Have you ever taken a trip to “get away” but your problems followed you to paradise? Honest show of hands—did any of you escape the COVID lockdown only to discover you’re still a little worn down or torn down? Does life to the fullest feel out of reach?
Vacations don’t really fix this. Neither do positive vibe memes or lumpy rugs that offer poor cover for the problems we sweep under them. Fissures, if we’re not brave, become fixtures.
I was reminded of this at a cute little boardwalk breakfast joint on the beach this summer. Admittedly a little weary and teary, I looked to the Pacific Ocean and pancake syrup to drown out a certain sorrow. The table décor was broken, so my husband and I pushed it a little to the side. Who needed to see a succulent in a cracked pot with the ocean in full view?
Turns out I did.
I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. It was overflowing with life. Healthy plant life pushed right through the confines of the broken vessel built to contain it. It was as if Jesus himself reminded me on a battle-weary September Saturday that He came so I could have life to the fullest.
Sometimes Jesus spoke in terms of why He didn’t come:
I have not come to abolish the law or the prophets …
I have not come to call the righteous …
I did not come to bring peace, but a sword …
I have not come on my own …
But in the curious case of the cracked pot, John 10:10 reminded me why Jesus actually did come. “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.”
“They” is you. “They” is me.
Impossible grammar notwithstanding, the thick, fleshy leaves of that pot-protruding succulent embody life to the fullest. We can be overflowing with life and feel pain or pressure and be in a broken receptacle all at the same time.
The enduring hymn “It is Well With My Soul” was penned by Horatio Spafford while traveling the very seas where shipwreck claimed his four daughters’ lives. Imprisoned in the notorious Ravensbrück concentration camp, Corrie ten Boom led the tortured and scared to Christ, and later set up a rehabilitation center for survivors—including those who had cooperated with the Nazis.
What allows for this? How can ordinary people overcome grief or evil with work that endures in their time and through all time?
If you think I mean the quick-flinch, seems-like-the-right-answer-in-Sunday-School Jesus, thank you for playing but no. But if you think I mean the Jesus who …
… reclined with friends while His enemies plotted His death
… cried out from a cross for His Father to forgive those who put Him there
… focused his blood- and tear-stained gaze on a horizon of joy
… broke any hold the grave had on Him or us
Well then. We’re onto something. Horatio Spafford and Corrie ten Boom and other everyday saints full of life in a world whose prince wants to empty it knew what we can know: Behind every sad, scary, treacherous door, there’s Jesus. He broke out of the container meant to confine Him, too.
Even those who deny His deity agree that Jesus Christ was a great teacher, and a great teacher can’t take his students farther than he is willing to go. A suffering servant, Jesus showed us the art of joy anyway. When facing death, He showed us how to live. This doesn’t mean we won’t ever be sad on a beach while we’re eating pancakes. It just means that in—and above and at the end of—every sorrow is the One who has overcome it. When our lives love Him, they won’t be contained because He can’t be contained.
He’s been making something out of nothing since the beginning. For you, friend, I’m praying your something will really be something.
I’m giving away a potted succulent and two signed copies of the marvelous memoir Under a Desert Sky by my friend Lynne Hartke in my e-newsletter, which goes out this Friday. Who wants them? When you sign up, you’ll also get my free download, 7 Benefits to Standing on God in and Unstable World.