lessons from Much-Afraid {into the mist}

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It seems Much-Afraid goes through this cycle of wandering towards the Promise and then being turned away from it. Following the path irregardless of where it leads as she sacrifices another part of her will; only to be faced with another direction that seems in opposition to the path she desires.

She makes it up the precipice only to be led into the Forests of Danger and Tribulation. She meets with the Shepherd, sacrifices her will and finds this place of contentment with the path he has chosen for her. Then she wakes up ready to face whatever and walks into the mist. She is energized to keep following.

This mist that she and her companions journey through is deep. They cannot see anything beyond a few footsteps in front of them. So quickly her enemies pounce upon her, whispering at her in the mist: Resentment for leading her here, Bitterness at the way she has to go, Self-Pity at giving up so much of herself for what seems like a failed path. The more she listens the harder the way becomes. Not only has it been hard to see where to go, but now she slips and slides all over the muddy ground. She has a choice: To continue to listen to her enemies or to call out to the Shepherd.

So she sings. She worships and he comes.

As Much-Afraid walks through this mist, as we walk through unseen directions, it is a reminder to remember. To remember what she, what we, have seen…to ask ourselves “what is true here?” Because what is true is always there even though it can’t be seen.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things which are seen but to the things which are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. ~ 2 Corinthians 4:18

Much-Afraid’s story grew from an experience that Hannah Hurnard had while staying in Switzerland in between burying her father and journeying back to her mission in Jerusalem. She was staying in the Swiss Alps and throughout her visit there she wandered along mountainsides, in and out of rain, clouds and sun. She tells the story of a visit to a hillside one day and it started to rain. She started to be depressed in spirit because she no longer had the amazing vista of the Alps in front of her. Quickly she was reminded of a message given to her from a friend:
“‘Go through each day praising and thanking God for everything that happens!’ Nothing can take from me the memories and and beauties and lessons.

The Lord speaks to her and reminds her that this is life: seeing and not seeing. There are times in our lives where we will see clearly and then times when everything seems shrouded in darkness and the unknown. But despite whether we can “see” or not, the reality is always there. The darkness will pass away and the promises will still be there.

Today and tomorrow are days in darkness. But despite the arrest, trial and death of Jesus, despite the denial and fear of the disciples, despite the hours of darkness tomorrow, the reality is still there.

God never turns His face from us. We may walk through mist. We may walk in and out of darkness. But His way is always good and He always loves us.

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world. ~ John 16:33

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lessons from much-afraid {joy and sorrow}

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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.

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lessons from much-afraid {the first lesson}

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Much-Afraid begins her journey by meeting up with her guides. She is almost immediately set with disappointment because this journey is not going the way she had planned. Who would want to journey with guides named Sorrow and Suffering?

In chapters six and seven she experiences even more frustration. She starts her journey going up a mountain. Although the way is hard, she stays with it because it seems to be going the way she wants to go. Then the path leads them away and away from her heart’s desire. It leads her away from the promise the Shepherd had given her. The path leads them into a desert; just about as far away from the High Places that the Shepherd could lead her and there is no prospect of turning back towards those peaks in the vision that she sees. The Shepherd comes to her and asks her: “Do you love me enough to accept the postponement and apparent contradiction of the promise and go down into the desert?

Down into the desert she goes giving up another part of her will and adds another stone of trust to her bag. Here the Shepherd tells her the stories of all the others that were led through the desert. He gives her the pictures of the wheat being ground almost to dust in order to make it perfect for it’s use as flour and the picture of the potter molding and shaping the clay into a vessel perfect. The pictures of submission to the greater will of the one who knows best.

Leaving the desert they move in a westward direction. She comes through the desert with a will to follow wherever the Shepherd leads and he leads her directly away from the High Places. Oh poor Much-Afraid’s heart! How hard it is when we come to places in our lives where we offer up our will and then the Lord asks for even more!

But he tells her: “remember it is always safe to obey my voice even if it seems to call you to paths which look impossible or even crazy.” So now Much-Afraid has left her green valley, walked through the desert and now walks along the Shores of Loneliness. She grabs the hands of her companions and they walk, but something has happened to her. Acceptance has blossomed and as she walks
she doesn’t go cringingly or complainingly. Indeed, gradually an impossible thing seemed to be happening. A new kind of joy was springing up in her heart, and she began to find herself noticing beauties in the landscape of which until then she had been quite unconscious.

