Fire has always frightened me. I can remember the exact stiff, white jeans and frilly top I was wearing the day a controlled burn on our farmland got a mind of its own and hopped fence lines and ditches. It was a warm, cheery bus ride home from school turned quickly sour by the sight of fire trucks and police vehicles on our property. The orange flames wrapped around a stack of bales like a hot, frightful coat. It maybe wasn’t as dramatic as I’m painting it, but as a middle school girl, my respect of fire jumped up a few, momentous notches.
Fire always seemed like a bad thing, so when I met my prairie-loving husband, I was shocked to learn all the positive impacts of a good burn. Steve went on to get his wildland firefighter certification and has enjoyed lighting and maintaining controlled fires ever since. What a stud.
Each spring I watch different prairies next to our house go up in flames, and the fire leaving behind a scorched and ugly earth. But as the wet and warm days of spring slip by, I’m enchanted by the green sprouts that reach up through the charred land and toward the light. Having observed this process for a few years now, I know that in due time, the black will transform into a beautiful, wild and colorful prairie. What once was dead will be alive again—alive with plants and rabbits, bees and butterflies. It will be a safe haven for the animals that pass through, a delight for hikers and place of peace for me, as I will watch this native habitat wave in the warm summer breeze (ok, this is Iowa, more like: whip in the wild wind).
Almost exactly two years ago I sat around our campfire with a handful of women I had come to know over the course of an intense 6-week Bible study. It was our final week and we were celebrating the completion of this heavy and powerful book. We leaned toward the warm fire and ceremonially burned things representing pieces of our pasts, pains we had held on to, sins we had confessed. As the ashes drifted off into the moonlight, we looked over at the prairie. It was a few weeks after its burn and was now filled with 3-4inch green plants. We dreamed together of the hope coming alive in us as we put to death old selves. It was such a beautiful, natural image of the spiritual transaction that was happening in our hearts.
I never like the brief stage of total charred earth, but its bearable knowing the bloom is coming. And today as I looked out my office window I was filled with hope and joy as I saw tiny green sprouts dotting the field.
Same as seasons of the year, we experience seasons of the soul. Death and pain, endings and closed chapters, waiting and disappointment—even challenging beginnings— can feel like scorched earth. But we can hold firmly to the hope that life is coming—that in our endings there is always an impending beginning. Life comes in the wake of death. “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5b)
A verse I continue to come back to is Romans 4:17b “—the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were.” Abraham was promised as many decedents as the stars, and yet his wife was old and barren, they were aging and time kept marching on without a physical sign God’s promise would become reality. Despite Abraham’s impatience and taking matters into his own hands, God kept his promise and Sarah had a son, giving way to the birth of a nation, and eventually the fatherhood of all who would follow Christ.
God is in the business of life giving; you could say it is the only business he is in.
The second piece of the verse is my favorite: “…and calls things that are not as though they were.” Where we see burnt earth—ugly pasts, disobedience, rebellion and mountains of sins—God sees lush, green pastures; God sees his perfect son.
Don’t get caught up in what was, but look to what is coming. Cling to God’s promises like they are your lifelines, and pursue a deep understanding of how God truly sees you. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you eyes to see yourself through God’s eyes, to see beyond current circumstances and natural realities and into the supernatural reality that is your righteousness in Christ.
Isaiah 44:22 “I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.”
Whatever season of the soul you are in, no matter what blackness or char or ash is littering your life or clouding your vision of the future, cling to the truth that life can and will come—that God can work his redemptive power and make beauty out of any hurt or pain.
Take a few moments to embrace the physical season of spring today. Touch a budding tree, watch a farmer make their first passes in the field, pick a flower, stand still long enough to let warm rays blush your winter skin.
God didn’t bring the fire you faced, but he is ready and willing and able to redeem and create new life!
Isaiah 61: 1, 3 “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me… to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,”