Chapter 16 of Soul-Help Papers
Rachel weeping for her children
and would not be comforted because they are not.
— Matthew 2:18 —
“Now he is dead, wherefore should I fast?
Can I bring him back again?
I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”
— 2 Samuel 12:23 —
And Michal, Saul’s daughter, loved David.
— 1 Samuel 18:20 —
And she [Michal] despised him [David] in her heart.
— 2 Samuel 6:16 —
And Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah, took sackcloth and spread it for her upon the rock, from the beginning of harvest until water dropped upon them out of heaven, and suffered neither the birds of the air to rest on them by day, nor the beasts of the field by night.
— 2 Samuel 21:10 —
than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.
— Proverbs 15:17 —“What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.”
— John 13:7 —
“The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away;
blessed be the name of the Lord.”
— Job 1:21 —
in your heart’s history,
these places that you can’t get over?” 2
You have probably found places in your life’s journey that you could not get over. Things happened, as we say, that seemed bitter as death, and yet the cup would not pass, and you had to drink it; and yet having drained it to the dregs, its bitterness did not pass away from your lips, nor the old sweetness come back to your fond heart. There was a grave in the actual cemetery and another in your deepest love. There was an irreparable break somewhere in life’s attachments, and a scar marked the spot forever after. Some undesired and unexpected change in the circumstantial life about you carried out into the deep water the vessel that contained your treasure, and left you bereaved, comfortless, and weeping on the shore, as you watched the white-winged ship losing itself in the dim distance far out at sea. The vine of your hope twined with tender and fond clinging upward along the trunk of some strong oak, till it had reached the upper air and bright glowing sunlight, where in triumph and delight hope waved her plumes, danced with delight in the passing breeze, and laughed at the storm, rejoicing in the security, peace and rest of a congenial welcome and restful home. And yet, in such blissful restfulness, a ruthless hand of circumstance began wrenching the vine of hope from its fastenings, till inch by inch the holds were torn from their attachments, and at last hope lay a tangled mass at the very feet of its choicest desire and aspiration.
In such cases life must go on. But the past, you say, will not come back. The broken links seem inseparable; the crushed hopes bleed in an endless death. Rachel weeps comfortless for her children, because they are not. Rizpah watches the long days and nights beside the remains of her dead, but they do not live again. On the other side of some impassable gulf stands the loved one, dear as ever, if not more prized and treasured—perhaps, too, with pleading voice and beckoning hand; and yet the gates seem closed forever, so far as time is concerned. Separated irrevocably, though not lost, it may be.
These are the places about which so many inquire, “What do you do about these places in your heart’s history, these places that you can’t get over?” To that question, experience offers these reflections:
- It is very hard to answer. Some of these places are not gotten over. It was never intended they should be. Things as they now are were never intended to be permanent. Life itself is a journey, not a stopping place. Sometimes our friends must go out, to come in no more. Some day we shall go out from a fond company who tearfully watch the coming of our boatman.3
- All discipline is corrective and preparative. What we seed for coming years we may not be able to see and know. With only our present foresight, we might unwittingly set ourselves to defeat that corrective and preparative discipline, if we had the power. Some farmers grow crops for fertilizers. After the harrow comes a beautiful crop of growing verdure, and to all appearance there is a promise of a rich harvest. Some day, when greenness and wealth of growth seem just ready to burst forth in waves and billows of fragrant bloom, lo, comes the destructive plow, and by night the fair field is a surface of naked upturned soil. All the growth of the morning is buried by the ruthless plowshare. The very birds cry, frantic over their destroyed nests, and disappointed bees seek another pasture, while the butterflies linger with hovering wing, bewildered at the scene of desolation. But wait. A year hence all the buried treasure waves in a harvest that would never have been, save by the death of last year’s fallow.
When we can look at some of our buried hopes in this way, they seem much easier to endure and carry with us. The secret is not in getting over them, but in awaiting the completion of that which is only begun. Have faith in the God of providence as well as the God of salvation. He is the same in either department of His work. Learn to wait when He casts your uncrushed ore into the mill, till finally at the mint you find your treasure, refined from all impurity, milled and stamped with the superscription of the King who is immortal and invisible.4
- Some of the hard places ought never to have been. There are bad, designing people; there are cruel customs; and there are good regulations for which men have provided no adequate punishment, if at all, when they are violated. We may have formed attachments that we ought not to have, or we may have abused right attachments, like Michal, who forfeited forever King David’s affection. She never got over this pass in her life. Read 1 Samuel 18:20-29 and 2 Samuel 6:20-23.
Some hard places have a mission for us whose end is different from what we think it is. Our loved one, it may be a darling child, is taken. When the mists clear away a little, and quiet settles after our storm, we find out we had made an idol of our choicest gift from God. The only way we could be told this was the path taken. It may have been a desirable friend with whom we took sweet counsel, and now that separation has come, even with no rupture in the friendship, we are disconsolate and can’t get over it. Perhaps there was a mutual benefit in the association that was broken up when the separation took place, because God needed each of you to be a like help for others.
- Some of the separations are only for a time. They test friendship. They separate and break up hindering attachments. They clear the way for more enduring and permanent union. The knowledge of possible loss intensifies affection and develops such trueness of attachment, and such permanence in love, that this very stability, in the midst of absence, and conflicting circumstances, and perhaps of solicitations to be untrue, kindles desire and adds unknown excellence during the winter of separation, when the heart wears crepe for its loss.5
- But the great antidote for the hard cases that cannot be explained away, and the great Helper in all the heart’s sorrows, is Jesus. It requires, however, such union with Him, and such understanding of Him, that He will, in a sense, take the place of the lost. That is, He will preoccupy the mind, He will engage the heart’s affections, He will so interest one, and so identify Himself as a sympathizer, and a friend of all the heart’s treasures, that the soul comes to rest in His arrangements, abide His time, and love to wait in His employ till in His time a chariot will bring us to our treasure, or restore our treasure to us. At the same time such readjustment of our being will be given us that Jesus will forever be King, and our dear one will have that place, and only that, for which Jesus gave them to us.
- The text itself is public domain. The original book, Soul-Help Papers, was transcribed by Jim Kerwin, biographer of Isaiah Reid, and co-edited and emended with Denise Kerwin. Annotations and emendations are copyright © 2008 by Jim Kerwin along with his other contributions to the online, print, and e-book versions of Isaiah Reid's Soul-Help Papers. ↩
- Title image created using a photo by Eberhard Grossgasteiger on https://unsplash.com/@eberhardgross. ↩
- The “boatman” is a classical allusion to Charon, who in Greek mythology was the ferryman who transported those who had just died to Hades. In other words, Charon, or the ferry journey on which he took souls, was a picture of Death. If it seems strange that Reid would make such an allusion, two facts should be noted: 1) The study of Greek and Roman mythology was tightly wrapped up in the study of Latin (and, often, Greek) in the pre-college curriculum of Reid’s day; and, 2) classical mythology and its figures were tightly woven into the fabric of poetry before the middle of the Twentieth Century. ↩
- Reid alludes to 1 Timothy 1:17. ↩
- “Wears crepe”; that is, wears black in mourning. ↩