One of the things that is a constant refrain through much of Much-Afraid’s journey is that when she is headed in the direction of the mountains, and on the path that she thinks she needs to go, she is joyful. When the path turns away from the promise (or so it seems) she is completely disheartened. It is a lesson that the Shepherd repeats for the first part of her journey over and again.
Those times that the path seems to move away are the times that she is overcome by her enemies. Craven Fear, Bitterness, Pride, Resentment and Self-Pity move in like a pack of lions and try to devour her spirit. The Shepherd has reminded her to call out to him when these enemies show their faces and it’s a lesson that takes time for her to learn. By the second or third time these Fearlings have shown their faces she begins to realize that she does have power over them. She can call out to the Shepherd and she can also sing. In chapter six as they start over the Great Sea Wall and her enemies are surrounding her she lifts up her voice and declares Psalm 27:6
And now my head shall be lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord. As she sings these words aloud her enemies are distracted and their taunts are drowned out.
But even after this great success over her enemies, her hope continues to rest upon her circumstances. The direction she is moving or the scenery around here – even the way of the path in front of her. After the Sea Wall she comes to a great wall in front of her. Not only has the Shepherd led her away from the direction she desired to go, he has now led her to what seems an impasse. Craven Fear shows up as she watches the deer bounce along this great precipice. And instead of calling out to the Shepherd she listens to Fear. She opens up her imagination to all the things that are impossible about this way. She fears calling out to the Shepherd because she knows what he will ask her to do and she is terrified.
But she does call and he responds. “I love doing preposterous things…turning weakness to strength, fear to faith and something marred into perfection.” He brings her to the absolute point where in her own strength she could never do it. Like Sarah and Abraham having a baby. Like Mary being the Mother of God. Places where there is no way but to say “it is of the Lord.”
As she starts to climb with the Shepherd beside her she realizes that it is not as scary as she thought. They edges are not as small as they seemed. The way not as hard to overcome as it looked. But her imagination must remain closed; for what she imagines is often much more unnerving and terrible than what actually is.
She mounts this horrible precipice with great joy and satisfaction. And then again is led away from the mountains. And again she is disheartened at the way she is to go. What patience the Great Shepherd has to repeatedly teach her (and us) the same lesson over and again until we finally submit! He leads her to a place where she abandons her will. She makes another alter and sacrifices another part of her will. And the Shepherd gently reminds her:
“don’t ever allow yourself to begin to try and picture what the path ahead will be like – when you get the places you dread (or the direction that seems opposite) they will be as different as possible than what you imagined.”
Trust. It’s about trust. And we lost trust in the Garden and all of us this side of Eden will continue to build alters of our wills. Like Much-Afraid, our Shepherd continues to lead us and remind us that He does have our best interest at heart. He who began a good work in us is faithful to finish it. It’s the finishing that is so terribly hard.