detour through the desert

Have you read Hinds Feet on High Places?  I love it.  I read it with a couple friends last year, and it’s speaking to me all over again as I re-read it.  It’s the allegorical story of a girl named Much-Afraid that desires to leave her family (the Fearings) and her life in the Valley to travel with the Shepherd to the High Places.  It’s so hard and beautiful and painful and true.  I think the most beautiful things here on earth have some thread of struggle or pain in them.  I want to share an excerpt with you.
              After meeting with Pride, Much-Afraid and her companions went on their way, but she was obliged to hobble painfully and could go but slowly.  However, she accepted the assistance of her two guides with far greater willingness than before, and gradually the effects of the encounter wore off and she was able to make better progress.
              Then one day the path turned a corner, and to her amazement and consternation she saw a great plain spread out beneath them. As far as the eye could see there seemed to be nothing but desert, and endless expanse of sand dunes, with not a tree in sight.  The only objects breaking the monotony of the desert were strange, towering pyramids, rising above the sand dunes, hoary with age and grimly desolate.  To the horror of Much-Afraid her two guides prepared to take the steep path downward.
              She stopped dead and said to them, “We mustn’t go down there. The Shepherd has called me to the High Places.  We must find some path which goes up, but certainly not down there.” But they made signs to her that she was to follow them down the steep pathway to the desert below.
              Much-Afraid looked to the left and right, but though it seemed incredible, there was no way possible by which they could continue to climb upward. The hill they were on ended abruptly at this precipice, and the rocky cliffs towered above them in every direction straight as walls with no possible foothold.
              “I can’t go down there,” panted Much-Afraid, sick with shock and fear.  “He can never mean that—never! He called me up to the High Places and this is an absolute contradiction of all that he promised.”
              She then lifted up her voice and called desperately, “Shepherd, come to me.  Oh, I need you.  Come and help me.”
              In a moment he was there, standing beside her.
              “Shepherd,” she said despairingly, “I can’t understand this.  The guides you gave me say that we must go down there into that desert, turning right away from the High Places altogether.  You don’t mean that, do you?  You can’t contradict yourself.  Tell them we are not to go there, and show us another way.  Make a way for us, Shepherd, as you promised.”
              He looked at her and answered very gently, “That is the path, Much-Afraid, and you are to go down there.”
              “Oh, no,” she cried.  “You can’t mean it. You said if I would trust you, you would bring me to the High Places, and that path leads right away from them.  It contradicts all that you promised.”
              “No,” said the Shepherd, “it is not contradiction, only postponement for the best to become possible.”
              Much-Afraid felt as though he had stabbed her to the heart.  “You mean,” she said incredulously, “you really mean that I am to follow that path down and down into that wilderness and then over that desert, away from the mountains indefinitely?  Why” (and there was a sob of anguish in her voice) “it may be months, even years, before that path leads back to the mountains again.  O Shepherd, do you mean it is indefinite postponement?”
              He bowed his head silently, and Much-Afraid sank on her knees at his feet, almost overwhelmed.  He was leading her away from her heart’s desire altogether and gave no promise at all as to when he would bring her back.  As she looked out over what seemed an endless desert, the only path she could see led farther and farther away from the High Places, and it was all desert.
              Then he answered very quietly, “Much-Afraid, do you love me enough to accept the postponement and the apparent contradiction of the promise, and to go down there with me into the desert?”


              She was still crouching at his feet, sobbing as if her heart would break, but now she looked up though her tears, caught his hand in hers, and said, trembling, “I do love you, you know that I love you.  Oh forgive me because I can’t help my tears.  I will go down with you into the wilderness, right away from the promise, if you really wish it.  Even if you cannot tell me why it has to be, I will go with you, for you know I do love you, and you have the right to choose for me anything that you please.”
I’m not sure my words will mean much after such a powerful illustration… I didn’t want this path, I don’t want this path.  It feels unfair.  I’ve cried out, I’ve had this conversation with God.
So many of us are on hard paths.  Loss, painful situations, unexpected turns in our lives. It’s hard. It’s marked with sorrow and suffering.  He’s always with us, though.
Go ahead and get the book and read the rest of the story.
(a photo I took on Mt. Nebo, overlooking the Promised Land)

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