Authored by Mara Hodler
Have you ever walked along the beach and found a piece of smooth glass? When it’s smooth and polished, an ordinary piece of glass seems precious, like something to be showcased in a beautiful wind chime, necklace charm, or the like. The ocean does the same thing to wood. A smoothed and polished piece of driftwood can be changed from a worthless branch to the stuff designer furniture and art is made from. Each piece of wood or glass that is smoothed by sand and water is unique, and many have been sold for a small fortune.
Nature is full of examples of harsh circumstances converting something of little worth or beauty into something exceptional and valuable: the pearl, the diamond, the hardwood that grows high in the mountains. Even maple syrup needs cold and long winters for there to be enough sap for production.1 You can also find a lot of examples of harsh circumstances creating extraordinary people.
Gosh, I wish I could become extraordinary by living in a mansion with a closet full of amazing clothes, a gorgeous reflection in the mirror, and a kitchen full of truffles. And a house with no dust ever! Not one speck!—And maybe throw in a group of friends who always love me, agree with me, and generally think I’m fabulous. Also, where I never have to wash dishes or laundry, please. It would be very awesome if such a life could fashion in me an understanding of others, wisdom, hope, joy, patience, self-sacrifice, or any of the other qualities I admire and strive to emulate.
But where you actually have to go to breed these qualities is not always pretty, and often, not at all desired. Nearly every one of these virtues starts in a broken place. A place you most likely do not want to go to. A place you fight going.
The Horse Whisperer, by Nicholas Evans, is about a girl and a horse that have a terrible accident. She loses her leg and the horse is traumatized, so it becomes fearful and difficult to work with. People suggest that they have the horse put down, but the girl’s mother refuses. She hunts down a horse whisperer, which is what they call a trainer who is so good at his job of working with horses, it seems that he can actually communicate with the animals. There they discover that because the horse and the girl are so close, the girl and the horse’s recoveries are connected, and it’s necessary that they both heal mentally and emotionally, together.
At one point in the story, the horse whisperer forces the horse to lie down, and he has the girl stand on the horse. The girl was crying and angry with the whisperer for making the horse do this. Lying down is one of the most difficult things for a horse to do. They are extremely vulnerable when they lie down; it is a sort of surrender that they do not offer easily.
The reason the whisperer had the horse lie down was to bring it face to face with its worst fears, and show it that it would still be okay. Through that lying down, the horse learned to trust the whisperer and to regain trust in the girl, and it was a turning point in the recovery for both horse and girl.
I’ve never experienced anything extremely traumatic in my life. I still have all my limbs, no one’s been shot before my eyes or died in my arms, my fiancé didn’t cross over to the dark side like Darth Vader, but there have been many times in my life where God took me (kicking and screaming) to that broken place. It’s been all kinds of things that took me there, like some big mistakes that were extremely embarrassing, changes I did not like, personal relationships that ended, health issues, and other things that have roughed up my life the way the ocean waves assault a piece of glass.
The first time I found those smoothed pieces of glass on a beach, I was so excited. I had all kinds of ideas of what I would do with these treasures. And to be sure that I would never run out of beautiful smooth glass, I decided I would make my own. Finding pieces of sharp broken glass was, sadly, never hard to do. I found a few in different colors: brown, light green, dark green, transparent, and even a light blue piece. I placed these soon-to-be treasures in a little pool of water and sand that was trapped in a rock basin that the waves washed over constantly and anticipated what I was sure I would find in a few short weeks.
I’m sure you know that when I came back to that spot a few weeks later, I was not impressed with what I found. The glass was still there, obviously roughed up a bit, but it was not smooth. It was not beautiful, not yet.
So what’s my point? You have to be patient. Time for the glass to become smooth, for the grain of sand to become a pearl, for the lump of coal to become a diamond, and for you and me to develop the gentleness and brokenness that Christ is known for.
The next time you feel a wave crash over you—maybe you’ve tried something and failed, maybe someone you care about does not seem to care about you, maybe there is something you have had your heart set on that just doesn’t seem to be materializing—whatever your “wave” might be, just remember what it’s doing to you.
It’s making you patient. It’s teaching you to endure. It’s drawing out your empathy. It’s showing you that God is the only one who does not disappoint. It’s teaching you a peace that is not based on circumstances. Whatever it’s teaching you, God doesn’t disappoint, and I think you’ll be happy and at peace with the outcome.
We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.2 That’s what Paul said about trials and difficulties. And, as much as I don’t love tough stuff, I agree. I know that each wave that has bashed into me has changed a little bit of me for the better.
1 “Why Maple Syrup Costs So Much”
2 Romans 5:3–4 NLT
Read by Amber Larriva. Music by sindustry(CC). Copyright© 2013 by The Family International