Do you ever have a moment where something triggers a memory of yours? A smell or a sound or a taste that reminds you of something from the past?
I was reminded yesterday of an experience I had during the summer before my senior year of high school. See each summer my youth group goes on a missions trip, usually somewhere within the United States lasting about a week. This specific experience I had took place on a trip to West Virginia. My group was given a number of tasks: organizing two warehouses, painting an office, and doing some yard-work. It was about the middle of the week and my task was to help drag brush up a hill to a burn pile at the top. Most of the other members of my group were involved in other activities and jobs and this was the part I had to play.
So I did. I took many, many trips up this hill with arms burning from the brush and branches I was dragging. Take note that at the time of this trip I had a lot on my mind. I was dealing with a broken heart, the stresses of going into my senior year, and the struggles of not knowing how I fit into the youth-group. Add that to an exhausting day of work, and you are bound to get a reaction of some kind.
In order to focus and clear my mind a bit I began talking to God as I was walking up and down the hill. And at one point I remember me saying, "Do you even see me here? Does anyone see me and the hard time I am having carrying this weight? I am exhausted and its so heavy, why doesn't anyone offer to help me carry all of this?!"
Then, something incredible happened. God softly whispered to my aching heart, "I see you, and you are not alone."
I would love to say at that point my heart stopped hurting, or that all of a sudden the load got a bit easier to bear, but that wouldn't be truthful. Instead I was able to endure the process of healing and the struggle of carrying a lot on my mind with an extra spring in my step, because I was seen, and it mattered. And all of this was triggered by a similar experience I had yesterday. We had some people come to our house and prune our trees. They cut off the branches that would hinder the tree from growing and sustaining itself. And then, I got the glamorous task of helping take that which had been cut off and dragging it all to a burn pile.
"Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." -Matthew 7:19
The life of the tree is so important, so valuable, that anything that threatens that life, is done away with and burned to the point of no return. In scripture branches are not the only thing that have been said to be cut off. In the first century, anything that caused a person to stumble was cut off whether it be a hand, a foot, a habit, or sometimes, even a person. Holiness and clean living was a priority. It seems a bit radical today to cut off someone's hand if they steal something, though I doubt they would be tempted to steal again. Then I think about the habits or elements in my life that have caused me to stumble. Would I be so concerned about my living that I would cut those things out or alter my life in such a way that I would no longer be tempted to stumble? Just some food for thought.
So even after the four years since I had that encounter with God in the midst of hauling branches, he still softly reminds me he "sees me". I hope that this reality causes motivation for us, to live a life that would make him proud and to work together to prune that in our live which causes us to stumble. I also hope that this gives us a sense of peace; that regardless of the location or the circumstances, we have a God who sees us and reminds us that we are not alone.