Eyes and Eagles, A Reflection

I love how God surprises us with His Word. It’s so full of life and truth and His very breath. Not long ago, I spent an entire day studying Deuteronomy 32, of all things. It’s as if the passage was drawing me in and I could not pull away.

"In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft." (Deuteronomy 32: 10-11) 

Wandering in a desert like the Israelites, living what feels like a wasted life, howling because I have forsaken God, He finds me, cares for me, guards me, and carries me.

The phrase, ‘apple of my eye’, refers to something cherished above all other things. It represents the pupil of the eye, which is one of the most sensitive parts of the body. We can usually tough it out when we have an eyelash on the white of our eye but try to focus on anything else next time you have an eyelash touching your pupil. The sensitivity makes it nearly impossible. The original Hebrew literally translated this phrase as “Little Man of the Eye”, referring to the reflection of yourself seen in other people’s pupils (deseretnews.com).

Is this not one of the most beautiful things you’ve ever heard? God guards us occasional wanderers as the apple of his eye, the most sensitive part of Himself, and His own reflection. He allows Himself to be affected by us, to care for us, and to long for us (Isaiah 30:18, Matthew 23:37). I love this quote that references the stories of Hosea and the prodigal son, “God’s longing and love could leave some embarrassed for Him, saying, ‘I don’t want God to make a fool of Himself over Gomer or a delinquent young man. I don’t want to see Him standing there with red, swollen eyes, or an aching lump in His throat.’ And then He turns those red eyes toward us. He puts the robe around our shoulders. And slips the ring on our fingers. And turns us toward home” (eagleflight.org). The God of the universe loves us, allows Himself to be tender toward us, and welcomes us home to Him. And He made us tender so that we could reflect Him, so that He could be the Protector of our sensitivity, and so that He could provide for us (vs. 13-14). If we were not wired with sensitivity, we wouldn’t need God, and if He had no affection, He wouldn’t be jealous when we wander (vs. 16).

In verse 11, God describes Himself using an eagle metaphor. An eagle lines the bottom of its nest with its own feathers to protect and comfort its young until they are ready to fly. Then the eagle loosens the comfortable feathers and stirs the nest with its wings so the feathers fly away and the nest is no longer pleasant. If that doesn’t work to make the young leave the nest, the eagle will knock them out of the nest and fly next to them, catching them until they learn to fly on their own (eagleflight.org).

God’s metaphors are stunning! Just like an eagle stirs its nest so the young don’t get too comfortable, God stirs up our comfortable lives so that we learn to thrive. And He catches us and carries us if we have some trouble learning right away. I got too comfortable for awhile so God stirred up my nest. And because I have been refusing to learn how to fly, this thorny nest is even more uncomfortable on my sensitive flesh. It’s the security I have always known but now God wants me to fly, to be the person He created me to be. But I’m afraid to fall so I sit in uncomfortable misery. God promises that if I spread my wings and jump, He will catch me when I don’t soar the heights right away.

At first I wasn’t sure I believed the truth in this because I have jumped and I have regretted it. I’ve done what I thought God wanted me to do and seemed to fall pretty hard. But I’m starting to wonder if that’s not really the case. I think maybe when I tried to fly, I got scared. Instead of trusting God to catch me, I flew back to the nest to sit in misery. I fear that if I, as the sensitive apple of God’s eye, were to jump out of my comfort zone and allow myself to be affected by Him and other people, the tender heart that God gave me would shatter. So here I sit aching in my jagged nest, the life slowly bleeding out of me, not letting anyone touch me. If only I would leave behind the things that used to give me comfort, God would be my comfort. He would heal my heart when it breaks and my life would not slowly, achingly bleed away. If I let people touch my  heart the way God lets all of us touch His heart, He will spread His wings to catch me when things get too uncomfortable and He won’t let me fall. He will fly with me.

"Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants" (vs. 2). 

Making this even more precious to my musical heart, this whole chapter is actually a song that God Himself wrote for the Israelites to memorize. He wanted them to remember how affected God is by their choices and that He helps them learn to fully live. Can you believe that? God wrote His people a song! God wants His song to pour into our tender places. As our Protector, He doesn’t want us to try and protect our own hearts from being affected, but He wants His song, His love, His longing, and His reflection in other people to touch our tender hearts. God cherishes, guards, and even sings about, our sensitivity.

