Treasure in the Field, part 3 | Fiction Friday

[Begin with part 1 here.]

Three days later, he heard the king’s voice again, this time early in the morning as he was folding up his simple sleeping pad in the hut where they now stayed. His wife was outside, getting fresh water from the nearby spring and, when she returned, she found him face down on the floor.

“You heard the king’s voice,” she said quietly. He was struck by her calmness as she explained, “I have been hearing him more and more lately. Soon it will be time for me to ride to him.”

“What about me?”

“I don’t know. What did the king say?”

“He just called my name.”

She nodded. “Wait. Wait for his voice.”

So they waited. Their days were filled with mediation, study, vigorous exercise, and hikes through the surrounding countryside. Sometimes his wife would check to make sure her garments and travel supplies were ready. Their evenings were filled with long talks by the fireside, their nights with tenderness.

In the meantime, his mind filled with questions he dared not ask.

Spring came. One morning a beautiful white stallion appeared in the clearing outside their door. His wife greeted it like a long lost friend, throwing her arms around the horse’s neck in an embrace, kissing it between the ears, and then flinging herself on its back before galloping off.

It was the first time he had seen her ride. He didn’t even know if she had ever been on a horse before in her life, but now she looked as if she was finally doing what she had been born to do.

His heart ached.

She returned an hour later, her face radiant and her hair gloriously windswept. When had her grey strands turned to silver? he wondered. Surely not during her ride…

“I leave tomorrow at sunup,” she announced.

He couldn’t answer.

“I have never loved you as much as now, but I love the king more. Besides, he’s the one I serve. I’ve waited my entire life for this. He’s calling me — can you imagine? me! — and I get to go.”

Again, he couldn’t answer.

Later, they both wept. They spent the night in each other’s arms.

After a hurried pre-dawn breakfast the next morning, she put on her travel garments. He had never seen such clothing, and he was filled with wonder. She wore a flowing white dress, far more beautiful than the one she wore at their wedding and, over this extraordinary dress, she wore armor. When he asked her about her armor, shield, and sword, she answered somberly, “I thought you understood. It’s not just a journey. The king will be leading us into battle.”

Finally he couldn’t take it any more. “Do you think the king will ever call for me?” he asked desperately, feeling as if his heart was about to break irrevocably. “I’ve followed your example. I’ve given up everything. I sold our home and my business, and I gave away everything I couldn’t sell. I’ve meditated; I’ve exercised; I’ve walked countless miles through what seemed like endless forests and deserts. I’ve read and studied and learned everything I could. I’ve waited. I’ve listened. I don’t know what else to do!” Putting his hand on her shoulder, he cried, “I’ve given up everything, lost everything — and now I’m losing you too!” He forced himself to choke back the sobs. “I have nothing left.”

“Nothing but the king,” she reminded him gently. “And he’s all that matters anyway. Everything else was futile and worthless compared to him. It’s as if we spent it all to buy the greatest treasure there is. Wasn’t it worth giving it all up just to hear his voice?”

“Yes,” he paused, only to go on, “but now that I’ve heard it, how can I possibly be content staying here? I want to go to him! I want to ride with him!”

They clung to each other and wept yet again. He urged her, “Please give a message to the king. Tell him…tell him that I would consider it the highest honor if he would call me to be his servant.” She wiped his tears, kissed him one last time, and mounted her horse, shouting, “Wait for the king! Listen for his voice!” He watched her ride off, and he knew that he would never behold a more beautiful sight than this fierce warrior bride on her white steed, her banner wafting high above her head in the breeze.

She was gone. He whispered, “Nothing but the king”, fell to his knees, put his face down in the dirt, and wept as he had never wept before. He wondered if he would keep weeping until he died.

And then he heard hoofbeats.

It couldn’t be. Please don’t choose me over the king, he wanted to scream at the same time that he hoped beyond hope that he would see his wife when he lifted his tear-stained face from the dirt.

Unbelievably, she had returned, this time leading another horse. “It seems the king thinks you’re ready,” she said. “He left you this horse with everything you need for the journey.”

The entire time he rushed about washing his face, dressing in his travel garments, putting on his armor, and preparing to leave, words and tears tumbled out of both of them. It was as if two dams had burst suddenly, and everything gushed out everywhere in wild torrents. They sang with exuberant joy, laughed with delight, cried with thanksgiving, and even shouted with excitement.

“Can you believe we get to ride together?”

