A few years ago, my wife and I were privileged to spend a long birthday weekend in South Carolina with two other couples. The large lakehouse was cozy and beautiful and the fellowship was rich and nourishing to my soul.
On one of our afternoon trips, we explored an incomplete railroad tunnel dug by hand into Stumphouse Mountain. The ambitious mile-long project began in 1853 but was abandoned at 1,617 feet as excavating costs became exorbitant.
Entering the damp, 50-degree tunnel, we were randomly pelted with drops of cold water falling from the tall arched ceiling. My water-proof boots came in handy as the soil under our feet was hard-packed and pocked with water-filled divots.
The first few hundred feet, we concentrated on dodging puddles, guided by light streaming in from the entrance. However, the deeper we got into the tunnel, the more the darkness consumed us. The sound of dripping water echoing throughout this burrowed cave only added to the eeriness of our adventure.
To be honest, I found it all a bit unnerving. Holding my wife's hand with my right and grasping my cellphone flashlight with my left, we navigated further. My dis-ease only increased as I jumped at each indiscriminate drop of water that plopped on my head.
Suddenly, our lights revealed what appeared to be a mortared brick wall blocking off the rest of the tunnel. As we approached, we noticed a small iron gate in the center of that wall. Peering through the bars, the tunnel narrowed significantly. "I am NOT going in there," I adamantly declared... silently, of course.
Feigning disappointment upon the discovery that the gate was bolted shut, I may or may not have whispered a grateful, "Thank You, Jesus" as we turned around and began walking back toward the entrance.
As our puddle-dodging resumed, a question kept revolving in my mind. "O my soul... why so restless and disturbed within me?" [Psalm 42:5].
When we arrived back at the lakehouse, I curled up on the downstairs couch with a warm blanket, laid my head on a pillow, and rested in the presence of the Lord. Exhaling deeply, I closed my eyes, opened my heart, and asked, "What was all that?"
The Lord answered... but in a way that was new to me. I am not sure if I fell asleep and dreamed it or it was a vision, but nonetheless, I found myself back at Stumphouse Tunnel standing at the entrance, this time with Jesus.
We entered side by side, walking slowly into the darkness. As we got deep into the tunnel, the words from a long-pondered phrase from Psalm 139 finally made sense to me, "the darkness will not be dark to you."
As we neared the brick wall, He gently spoke."Son, there is a place of pain in your life that has been as dark as this tunnel. And each time we have approached the real source of that hurt, you turned around to avoid the pain." I wish I could describe the tone of His voice. It was compassionate and empathetic with absolutely no hint of condemnation.
Arriving at the bolted gate, we stared into the narrow space beyond the bars. Breaking the silence, He tenderly said, "I am willing to go there with you... if you would let Me." With gracious patience, He waited for my timid nod of approval. Then He opened the gate and followed me in.
In a heap along the wall, I saw what seemed to be a pile of black fabric. Staring at it, I realized that it was the robe that I had used in sermons over the years to illustrate condemnation. Walking toward it, I could see the labels I had attached to the robe that identified accusations of the enemy.
Gingerly picking up the robe by the shoulder pads, it unfurled revealing the exact words I had been speaking over myself in regards to that particular season in my life. "FAILURE," "INADEQUATE," "LOSER," and "NOT GOOD ENOUGH." Feeling the sting of those words afresh, I lowered my head in shame.
As I looked down, I discovered that the robe had been covering a wooden chest. Throwing the robe over my left arm, I knelt down and lifted the cover with my right hand. I was shocked! It was filled with bars of gold. I looked up at Jesus as the dilemma became clear. I could either cling to the robe or I could receive the gold. His smile widened as I pitched the robe off into the darkness.
And then I woke up.
I grabbed my laptop and began to journal. "I've been running from the very pain that You have wanted to heal. And each time I sensed that You were wanting to approach the subject, the fear of the sting of more pain made me withdraw from You. It was like being so sunburned that the thought of anyone touching you triggers a visceral response. Lost in my culpability, I think I have been perceiving every conversation with people about that particular season in my life as an indictment, "YOU FAILED." It's been an open wound and yet a hidden wound all at the same time. But You are willing to go there, aren't You! And, You want to go with me... to that dark place I haven't wanted to face... until now."
Interrupting my journaling, the Lord said with warm, parental assurance, "Oh son, there is gold there: People whom I chose to touch through you during that time and wonderful experiences that would not have happened had you not been there. Now you can either embrace the robe, clinging to your skewed assessment... or you can release it and celebrate with Me the true gold that I unearthed in that season."
Shaking my head in awe of God's kindness toward me, I closed my laptop. I leaned back on that soft pillow, closed my eyes, and whispered prayers of thanksgiving. And then like a divine exclamation point, a Scripture popped into my mind that sealed the experience with blessed assurance. "I will go ahead of you... and cut through iron bars. I will give you hidden treasures and wealth tucked away in secret places; I will reveal them to you. Then you will know that I am the Eternal, the God of Israel, who calls you by name" [VOICE].
It has been three years since that experience, and I cannot adequately express what God has done since then. That tunnel encounter has provided imagery and vocabulary for working through a number of painful experiences over the years. I have made many trips to the tunnel, sometimes once, and other times, multiple visits as the Lord continues to heal areas of my life layer by layer. As the Lord restores me, He has also shown me how I have misinterpreted the intention of His heart, how decisions I made were rooted in wrong thinking, and how my poor choices are entrenched in brokenness - all of which are worthy of a separate blog entry.
I share all that to say: If you are experiencing pain, know this, beloved. God is the God who is willing to go there. God wants to walk with you into those places that are deep, dark, and blocked off... gate-bolted-shut spaces where you are suffering in silence. I believe God, in steadfast love, wants to give wisdom and revelation about His presence in the midst of that situation, about His nature toward you, about who you are in Him, and perhaps even about the people involved.
And, precious one, if anxiety is rising within you as you even begin to think about it, know this. You can rest in the kind intention of God's will and God's timing. He will not drag you, force you, trick you, manipulate you, or guilt you into going there. Instead, I believe He is willing to wait, longing to be gracious to you. "'I will restore health to you, and I will heal your wounds,' says the Lord" [Jeremiah 30:17 AMP]. Selah.
Oh how loved you are! You are precious to God. As you reflect on this entry, I invite you to simply stop, sit for a few moments, and breathe deeply. Take some time to reflect on the nature of God. Take a moment, listen, and celebrate the reality of God as your Healer. Indeed, "He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds" [Psalm 147:3 NLT]. Amen.
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