1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendour.
Last winter, I was part of a Bible study with a special group of women. Women who are actively seeking God and His voice in their lives. Women who want to leave the brokenness of this world and walk in the freedom that Jesus bought us. His cost was great. I want Him to be able to look at me and say that it was worth it.
This passage in Isaiah was the jumping off point for the Beth Moore study that we participated in. I cannot tell you how God stretched me during that study. I love being in His Word. I love trying to learn about Him. His Word is truth and I want that truth deep in my heart. In the marrow of my bones. I could try to pick up my Bible and read but it takes a Bible study to get me really into it. And this was like that. We all left the study feeling like we wanted to continue with the change that God had our permission to start in us. I wanted it to continue in me.
I identify with these verses. I have read them over and over again, hoping that they would stick. My memory isn’t what it used to be. But I know where they live. And I am a frequent visitor. What resonants in my heart is the word picture of a crown replacing mourning. Beauty instead of ashes. I understand mourning. I have lived it. I live in it still, three years later. I wished, especially in those first days and weeks, months even, that we still practiced the dress of mourning. The black garb. The outward sign of the heart’s condition. I would have even settled for sackcloth and ashes. I felt it, even if you couldn’t see it on me.
I love watching “Downton Abbey”. I love the big house. The fancy clothes. The picture of that time. I played particular notice of the characters’ clothing, especially while they were in mourning. Especially after Sybil’s death. She dies during childbirth. The youngest of her mother’s daughters. I watched as the whole household dressed in black. Slowly, one by one, the characters resume their normal dressing habits until one, alone, remains in black–her mother, Cora. I don’t recall when her husband stopped. I could see he mourned deeply too but I paid special attention to this mother. I knew what it felt like. She was the last to leave the physical, outward sign of her loss. As moms, I think we are often one of the last to leave. Our heart-string connections with our kids can be very strong.
I have been covered in ashes. We all have. Maybe not in the same way or to the same degree. I would be surprised to hear of someone who has never mourned. Never suffered the loss of something. My ashes have been thick and disfiguring. They have altered my appearance, so much so at times, that I hardly recognize the face in my mirror. I have wallowed in them too. There have been times when they were comfortable, too comfortable. Life was easier when nothing else mattered. And so I stayed.
I believe that there is a time for that. A wonderful friend of mine gave me a picture of being covered and carried in our Heavenly Father’s cupped hands. We rest on His palm while the other hand shelters us from the elements. In this place of refuge there is peace and comfort. I have been there. I know. It is an easy place to stay.
But there is a time to go. There is a time to start to pick up the pieces. I don’t leave God. I just leave a place of mourning. A place where it isn’t just about me. It comes from the last part of verse 3. It is about becoming an “Oak of Righteousness”. This isn’t righteousness that I have somehow manufactured for myself. My suffering hasn’t bought it. Jesus’s suffering did. His righteousness covers me. When my Father looks at me, His faultless Son’s righteousness is what He sees.
Being an Oak of Righteousness is not about me, though. It is a sign to the world of God’s splendour. His faithfulness. His grace. His love. An outward sign of a heart’s condition. A healing that only a the true Physician could have accomplished. And the glory belongs to Him.
I am sometimes afraid that leaving my time of mourning will somehow make me forget. Forget Arlynne. But the funny thing is, though, that I don’t believe that I have to be unmarked to be a reflection of God’s splendour. It is actually allowing others to see those scars from my wounding that they can really start to see what God has done. What He is doing. What He can do. If He can turn me, a heartbroken mom, into someone who can testify to His grace then He can do it with anyone.
I am not a great and mighty oak yet. I think I am more likely a sapling. I am nothing in myself. It is God who tends to me and causes me to change. To reveal His glory. And I’ve decided to let Him.