He was ready. They hugged and kissed, and mounted their horses. Then they heard it together — the voice of their king, calling them both by name, calling them to ride, calling them to the journey, calling them to their great adventure, calling them to battle, calling them to die, calling them to him. They lifted their banners high and shouted, “To the king! Let’s ride!”

And they rode.


 

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Matthew 13:44

Treasure in the Field, part 2 | Fiction Friday

[Read part one here.]

That day — when his wife spoke from her heart about the king — was a turning point, not so much for their marriage, but for him. His wife’s words about the king had intrigued him, especially when she insisted, “There is no other king like him, so good and glorious!” He decided, secretly, to find out as much as possible about this legendary person who had so captured his wife’s mind and heart. He wanted to know what was really going on with her, but he didn’t want her to know of his new interest.

Months went by. He read his own books and consulted his own sources, but he also snuck into her room and immersed himself in everything he discovered there.

Despite his initial, vehement resistance, he found himself being affected by what he was learning. For him to embrace change meant to accept that there was room for improvement in his life, and he found such an admission to be painful and demeaning. He was a good, capable man, respected in their land, without the many flaws and weaknesses that plagued his wife. Hers was a life of constant failure, and one obviously in need of a drastic overhaul. But he had always achieved everything he had wanted, and had never strayed from the course he had set out on in his youth. Their unsatisfying marriage was not his fault — if he had been permitted to choose his own wife, he would have married one far better, and his relationship would have been as fulfilling, pleasing, and successful as every other area of his life.

He was not the one who needed changing, he reminded himself. But somehow, he found himself changing anyway. It just happened, subtly at first, a hidden shifting of his interests and desires. Not long after that, he began wanting to change, wanting to become someone worthy of eventually meeting the king who was becoming more and more important to him.

There came a day when he asked his wife, once again, what it was that she really wanted. This time there was fear in his voice. He had discovered, in her room, clothes that he had never seen before, odd clothes carefully packed in a bundle and hidden away, as if waiting, clothes whose purpose he could not understand. He feared she was leaving him. But he also feared she might be staying…or that she might be going somewhere unexpected, or somewhere he no longer wanted to go…in fact, he wasn’t sure what exactly he feared or what it was that he feared most.

He was afraid to mention her clothes. He simply asked her, in a voice that betrayed his anxiety, to tell him what it was that she really wanted, and not to spare his feelings.

Her words shocked him at the same time that they made perfect sense. “I must ride to meet the king,” she said. 

“Ride? How?”

“The king will make a way. He has already sent me almost everything I need for the journey, including new clothes. I’m just awaiting his summons, his final provision, and I’m preparing myself.”

“I want to ride with you!” he burst out, but then quickly corrected himself. “I mean — don’t take this the wrong way — I want to ride to the king, whether we ride together or not.” In a rush of words, he confessed what had been going on with him.

She looked at him carefully. “He’s a beautiful king and well worth serving. But it will be a difficult journey. It will cost you everything. We can’t take anything with us except what the king gives us for the journey — everything else has to be left behind.” Her eyes stared into him, as if attempting to scrutinize his deepest, most secret thoughts. He feared what she might see, but he feared avoiding her gaze even more. Finally she spoke, “I don’t want you going with me if there is even the slightest possibility that you might want to turn back.”

He nodded.

“You need to be sure. Really sure. You have to determine that you will give up everything in your life — sell everything you can and give away what you can’t sell — just to meet the king. Being in his service has to be that important to you. He has to be that important to you.”

He nodded again. “He is,” he assured her.

As she shook her head sadly, he found himself looking at her as if for the first time. She had aged over the course of their marriage. Her face was more lined and wrinkled than he had noticed before, her hands more work-worn, and her hair more grey — yet she exuded a vibrancy and strength that he had never seen in her. One might even go so far as to call her beautiful, he thought with wonder. She looked thoughtful as she spoke, “I’m not sure you’re called to the journey. I’ll have to ask the king what to do — if he wants me to change my plans, and take on a traveling companion.”

“You…you talk to the king?

She chuckled at his astonishment. “All the time. Sometimes he even answers back.” Then she grew somber. “You need to know something else before you decide.” She swallowed and looked away briefly. He could see fear and sorrow on her face but, when she looked back at him, fierce joy shone from her tear-filled eyes. “What you need to know is this: we will die on the journey. But seeing the king — and actually getting to ride with him — will be worth it.”

