Those of you who heard me in person facilitate a retreat, might have heard me tell the story of our family’s visit to the Okefenokee Swamp in Southern Georgia. Years ago, we planned a visit to the Okefenokee Swamp with our children while we lived in Georgia. At the time, only our son and middle daughter were born, and they were around the ages of five and two. We built the trip up to them sharing our excitement at them seeing land, similar to Chris and my home-state of Louisiana.
All four of us pulled into the natural reserve with excitement in our hearts. Little did we know that there was a forest fire months earlier burning hundreds of acres of the swamp. Our spirits sank as we realized the trees and ground were scorched black. To survey the horizon was depressing. The vastness of devastation and the sight of destruction overwhelmed us, and our excitement turned to somber quiet as we drove the roads through the swamp.
It wasn’t until we pulled off in a viewing area that we noticed more than just the scorched black land. When we got out of the car and took a closer look on the ground, we noticed bright green seedlings sprouting in the torched soil. I remember thinking, “How is it possible for new life and re-birth to happen here in this burned land?” Yet, there it was. Visible new life right in front of us sprouting out of what, on first glance, was land incapable of new life.
How often in our own lives do we survey our own lives, our own hearts, or the world around us and only notice the scorched black areas? Don’t we at times become so consumed by the darkness in our lives that the horizon can seem depressing and incapable of new life? Yet, just as the sprouts of new life birthed forth out of the charred, scorched soil of the Okefenokee swamp, God’s promise and gift of mercy births new life into the dark areas of our lives.
This promise of God is the gift of God’s mercy not allowing our hearts, our lives, or our world to remain what can feel at times like a scarred wasteland. God’s gift of mercy promises us, not only that we are intimately seen by God, but also that God is always seeking to birth new life out of and in the darkness of our lives.
Examples from Jesus’ Ministry:
Jesus gives us many examples of him intimately seeing people, especially what lies hidden in their hearts. Think of how he stops on the road to Jericho and sees the blind man, Baritmeaus, and asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?” Or the way he heals the paralyzed woman who was bent over and crippled after 18 years. Or the way he sees the woman at the well and knows what lies within her about her past husbands.
Each of these scripture stories, offer examples of Jesus’ stopping and physically noticing the person in front of him, and seeing the deep desire of the human heart. For Bartimaeus, it was the desire to see. For the woman paralyzed, it was the ability to stand straight again. For the woman at the well, it was someone to offer her life-giving waters. To each of these people, Jesus offered the gift of mercy, which brought about new life out of a person’s darkness.
What about us?
God’s gift of mercy is the promise that we are intimately seen and known to God. It is also the promise to each of us that no matter what we are carrying or facing in our life that feels heavy or dark, that God is not going to leave us consumed in darkness. The woo of God’s mercy is the relentless in the pursuit of birthing new life.
That is good news worth embracing, celebrating, and sharing, don’t you think?
- Mark 10:46-52// The blind Bartimaeus
- John 4:4-42// Woman at the well
- Isaiah 43:19// I am doing something new
- Revelation 21:5// I make all things new
- Luke 13:10-17// Crippled Woman