Here is what I remember from fifteen years ago. I dated an artist. He took a class on painting nudes and then told me that the models were skinnier than me. He liked my curves, but was I getting a little too curvy? Should I eat that burrito? His favorite playwright was Tennessee Williams. We saw A Streetcar Named Desire at the Steppenwolf Theater together. He wanted to know if I preferred Gary Siniseâ€™s or Marlon Brandoâ€™s Stanley. I didnâ€™t know. I liked some things and didnâ€™t like others. I felt stupid for not having a firm opinion. I traded in the burritos for a low-fat yogurt in the morning and fiber cereal at night. I began to hide my curves, my thoughtsâ€”I began to shrink.
A few weeks ago we looked at the first part of Psalm 34
â€”based on a time when David was fleeing for his life. The next couple of verses are
some of my favorite words in all of scripture:
4 I sought the Lord and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.
5 Those who look to the Lord are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.
The word â€œradiantâ€ in Hebrew (nÄhar) is similar to the words â€œrejoiceâ€ and â€œblessed.â€ These words in Hebrew carry the image of person whose heart is overflowing and throbb
ing with joy. Those who look to the Lord are radiantâ€”literally those who look to God when they are afraid or afflicted have faces that beam with joy. In one of my Hebrew dictionaries the word â€œblessedâ€ actually looks like this: Happy (!); Blessed (!).
In verse four David is painting a picture of God as a shield, a protector, and fierce guardian.
He strips you of your fears, your shame, your guilt, and defends you from evil and affliction.
But in verse five David paints another picture. He describes a God who is in the process of tenderly and lovingly replacing your fears and shame with joy. Not just joyâ€”joy exclamation point!
After David escaped from the King of Gath, he ran to the Cave of Adullum
which was a strongholdâ€”a place where he would be safe for a time. Davidâ€™s family received word that he was there and they joined him. Then the bible tells us something so subtle, I donâ€™t know how many times Iâ€™ve read it and missed itâ€”There were 400 people at the Cave that were in distress, in debt, and discontent. David became their leader. (1st Sam. 22)
God rescued David from a terrifying momentâ€”not just to
save his life but on top of that
to reunite David with his family and then on top of that
to give him a ministry to 400 people who desperately needed to hear that God delivers, gives joy, and satisfies.
God used this awful experience in Davidâ€™s life to reveal His beauty and to encourage other hurting people.
He turns our shame into radiance and our misery into ministry.
The artist dumped me. I went to counseling and learned that I was beloved by God and did not need to feel guilty for eating. I discovered the term â€œmixed feelingsâ€ and that it was perfectly acceptable to have them. I decided that although I liked Tennessee Williams, my favorite playwrights were actually Shakespeare and Margaret Edson.
I learned to take up space.
Six years ago I met a lovely seventeen-year-old girl. She had just returned from an eating disorder treatment center and was finally able to function without being fed by a tube. We did life togetherâ€”we studied the bible, volunteered, went grocery shopping.
She saw me pick out tortillas, salsa, cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, ground beef. She watched me eat them and eventually ate with me. My belly swelled with the life of my first-born while I had the privilege of watching her grow full from God’s good gifts of food, of life, of freedom. My friend is now in grad school studying to become a therapist in order to set other women free.
That’s radiance from shame and ministry from misery.
That’s beauty from ashes, baby.