“I guess I’d kind of figured that out,” he said, unconvincingly. She left him to his thoughts.

A week later, he sent her a message: “Don’t leave without me.” He knew that he wanted to know and follow this beautiful king who had so captivated his wife that she was being transformed before his very eyes. He too wanted to be transformed.

She sent one in reply: “I will wait until the king bids me to come.”

He found her in her room. “I don’t know how to prepare myself for the journey.”

“I already told you. Sell everything you can, and give the rest away. Show the king that you are desperate to meet him, desperate to become his servant, desperate to follow him, and he’ll make sure you have everything you need, and only what you need.” She looked at him fondly, but sadly. “I don’t think you are hungry enough. I think you are way too comfortable.”

Two months later, he climbed the steep trail up to the small hut where she had locked herself away in meditation, and where she often engaged in vigorous exercise. He had lost weight, carried nothing, and was dressed like a pauper. He sat with her in silent meditation, and exercised when she did, neither of them speaking, although she had smiled joyfully when she saw him arrive. He came back the next day, and the next, and the next…until he lost track of the days and grew convinced that his life had never been better.

Early one morning, he thought he heard the voice of the king, calling his name. He threw himself on the floor, face down in fear, awe, and excitement. This has to be the best day of my life, he thought. I heard the king call me by name.

“What is it about us,” he asked his wife later, “that makes us admire the king so? Why did his voice have such a powerful impact on me?”

“It’s not us,” she said. “It’s him. It’s who he is…what he is…” She looked him deep in the eyes and then threw her arms around him. “I’m so glad you love the king and that you’ve heard his voice!”

More days passed. He had never loved his wife more, never admired her more, never respected her more, never enjoyed her friendship more. He also felt more loved by her than ever before — and he finally appreciated what a great gift she was to him.

She was filled with joy, peace, and contentment — yet he sensed she was growing increasingly restless. He finally asked her about it.

“I’m meant for the journey,” she said. “It’s what I have been preparing for, and I am impatient to leave.”

He had almost forgotten.

[Stay tuned next Fiction Friday for part three.]

Treasure in the Field, part 1 | Fiction Friday

There is a potential pitfall in posting little stories like this one, and that is that readers might assume them to be something they are not. Hence, my upfront disclaimer: this story is neither an autobiographical sketch nor a theological treatise. Writers often write what they know, so parts of my story may speak of my own life, but readers should not presume to guess which parts do or do not. (Example: I’m a married woman but I don’t live in a culture where arranged marriages are the norm…etc.) While the story may seem to be allegorical, each element should not be viewed as symbolic nor representative of some doctrine. Trust me, I’m not that deep. What I wrote here is pretty much just a little story, not a theological statement in disguise.

Enough preamble and disclaimer…

“What do you want?” he asked. “What is it you really want?” Years of living with this woman had tried his patience and exasperated him, and his tone reflected his frustration.

It had been an arranged marriage — as was their custom — and he thought he had finally made peace with the fact that she was not at all the sort of wife that he would have chosen. His sense of disappointment was no longer acute nor painful, and he had eventually managed to forgive the matchmaker for tricking him into marrying a woman who was so ill-suited to his needs. In fact, as the years passed, he had not only become rather accustomed to his wife but, despite everything, had even grown to love her.

But still — this wife of his! She was so impractical, such a dreamer! From the very beginning, she had refused to accept their marriage arrangement for what it was. Sometimes he wondered if she actually believed they lived in another land, a fairy tale land in which people married for friendship and romance. It was as if she held him to an unrealistic standard, as if she expected him to act like some love-sick, desperate suitor whose only desire in life was to woo her and win her heart — or as if she wanted him to act like a bosom buddy who couldn’t get enough of her presence. He refused to stoop to any such silliness. He let her know that her romantic longings were so far beneath him as to be not even worth his consideration. After all, he was her husband and he was certainly not going to pretend otherwise, nor would he degrade himself just to humor her childish, irrational fantasies.

But lately something had changed about his wife, and it puzzled him. As much as he had resented her juvenile, clingy and incessant demands for his attention, he found it vaguely unsettling not to be so desperately needed by her. It was ironic. She had finally stopped pestering and pressuring him, stopped demanding that he treat her like royalty, stopped behaving as a spoiled child, stopped insisting that he change — she was finally acting content with their relationship — and, instead of feeling relieved and thankful, he felt insecure and unloved. Although she was not overtly rebuffing him, he couldn’t help feeling rejected.

