The Pilgrim's Progress
"It is always hard to see the purpose in wilderness wanderings until after they are over."
- John Bunyan
There is comfort in the classics. At one point in time, John Bunyan's book The Pilgrim's Progress was the number one selling book behind the Bible. For good reason. It is one of those onion-layered books which reveals something new each time you read it. Written about a dream the author had about a pilgrim named "Christian," it reveals his arduous journey to the Celestial City to meet the Master. He encounters numerous obstacles along the way and learns countless lessons. The book is a religious allegory, which means that it contains two layers: the surface story and the underlying symbolic message. More often than not, I think the stories of our lives are written this way too. We see one thing on the surface, but God has a deeper story within our story. That's why this book forever holds a spot in my heart.
If you would have asked me on January 1st to predict how crazy this year would have been, there is no way that I would have guessed just how crazy of a roller coaster ride it would have turned out to have been. It's not even over yet, as three months are still left in 2022. There have been high highs and even lower lows. But all in all, I know that the Lord has been present with me through it all and is using every single experience for my good to mold me more into the image of Him. It's been a pruning season.
Like Bunyan said, "It is hard to see the purpose in the wilderness wanderings until after they are over." I might not understand right now why some things have gone down this year the way they have. The narcissistic stonewalling/gaslighting, the continued disrespect, the coldly calculated un-Christian actions of another who claimed they would love me forever at one point in time. Yet my faith is strengthened knowing that when I currently look back at the pain once inflicted on me in past situations, God has used it all for good. I've grown closer to Jesus than I ever thought possible, and He will continue to draw me closer still. With His help, I was able to forgive people that did not deserve my forgiveness. I was able to use the heartache of my past to help others in similar situations. Pain has been a gift I wouldn't have ever asked for, but I am truly appreciative of now in hindsight. I'm learning to develop an attitude of radical gratitude regardless of life's circumstances. I'm thanking the Father for all my blessings, including the ones that hurt right now. When I look back at this season of life ten years down the road, I will smile because I will remember that Christ healed my heart and helped me to have total forgiveness for the ugliness of this person too. I do feel as though I have forgiven this person. Yet from time to time the bitter roots of resentment try creeping back in when they continue to act ugly and prideful. In prayer, I offer those roots back to the Lord for Him to remove once again. It is a messy process, but every day is better than the last. I'm excited to have joy again after a rough two months. I can finally breathe again after getting the wind knocked out of me.
I am in a season where I am cutting all toxic people, places, and things out of my life. I just started my Master's program in Clinical and Mental Health Counseling and am four weeks into my chaplain clinical pastoral education (CPE) program. I work full-time in hospice and am a single mother of two boys. I don't have time for bullshit. Nor do I deserve to be emotionally abused anymore. Life might be hectic, but it is crazy in a good way for a change. The pruning season that I am coming out of has left only the things and people that truly need to be here. The people I have (and I am blessed to have many wonderful people in my tribe) genuinely love me, and I don't have to live in fear anymore. I can rest fully in my identity as the daughter of the true King of Kings, and there is peace and joy in that fact alone.
Matthew 3:3 says, "For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said, 'The voice of one crying in the wilderness, "Make ready the way of the LORD, Make his paths straight!'" John Bunyan had a message similar to John the Baptist, and The Pilgrim's Progress was his beautiful gift to the world to express that message. The path to heaven looks different for us all, but it is a narrow path. The only way is by accepting Jesus Christ into our hearts. We should aim to make our paths straight out of love for Christ, but our actions don't determine His love for us. He only wants us to aim to make our paths straight so we will cry less in our wilderness journeys. I wish I would have listened to the Holy Spirit's direction more over the past year (or my whole life, actually), but I can't change the past. I can only walk in faith towards the Celestial City to meet the Master, knowing that I am fully loved, and one day we will both laugh face to Face about all of this mess. I'm hoping it's over a cup of pumpkin-spiced lattes. With oat milk. And lots of laughs.
Wherever your journey takes you today, I pray that you have joy. Know that you are loved.