She discovers what Ann Voskamp calls the Ugly-Beautiful.
Much-Afraid is finding the Ugly-Beautiful in the midst of lost promises. She can’t even see the mountains from these shores that she walks along, but she walks and takes in the beauty of where she is.

This Holy Week is a week of finding the Ugly Beautiful. As we sit on the edge of Maundy Thursday and the story of Christ’s betrayal and arrest it is a reminder of this way of the impossible. To the disciples this week becomes an ultimate loss of the promise. They don’t understand what happens in the Garden and how it could even lead to anything close to what they had thought would happen in their minds. They are like Much-Afraid being led into the Shores of Loneliness.
They sleep, they deny and they run away in fear.
They grab the hands of Sorrow and Suffering and cling desperately to the Promise that they can’t even see.
Thankfully it’s not the end of the story.

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lessons from Much-Afraid {the beginning}

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In the beginning we learn that Much-Afraid is not only full of fear inside, but outside she is ugly and deformed. Her face is twisted into a constant frown. Her feet are deformed and it is hard for her to walk. She is easily swayed and constantly taunted by her family of Fearlings.

But, she loves the Shepherd. She works for him in this Valley of Humiliation and longs to be like the deer pouncing along the high places with feet perfect for the journey. The first five chapters bring us into her daily struggle and the invitation from the Shepherd to join him on the journey to high places. He promises that he will give her a new name and a new body. But she will have to be ready to join him when he calls for her. She finally escapes her Fearling family and joins the Shepherd at the foot of the mountains and while she stands there, staring at the journey ahead she asks him why he can’t just carry her?

I love this question and her blatant honesty with the Shepherd. And his gentleness in answering her is even more lovely. He reminds her that he could carry her, but in carrying her up she would never develop the hinds feet that she would need to live up there on these high places. It is only in the journey that the transformation can occur. How often do we just long for the Lord to take the cup from us? For God to just carry us through it…to make the way easier for us? While He certainly can and sometimes does; more often He doesn’t. And we so often view it as a punishment. But that is so far from the truth. It’s in us walking through the hardness, the loneliness, the way away from where we thought we were going that we are fastened more to Him and made more like Him.

She is given two guides: Sorrow and Suffering and she immediately shrinks away from them. She tries hard not to need them; to use the help that the Shepherd has given her. But as she tries to go up that first summit, she realizes that she can’t go on alone. Her cousin Pride enters and tries to turn her back. Tries to convince her that the way is foolish. She calls out to the Shepherd and she learns that she must take the hands of her guides in order to make it. She has to give in to sorrow and suffering.

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lessons from Much-Afraid {introduction}

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I’m rereading the book Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. I read it once years ago in high school not long after I started walking with Christ; I’m not even sure I made it all the way through it. When I went to Captivating years ago, one of the speakers brought it up and so when I returned home I found a used copy in a bookstore. There it sat on my shelf. I picked it up a few weeks ago ago and I’ve been slowly reading through it. It’s an allegorical story and one that I think you could reread at very different seasons of your life and pick up on very different parts of the story.

It is the story of Much-Afraid who lives in the Valley of Humiliation. She longs to venture up into the High Places with the Shepherd, but she is lame and disfigured. She thinks herself unworthy for the journey and unable. She is surrounded by her family of Fearlings, among other enemies. She is invited by the Shepherd to join her on the journey and he plants a seed, a thorn really, to grow in her heart and lead her to these places. When her family sets forth to marry her off to Craven-Fear she finally is bold enough to run off and join the Shepherd on this journey.

Along the way she is given two guides by the Shepherd; Sorrow and Suffering. But also along the way she is often hounded by her enemies: Craven Fear, Pride, Bitterness, Resentment and Self-Pity. She is taken through many different places during her journey and ultimately it is a story of full self-abandonment and relinquishing our will for His. It is truly a story that I’m following with my life as I seek to relinquish this name of “fear” written on my heart and replace it with utter abandonment to my Great Shepherd.

Join me in the next few weeks as I process through this book and share the things I’m learning from Much-Afraid.

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