“It is finished.”
Can there be more satisfying words? Said in quiet resolve as a father steps back from a swing set in the yard, an artist scoots back from a painting, a writer pushes away from a keyboard, a seamstress sews the final seam, a final test is taken, or a silent prayer is lifted. When we sense completion, we spread our arms like a blessing, then rest our hands on our hips to take the moment in before life moves on.
Life moves on? I thought we were finished.
I thought about these things as I chopped and sawed my way through thick brush and dead trees, spiders scattering and unseen creatures of the woods keeping their distance in the shadows of the thick trees around me. My arms were scratched, my clothes drenched in sweat, my back itching from mosquito bites, my mind tired of the question: “why am I doing this?”
I had started this trail through the woods more than 10 years ago. I renewed my commitment about five years ago. This trail had always had a beginning, a couple of twists and turns and an abrupt ending at a small creek, beyond which the daunting cluttered undergrowth grew stronger and thicker year after year.
And then I finally crossed the creek. With better tools and a clearer mind, I hacked and sawed and pulled and raked and the crackling of old dead branches piled on top of each other from the tossing of storms and the passing of years eventually gave way to a soft padding beneath my feet, rich dirt and decaying leaves. A little sun sifting through the trees lighted the path and highlighted the green around me.
My path twisted around the more formidable trees and found its way . . . back to the creek at a wider spot, a path of water trickling slowly down the middle of the muddy banks pocked with deer tracks and home to turtles. Now, with just a couple of bridges, the trail will be done.
Out of sight.
Invisible to almost everyone.
I know for sure that I did not know where my trail in life would lead two years ago when I left my job at AT&T, retreated back into the darkness of shame, emerged into the light of transparency, began writing this blog, wrote a book and trusted God to somehow do what I had never trusted him to do before. Build the bridge. Get me to the end of this trail.
In my life, like in the woods, I had long had a trail and had worn it deep from pacing back and forth upon it, committing and retreating. The beginning of the trail was as familiar as the back of my hand. The point at which I would always stop was worn deep from my screeching halts at the banks of the creek — not a mighty river — but just a stream that turned me back to try again another day. I think I always thought that as long as I could keep the creek in sight, I would someday have the resolve to cross it. I could see the other side, but it seemed a jump too far. It was too thick. I needed tools. I needed help. I needed a bridge.
I spent a lot of time trying to think of who might help me build that bridge and I got angry, longing for volunteers, but I also got honest and realized I’d worn that pool of people thin. Too many times I had trekked to the creek and turned back, and the hope of the trail’s completion had faded for them. I thought also that there were some who should just be obligated to help: ministers and family members, sons and daughters not allowed to just give up . . . but I realized they had come to a conclusion, with reason, that I had given up, so why not they? And I got angry at myself because I had no list to work through; the names were all scratched off. Of course, my wife’s name was still there . . . but I wanted to clear this trail and build this bridge and then walk it with her . . . not ask her to bear the machete, which she was always ready to do.
Since I didn’t know, really, what to expect out of these two years, I’m a bit surprised to feel I have not met my expectations. Like the trail in the woods, the one in life takes constant maintenance, a clearing of the weeds and a chopping back of the vines which like to slyly creep in from the sides. And, like the trail in the woods, it is not widely traveled by companions of the past. I thought some who had seen it lay unfinished might have come back to see the progress and walk the path to see its end. It’s a peaceful trail, but a bit more quiet than I might have presumed it would be.
Some Christians will see some day that their stone-throwing has driven countless souls back from the creekside. Other Christians will have much to answer for when their eyes are someday opened and they realize that their pride at not throwing stones was only a partial following of Jesus. Jesus’ willingness to stretch a hand out to the one who would have been stoned to help her stand again, taking her out of the dust, looking her in the eyes, offering forgiveness and hope.
I think those of us who strive to overcome sexual brokenness have to realize at some point that not every bridge we build replaces ones we burned.
The question then, is what to do with loneliness so that it becomes not a trigger for sexual backtracking, but a beckoning to spiritual backpacking.
When I forget who said He will never leave me, I dwell on those who said they would and did. When I wonder where everyone else is, I forget that He is with me always. When I get lonely, I forget I am never only.
So two years into this blog journey seems like a good time for me to remind you that I walk with you, and to thank you that you have walked with me. But . . . nice as it is to know, you and I both know that even together we are no match for the darkest part of the path.
Not you. Not me. Only He. He who gives us strength. He who takes away fear.
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. — Deuteronomy 31:6.
The trail looks a lot better now, doesn’t it?
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. — Romans 8:38-40
Nor anything else in all creation? Not judgmental words, not harsh rejections, not bewilderment, not shame, not guilt, not misunderstandings, not temptations, not failings, not loneliness.
If you are out there wandering along on an all-too-familiar path, wishing you could jump the creek or cut a new route that did not circle back to no-where, or your mind tires of the question: “Why am I doing this?,” remember that God’s Word is infallible and His grace is beyond exhausting. If you’re walking alone, it’s because you are denying His presence.
I don’t like being lonely. In my own estimation of restoration, everyone would be back by now and we’d be having picnics by the side of the creek, while the grandchildren scurried up and down the trail discovering all of creation.
In trust, though, I can keep walking this trail for what it is. It has a beginning; it has an end. And there are bridges now.
(NOTE: If you are attending the SBC Convention in Phoenix, I hope you will drop by the ERLC — SBC Task Force booth, number 128. Lisa and I will be in the booth on Tuesday and Wednesday and would love to meet you. If you want to encourage members of your church who struggle with sexual brokenness, I hope you will read my book: Surviving Sexual Brokenness: What Grace Can Do.)