“Take the very hardest thing in your life – the place of difficulty, outward or inward, and expect God to triumph gloriously in that very spot. Just there He can bring your soul into blossom.” Parables of the Cross, p.17
This is one of my favorite Lilias quotes. It rings with victorious affirmation. It speaks to the deepest pain. I’m tempted to quote it verbatim – and leave it alone. I can’t improve on the wording or, for that matter, on the content. While it can rightly stand on its own, it does bear examination. What, really, does it mean? More to the point, is it true? Does it have any practical bearing in my life – today?
“Take the hardest thing in your life… and expect God to triumph gloriously in that very spot.” We all know stories of hardship and difficulty and how people have triumphed in spite of or, perhaps, because of that very difficulty. The recent Olympic events gave countless testimonials as to how a crowning achievement was the proportional result of hardship endured, difficulty overcome. It is a principle clearly observed in the physical world: no pain, no gain. This principle is borne out in the spiritual realm. Difficulty endured produces something yet stronger. The greater the difficulty, the greater the triumph.
But there is an unique aspect to her claim that goes beyond the formulae: gain for pain. It is the promise of a triumph that transcends our efforts and resources to a work of God – in the very place of our potential defeat. “Expect God to triumph gloriously in that very spot.” Not only will God bring triumph in the place of pain – but He will go beyond the particular need of the moment to the transformation of ones very soul: “Just there He will bring your soul into blossom!”
In her devotional classic, Parables of the Cross, Lilias illuminates this truth with a parallel from nature. In delicate watercolors she paints a bit of gorse bush – branches bristling with thorns, large and small, stuck out in all directions. The thorns have been hardening and sharpening throughout the year and, even with the arrival of spring, they do not drop off or soften. But half way up the pictured thorn appears two brown furry balls, mere specks at first, that break at last – straight out of last year’s thorn – into a blaze of golden glory!
Our hardest difficulties – outward and inward – are like those thorns, uncompromising and seemingly without relief. There is no apparent solution. No way out. No end in sight. They bring us to the point of deepest despair. We are dogged with questions: Where do we turn? How do we proceed? Sometimes there seems to be no good reason to keep going on.
It is here that the God of the gorse thorns looks down on us with love and says, “Do not despair. Nothing can happen to you that I can not manage. Trust me.” Elizabeth Elliot in her reflection on this parable writes, “He wants to transform every form of human suffering into something glorious. He can redeem it. He can bring life out of death. Every event of our lives provides opportunity to learn the deepest lesson anyone can learn on earth… When our souls lie barren in a winter which seems hopeless and endless, God has not abandoned us. His work goes on. He asks our acceptance of the painful process and our trust that He will indeed give resurrection life.” (A Path Through Suffering)
I can look back over my life and see where pain was requisite for God’s transforming work. I have witnessed with even greater clarity this reality in the great heroes of the faith – Biblical and more recent history. There are many “heroes” and “heroines” whose story will never make the pages of history but for whom I am eye-witness of God’s transforming power. But what about the here and now? Can I – can we take the thorns that seem so unrelentingly hard and expect God to triumph in that very place? Fears for a loved one – or for our own future. . . pain or disability that makes life unbearable. . . betrayal of a supposed friend or family member… injustice or misunderstanding in the workplace – or no job at all. . . presence of a demanding person in our household. . . financial insecurity and limited resources… personal slights or outright rejection… Can we believe that out of that very thorn will come a blossom fragrant and glorious? Can we trust that out of that difficulty God will bring our soul into blossom?
This quote, illuminated by the simple gorse bush, presents the problem – difficulty, outward and inward; the process – take it to God with the expectation that He will triumph in that very place; and the product – a soul brought into glorious blossom!
“Bless be the Architect, whose art
Could build so strong in a weak heart. “
Watercolors: Color Plate from Parables of the Cross