of loss have become like dear friends stopping by for a surprise visit.

I’ve learned, like Mary, that God is present even in the places of sorrow.

I think this as I plug in the record player a friend gave me last week.

She brought me this old technology in a brown carry-case and I’ve toted it home and placed it on my kitchen table.  I pull out records that I couldn’t listen to before, ease one out of its sleeve and place it on the turntable.ask-me-anything-lord_kd

The moment that needle dips down into that first groove, my kids come running to marvel over the mysterious sound.

We listen to some of my dad’s records, and for once I’m not tearful.

It’s sweet.  Like the memories alone keep him present.

And I think, how precious that God walks us through the tears and reminds us of His presence even in the brokenness.

How precious that He calls us by name, that He knows our sorrow and even asks us to bring it to Him by asking, “Woman, why are you crying?

Our Resurrected Savior wipes away tears.  But even more than that, He gives us hope for a future that is forever and ever in His presence.

Want to read more about the questions God asks?
Check out my book, Ask Me Anything, Lord, available in paperback and for the Kindle and nook!

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer 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.  Her book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, is available now!
To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2013 Heather King

God, Are You Crying?

“In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them.
In his love and mercy he redeemed them;
he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old”

(Isaiah 63:9).

It was my third pregnancy and I sat across from my midwife at my 37-week check-up.  “I don’t think the baby has turned,” I told her.  “I think she’s still breach.”

I saw her face change from “easy-breezy check-up” to “let’s investigate this issue”.  She expertly prodded my massive pregnant belly with her hands and then popped the baby up on the ultrasound machine to be sure.  Breach baby.  Thirty-seven weeks.

Maybe the doctor will turn her, I thought?  Maybe she’ll turn herself (I hoped)?  Anything sounded good if I could avoid a C-section.

She said, “I’ll call you.  I need to tell the doctor what’s going on, but I’d start preparing for surgery.”

I trusted her.  During both of my other pregnancies, she had cared for me frequently.  She was a strikingly lovely woman, an inside-out kind of beauty, so open and full of joy.  Her hair was just beginning to grow back into small bouncy curls after a fight with breast cancer years before and it was so like her to pour herself out for others even during chemo treatments and cancer recovery.

Just as she promised, she called me later that day.  She treated me like I was the only patient in the world, taking more than 20 minutes to tell me how serious the baby’s position was because she was sitting on her umbilical cord.  How turning the baby could kill her and if I went into labor on my own, she’d probably suffocate.

C-section it was.

But she gave me great reassurance, how good the doctor was, how she had seen him work and knew he would take good care of me and I would heal well.  “Don’t be afraid,” she said.

That was the last time I talked to her.

The doctor delivered my baby via C-section and he was expert and wonderful and my daughter was healthy and beautiful and safe.  When I returned for my check-up weeks later, they told me that my midwife’s breast cancer had returned and she was starting treatments again.

Any time I had an appointment at the office over the last 3 years, I asked about her.  She popped into my head periodically, and I prayed for her and we prayed in my small group, as well.

She passed away this weekend.

It’s a part of the human condition on this broken planet to grieve.  I am sad for her struggle, for years and years of fighting, for losing the battle to breast cancer, for her pain, for those who worked with her, for her dear friends, and most of all for her family and her two children who watched their mother fight and then die.

This world of sorrow isn’t a place of God’s design.  It’s the mess mankind made through disobedience and sin, ushering in death.  One day, we have the opportunity to see what God’s perfect design is really like.  Heaven is the ideal place, where death, crying, pain, and disease have no place because sin has no place.

But here we are, facing sorrows in the here and now because good people die, people of faith hurt, babies don’t make it, children are abused.

When Jesus stood outside of Lazarus’s tomb, he was surrounded by mourners in the midst of their own loss.  Martha was weeping.  Mary was weeping.  The entire crowd was weeping.

My commentary tells me they weren’t just sniffling quietly into their tissues in the good old Western style.  They were “wailing” (klaiontas).

Seeing their distress, Jesus “was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled . . . Jesus wept” (John 11:33, 35).

The crowd took it as a sign of Jesus’s own grief over losing a great friend and said, “See how he loved him!”

But is that why Jesus cried on the edge of Lazarus’s tomb?  He wasn’t wailing in the same way they were; he was quietly shedding tears (edakrysen).john11

Anyway, what was there for him to mourn?  He knew he could raise Lazarus from the dead.  In fact, Jesus was just seconds away from doing just that and watching Lazarus stumble out of the tomb still wrapped up in his grave clothes.

It couldn’t have been his own grief.

It had to be the sadness at the sorrow of others.  That’s why he was “deeply moved” and “greatly troubled,” not when he knew Lazarus was dead or when Mary and Martha confronted him over it, but when he heard “her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping” (John 11:33).

He felt sorrow over their sorrow, sadness over their sadness, and compassion because they experienced death, loss, the grave, pain, and sickness.

In the same way, when Jesus saw a widow following behind the coffin of her only son, “He had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep'”  (Luke 7:13) before touching her son’s body and raising him from the dead.

This is the Savior we serve, who saw the sorrow of death, who faced it Himself, and who comforts us when life is hard, when loved ones die, when we grieve the loss of people, the loss of hope, and the loss of dreams.

Even though I know He doesn’t always intervene with miracles, resurrecting in the places we grieve, it’s somehow helpful to know He isn’t ignoring us either.  Jesus isn’t cold-hearted, looking down stone-faced and unmoved by our sorrow.

Instead, when we’re hurting, He’s moved by compassion for us and ministering to us with His Spirit.  He’s comforting those who mourn (Matthew 5:4).

I use the Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament Edition, edited by John Walvoord and Roy Zuck.

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