To add to his confusion, he had to admit that she was being neither cold nor indifferent towards him. In fact, she was kinder and gentler than she had ever been. Whenever she behaved in ways that irritated him, she apologized genuinely, and somehow managed to do those things that offended him less and less. She was much more pleasant to be around. He should have been happy with these improvements in her nature, but he felt uneasy instead.

Rather than clamoring for his attention as she had for most of their marriage, she had immersed herself lately in a study of the history of their land. That was one of his fields of expertise, but — stubborn as always — she preferred to study in her own way rather than consulting him. She filled her room with pictures and artifacts; she sought after those who sang the songs and legends of their people; she seemed especially drawn to anything regarding their long ago king. She even began corresponding with far flung scholars who claimed to be companions of this king no one else they knew had met in person — this absent king who supposedly ruled their land from a throne no one had seen, this mysterious king who had promised to return someday.

In fact, she had grown rather obsessed with finding out all she could about the king. Everyone in their land acknowledged him as “the real king”, even while admitting he had become, during the many years of his absence, little more than a figurehead. Other men ruled in his place and attempted to enforce their understanding of his laws and decrees. But his wife seemed to be taking things to an almost bizarre extreme, weirdly emphasizing that she was the king’s subject, swearing her allegiance to him in odd little ceremonies of her own devising, and even going so far as to re-enact part of an ancient ritual declaring herself a lifelong slave to the king.

At first he had told himself that her troubling but amusing behavior was the latest example of her many, intense, passing interests — a fad that would quickly fade away. Then he wondered if she had gotten caught up in some bizarre infatuation. Finally he had to admit that this was different than any of her previous hobbies: it was actually changing her. She was uncharacteristically content and peaceful…yet obviously filled with longing as well. So he asked her what she wanted.

What he really hoped to hear was what she wanted from him. He wanted to be the focus of her desires, even if those desires annoyed and frustrated him, even if he had no interest in ever seeing them fulfilled. He was so desperate for a reassuring answer that he humbled himself enough to tell her, “I need you to want me.” And then he asked her to tell him, finally, her deepest longings.

“I don’t think you want to know,” she said, “because my hopes and dreams are not about you. They’re about the king.”

And then she told him.

[Stay tuned next Fiction Friday for part two.]

The elephant in the room | Marriage Monday

Almost a year ago, I stumbled across a blog post dealing with the issue of marital rape, and whether a husband is in the wrong for insisting on sex even when it is painful to his wife. Frankly, the post along with a number of comments — and pretty much everything I read on the blog — is so problematic and disturbing that I don’t even want to link to it.

Even though other comments have been approved since then, mine is still awaiting moderation, about eleven months later:

This is what I see as the major issue — the elephant in the room that no one is fully addressing, although a few have hinted at it.

We cannot expect an unbelieving husband to want to love his wife as Christ loves the church. But the real elephant in the room? Most Christians have no idea what love means. They think it means leadership and a skewed, worldly view of authority. We gloss over the part where a husband is to lay down his life sacrificially for his wife, or we romanticize it by saying he should take a bullet for her should armed intruders ever enter their home.

Really? What husband in his right mind would do that if he is unwilling to forego sexual pleasure when his wife is in pain? But it’s nice to pretend he would, nice to pretend he would be a hero — because he knows the likelihood of that scenario is next to zero.

Our culture has made an idol of sexual pleasure, especially male sexual pleasure, and in order to avoid the appearance of bowing to the same idol, we have enshrined this as a need. We have bought into the lie that sex is mostly about meeting this all-consuming NEED on the part of the husband, rather than about unity, intimacy, and procreation.

Men no longer see sex as the physical expression of the sacrificial gift of themselves that they give to their wives in marriage. If they did, they would not avoid true intimacy (emotional and spiritual) in marriage, and they would abhor the very thought of asking the wife they love to give them a blow job while she is recovering from childbirth.

Sometimes the sacrifice men might be called to give to their wives is a foregoing of selfish sexual pleasure. But we don’t want to hear that.