"I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand" (vs. 39). 

It is possible for our tender hearts to be wounded when God stirs our comfortable nests, but God heals and delivers us. At first glance, this beautiful verse means that no one can take us out of God’s hand. But I see an even richer meaning as well. Nothing and no one else can bring us God’s deliverance. Nothing can truly heal us or make us more secure than our Protector, not even the nest He first built for us. No one else can vindicate or clear us of blame when we waste our strength resisting God’s flight plan (vs. 36). No one else can be our rock, refuge, help, or shelter (vs. 37-38). No one else can bring us life or heal us. Nothing we see as ‘good’ outside of God can be the thing that delivers us. We are the cherished, protected reflection of God. It’s time for us to believe that, to open our hearts, and to leave the nest. We may be surprised at how healing it is to fly.

"Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings." -Psalm 17:8
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He Holds Hands Full of Lilies of the Valley

I’ve noticed something about myself lately that I don’t like at all. I’ve been responding to everything with biting sarcasm, whether just in my head or spewed from my lips. Any attempt at trying to cheer me up has been met with an internal scoff and usually external negativity. I should apologize to anyone I’ve allowed to see that ugly bit of myself but hey, at least I was being honest for once… or so I thought. I have felt anger within myself for awhile. It’s ok to be angry sometimes but it’s not ok to sink into bitterness, which is what I have done. But I’ve realized that most of this knee-jerk sarcasm and anger is a cover for the way I’m really feeling. Because I’m really feeling like a lost and terrified little girl who needs her Father to take her home.

I’ve become aware that every bit of my existence has been about striving for something. If I am not striving for something, perfection of some sort, I have no idea how to act. I am trying to find the way home my own way and have gotten frustrated and given up. Instead, I need to let God carry me home in His way. I’m terrified because it’s not the way I have always known. I have never fully grasped what it means to be God’s child. Somewhere along the way I picked up the notion that I had to work hard to earn that position, that I had to be perfect for God and everyone else or they would be disappointed in me. I thought I had to work harder to be better, and to make everyone else’s lives better, or I wasn’t good enough. And since I have not been able to make my life or the lives of anyone around me better, I am hopelessly lost and my entire life has been a failure, perhaps even a lie.

I think that’s a big reason my illness started right after my first Social Work job. It was impossible to be a perfectionist at that job because there simply weren’t enough hours in the day. I had to cut corners and I constantly felt guilty for doing so. It was unacceptable to me that I couldn’t hack it. I was miserable because I could not do everything exactly right. So instead of finally accepting that it was impossible for me to be perfect, I found a different job and quickly realized I had stumbled back into my comfort zone. I loved this job more than I can say, and not just because I was good at it and could accomplish it with my normal perfectionistic drive. I genuinely looked forward to it every day. And when it was taken from me due to my illness, I found myself lost again.

Probably one of my most frequent prayers since leaving work has been, “what am I supposed to do?” God’s only clear answer has been, “rest and let Me heal you.” That may sound good, but it is indescribable agony for someone who only knows how to work, how to do, how to strive for perfection. There has never been one single moment in my life that has not been spent analyzing which “self” would be best to present in that moment and working hard to present only that self at that time. I have never been at rest within myself. This fake world crashing down around me has left me lost, vulnerable, and basically non-existent, since I have never known my true self and don’t know how to be her. I HAVE NO CLUE HOW TO REST AND IT FEELS LIKE IT IS KILLING ME. Hence, the healing crisis. But it’s easier for me to be angry than sad because it’s less vulnerable, so that’s where I’ve been hiding out for awhile. See, always hiding.

I finally started to allow God to reveal to me how completely heartbroken and devastated I am. Then, I visited my work friends the other day. It was good for my heart to see them again but it also reawakened in me deep sadness and loss. As I watched them move about their office, familiar in their workplace, and as I listened to their lives, my ache became evident. And when I realized that it was not even two hours from the time my friend picked me up to the time she dropped me back off and my body was completely finished, overly-exhausted and unable to function anymore, I just knew that was the last time I could push it to have much of a life outside of this house. I felt my body telling me it was finished for awhile and that scares me. It’s not just the loss of my job that has left me reeling, but the loss of my ability to strive for perfection, the loss of the only way I know how to act, the loss of who I truly believed I was. I miss work. I miss knowing my purpose (even if it was misguided). I miss familiarity. I miss helping people. I miss the daily support system and camaraderie. I miss being able to go places without issue. I miss knowing what to do with myself. I miss everything about the life I used to know….except when I remember that the life I used to know was a life of my own making, not God’s.

