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.
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.
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.