The elephant in the room is that we have no idea what love means. We may sing songs about amazing grace and the love of Jesus, but our hearts remain hard, selfish and idolatrous. That is why our lack of compassion is so painfully obvious to everyone but us, why we can demand wives submit to demeaning and painful sex, and why we criticize women who suffer pain during intercourse for being selfish, childish, and refusing to go to doctors. (An aside: such statements betray woeful ignorance. Sciatica and chronic coccyx pain — just to name two potentially debilitating and devastatingly painful conditions off the top of my head — are not easily fixable.) We teach husbands that their compassion should be limited and fleeting, and should run out if their wives suffer ongoing pain. After all, the idol of sexual pleasure rules our hearts, not love.

May God have mercy.

Finding joy | Celebration Sunday

Maybe it’s just my temperament…after all, God made me to be that 3 year old who could skip happily through the house singing my made-up song of “Life is miserable!”…or maybe it’s my oblivious non-attention to detail that keeps me from seeing every imperfection and flaw…or maybe it’s being raised by parents who modeled gratitude rather than whiny complaining…or maybe it’s because so much of my early childhood was idyllic and happy…or maybe it’s because a friend once encouraged me to look for a blessing every day…or maybe it’s because I’ve never grown up enough to completely lose my childish sense of wonder…or maybe it’s because I need joy and beauty so much, almost as much as I need food and water…but it takes a lot — as in a LOT — for me to remain in a constant state of unhappiness for very long.

Yes, it seems contradictory. After all, I am no stranger to grief or sorrow. I am the same person who once penned reams of poetry with lines like, “melancholy has stolen my heart”, and who described myself as a “child of sorrow” in a never ending gloomy rain. I’ve experienced clinical depression so severe that it made me overcome my extreme aversion to antidepressants. Despair has almost killed me. Literally. More than once.

But joy always broke through.

Always.

The darkest of nights has always, eventually, been followed by a morning when joy came. That “eventually” may have taken excruciatingly long. Sometimes it was a somber joy. Sometimes it involved some initial teeth-gritting followed by an amazement that such great sorrow, and such heights and depths of joy, could exist in the same heart and mind in the very same instance.

But maybe it’s not me at all. Because the bottom line is that I can’t praise God for very long — I mean really praise Him rather than mouthing words — without remembering what kind of God He is. I find my perspective changing from “woe is me” to realizing that, even in the most horrific of circumstances, I have reasons for thanksgiving, even if I can’t think of one beyond, “Heaven will be better than this nightmarish horror.”

But then I remember Jesus. And He melts me. And He opens my eyes. Gratitude comes trickling into my spirit as I begin remembering Scripture passages that speak to whatever pain it is that I’m currently suffering. It may not happen quickly enough for me, but gratitude re-orients my thoughts and feelings. Maybe I am just unusually blessed, but it is rare (impossible?) for me to sit in God’s presence for very long without feeling enormously thankful for His extravagant, scandalous grace and generosity towards me.

Eventually more of my feelings follow. There have been valleys in my life, even valleys of the shadow of death. But, as Corrie ten Boom loved to remind us, there is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.

Today, incredible as it seems even to me, I thank God for the pits that threatened to consume me, because God’s love won out, every time. Even when I doubted or denied Him, when I wandered or ran away, He never gave up. Besides, for every pit there have been mountaintops — a few times, I have felt joy so overwhelming, so extreme, so powerful, so beyond description, that I thought if it lasted any longer with such intensity, my heart would give out and I would die. Seriously.

Because I choose to be grateful, today I choose joy. Today I choose happiness. Today I reach out with trembling, eager if still somewhat inhibited, weak and puny little hands towards the abundant life God keeps showering on me. How can I walk with Him, talk with Him, and listen to Him without — once in a while — experiencing a joy that spills over into a happiness that at least borders on giddiness?

A dear friend of mine promised me that, when I first recognized my true freedom in Christ, I would feel almost giddy about it. He was right; I still remember the moment it hit me and I wrote him an email that ended with, “Excuse me while I go out and dance in the streets.”

I know, I know. Happiness should not be our goal. It is a fleeting emotion. In many circumstances, it would be completely inappropriate to feel happy. We should be sober-minded, seek holiness, die to self, etc., etc.

But today I choose to celebrate. I probably won’t dance in the streets, because I’m still too shy and inhibited, but I’m not going to pretend that it’s somehow more spiritual to ignore all of God’s present blessings and put on a serious face just because I’m not in Heaven yet.

Little 3 year old me had it right. Life is miserable. Or at least it can be sometimes. But that’s no reason not to sing and dance some of the time — because God is good.

This is an adapted version of a previous post.