But the sadness is still overwhelming. So I’ve been asking God where He’s keeping the comfort that He talks about, because I don’t feel it. I keep asking Him to hold me, to come find His lost daughter and carry her home with Him. My heart is so broken and I just don’t feel comforted. I asked Him to show me in His Word. As I was reaching for my Bible, my alarm went off and played the song, “Held”, by Natalie Grant. Yes, I chose the song as my alarm but I didn’t remember that’s what I had chosen, nor that I had chosen it for this hour. God used my previous choice to show me this hour that He is holding me.

Indulge me while I apply the song lyrics to my life. “Two months is too little. They let him go. They had no sudden healing. To think that Providence would take a child from his mother while she prays is appalling… This hand is bitterness. We want to taste it, let the hatred numb our sorrow.” I’ve had no sudden healing and to think that God would do this is appalling. I’ve been covering and numbing my sorrow with anger and sarcasm. I just didn’t want to feel the pain. I would rather blame because at least that convinces me there’s a reason for my suffering. Without the anger, there is only loss. But I need to let go.

“The wise hands open slowly to lilies of the valley and tomorrow.” Lilies of the valley are a symbol of humility and also of the Second Coming of Christ. It is also a highly poisonous flower. How profound. In order to gain the hope of tomorrow (Jesus’ return), I have to have the wisdom to open my hand and accept the poison (pain and suffering of life) with humility, recognizing my need for God and that the life He is building for me is better than the one I built. Vaneetha Rendall Risner, about whom this song is written, says, “I can experience true joy only after I have acknowledged my sorrow. And when I do, I find myself in a deeper place with the Lord, who helps reframe my disappointments and pain.” I highly recommend her book, The Scars that Have Shaped Me.

“This is what it means to be held, how it feels when the sacred is torn from your life and you survive. This is what it is to be loved and to know that the promise was when everything fell, we’d be held. If hope is born of suffering, if this is only the beginning, can we not wait for one hour watching for our Savior?” Maybe comfort is not necessarily removal of the pain, but knowing that I am still held and loved when my world falls apart. Maybe it’s knowing this is only the beginning and that we can wait for our Savior to deliver us. Maybe the comfort is knowing that God will never waste our pain and will use it for good. Knowing this probably won’t take the pain away but it may remove the sting of bitterness.

When I finally made it to the Bible after the song was over, the verse that seemed to mean the most to me was Isaiah 66:13, “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.” I thought about how a child doesn’t understand why anything bad happens to her and she runs straight to her mother to be held and comforted. Being held may not change the circumstances but she cries it out in her mother’s arms. Even if her mother is the one causing what she perceives as bad, she still lets her hold and comfort her. And though the child’s pain grieves her mother’s heart, her mother doesn’t change the circumstances because she knows what is best. This deeply touches my heart and it’s where I have been in the last few days. I have been angry at God for so long but right now I don’t want to be angry anymore. Instead, I crave comfort and I want to be held. I can trust God enough to let Him hold me even when I perceive that what He’s doing is bad. He knows what’s best for me and will accomplish it even if it grieves His heart to break my heart. After all, “The Father said no to the Son. And that no brought about the greatest good in all of history.” – Vaneetha Rendall Risner

Earlier in Isaiah 66, God says He esteems those who are humble and contrite in spirit (vs. 2) and He will not bring labor without delivery (vs. 9). This is such a beautiful promise. God will not bring pain without delivering us. He will comfort us (vs. 13), we will rejoice, and His hand will be made known to His servants (vs. 14). To those who humble and submit themselves to God, opening their hands to the lilies of the valley, to those who allow themselves to grieve in God’s arms, He will bring deliverance, comfort, joy, and a knowledge of His work. This is what it means to be held.

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