This past summer I finished reading the book, Hinds’ Feet On High Places. It is one of the most exquisitely written allegories of the human condition and ones journey with Jesus. I had originally heard that this book was inspirational and encouraging for those walking the Narrow Road but was surprised to find that it was all of those things without much of the upbeat and positive aspects usually associated with Christian literature. In fact, the heroin of the story’s entire journey to reach the “High Places” was characterized by relentless sorrow and suffering, both literally and figuratively. I bought the book on my Kindle and would never be the same.
The author, Hannah Hurnard, writes the most explicitly honest and raw perspective of the journey that I have ever read on paper outside of the Bible itself. It brought extreme comfort, especially in the midst of the difficult circumstances that characterized that period in my life, to read that what I had come to know of Jesus truly was the real.christian.life. Or else how could she write a book that left me feeling she, herself, had watched my life and put it in a book? She and perhaps others had suffered similarly and through experience was able to bleed out in allegory. I highly recommend you read it.
But here’s the point of all that set-up, (stick with me…I know some details are going to seem confusing if you’ve not read it yet. But I promise things will get clear as you continue…): Through all the suffering the main character (called “Much Afraid”) experiences on her journey to the High Places, she finally reaches her last “test”, you could say. With Sorrow and Suffering (literally) standing by her side she looks over the cliff of a vast crevice shrouded in mist through which she cannot see the other side. She cannot see how great the fall below her is either but knows that she is to continue moving forward; only forward means stepping out into the unknown. What a great risk indeed. She had already gone through so much. Enough was enough right? Surely no more risk taking and possibilities for pain were around the corner, right? Couldn’t she be cut a break finally? Oh no. She had to walk off a cliff.
A combination of desperation and determination caused her to step off and begin the plummet. She survived the fall by being cushioned by Sorrow and Suffering, interestingly enough. *Spoiler Alert* I don’t want to ruin the end of the book for you but the lesson she learns here is too vital not to share! At the bottom of the cliff she finds herself in a type of steep canyon with no way out. She see’s a large rock and beside it stood the High Priest. It is here that she knows her final act of surrender and obedience must come, but it is the hardest. It is in this place that the root of her longing to be loved must be ripped out of her heart. When I read that I felt struck. I had never heard something so hauntingly deep and true yet so confusing at the same time. I began to ask myself, what is wrong with the longing to be loved? Isn’t human love a good thing? Why should this be removed from us?
The book then says this on page 123,
“When [the High Priest had ripped the root of human love from Much Afraid’s heart] he cast it down on the altar and spread his hands above it. There came a flash of fire which seemed to rend the altar; after that, nothing but ashes remained, either of the love itself, which had been so deeply planted in her heart, or of the suffering and sorrow which had been her companions on that long, strange journey. A sense of utter, overwhelming rest and peace engulfed Much Afraid. At last, the offering had been made and there was nothing left to be done. When the priest had unbound her she leaned forward over the ashes on the altar and said with complete thanksgiving, “It is finished.”
Later on page 129 Much Afraid (newly named Grace and Glory post-op), asks Jesus what that whole “tearing love out of her heart thing” was about. Jesus says this,
“Do you remember, Grace and Glory, when you looked into your heart…and found that my kind of love was not there at all — only the…Longing-to-be-loved?” She nodded wonderingly. “That was the natural human love which I tore out from your heart when the time was ripe and it was loose enough to be uprooted altogether so that the real Love could grow there alone and fill your whole heart”…”And now for the promise,” he said, “that when Love flowers in your heart you shall be loved again.”
Just soak that in.
Before Much-Afraid could become Grace and Glory…before she could truly love or be loved…before she could be who she was made to be…before she could be used of God with any real significance and impact…she had to suffer. She had to lose all.
She ultimately had to die to the need for human love.
And above all the suffering she endures throughout the journey-and it was MUCH-the purging of the Longing-to-be-loved from her heart was the most excruciating yet. But, had she not endured all the previous tests and not had the raw grit and determination grow in her heart through the suffering she probably would not have had it in her to give up the most intimate part of herself. But she did it. And on the other side of surrender was her true identity and calling.
When I dissected this passage in the book I wept for hours and hours. If there is one idol in my life that has flown under the radar and been forever justified by my heart and mind it has been my desire for human love and my never ending quest to satisfy its longings. I tried to gain satisfaction through family relationships, friendships, and most ardently with romantic love. Yet never in all my attempts did I attain true satisfaction. It is the deepest of all of our longings and with it’s depth comes the assumption that it must be good, natural and allowed. But what God knows all too well is that until we are fully loved by Him and thus fully love ourselves we can never truly love humans nor receive fully another persons love for us. *mouth full* When we keep the bad stuff in our hearts we’re all just toxic, selfish people walking around looking for others to take out our bad stuff and fill it up with good stuff; the satisfying, gives-life-meaning kind of stuff. But no one can do that for us! As long as we keep thinking there is some human out there who can meet our needs we will just continue living broken hearted and growing in bitterness. People will always fail you and they can never fill you. No one but God can empty you of the bad and fill you up with the good.
When one surrenders and willfully allows the extraction of such a deep need and desire something truly spiritual happens: We become free.
“You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” – John 8:32.
We may not realize it but we are bound by our need for human love. We are prisoners to it. I know I have been. While I may be early on in my journey of experiencing God’s love beginning to truly flower in my heart from where my need for human love used to grow, I can say without question that I feel like a totally different person. I am more real, more authentic, more the version of me I believe I was always meant to be. This has come as a result of willfully surrendering my need for human love. But I will say, I doubt I would have ever been able to do it had I not gone through the years of sorrow and suffering I have that paved the way for a desperation to enter my heart that finally said, “Just take it all, God.”
Imagine being free of the need for others to love you…being free of offense and disappointment when people don’t meet your expectations. Imagine living from a place of knowing your are loved unconditionally by the One who created you and you live so full and complete that any other love experienced is a bonus rather than a need. Imagine the wholeness that comes from being filled with this kind of love and what you could give to others. Imagine operating from abundance rather than out of lack. This is what I hope to experience more each day, anyway…
I don’t know how to finish this other than to say, don’t resist the pain. Let it lead you somewhere. And when you reach that place where all you see is the edge of a cliff and you’re sure you can’t go on…Go on. Take that final leap. Offer that final sacrifice. Let His love replace their love. Let His abundance replace your lack and longing. Will yourself to believe that this season will soon be finished and the love you’ll receive in exchange for your tattered attempts will be everlasting, rich, and returned by both God continually and man in due season.
Here’s to surrendering our deep places,
A soaking song….