I find solitude and a deeper connection with God out on my upstairs back porch. A noisy, busy highway connector is only yards away, but the tree line between and along both sides stands as a buffer teeming with life. Colorful birds flit by, occasionally perching on the outside deck, while playful squirrels chase through the maze of branches. It is a place I often retreat to when life is heavy, or when I need a dose of beauty to get through the day. A space to breathe.
It is also a space where I wrestle with God.
Something I’ve done a lot of the past few years. My counselor gave me a forgiveness exercise to work through. It is the kind you don’t rush, but approach slowly. I have revisited it many, many times and in different seasons as I work through forgiveness with different persons or groups of people or situations.
The exercise begins by naming the person(s), what they did, and how it made me feel. Then it gives room to process a series of questions, such as: “Am I holding a grudge or have resentments weighing me down? What pain am I holding onto, however recent or distant? What hurts about that situation or moment(s) with that person?” It addresses important statements such as, “forgiveness does not mean that they automatically are right, or they get to have the same place in our life.”
Number five on the paper is the one that tripped me up, though. Every. Time. EVERY. TIME. The instruction is to say, “Because I don’t want to carry the weight of this unforgiveness anymore, I am releasing you to God. He knows how to judge completely. I am not in charge of carrying this pain anymore.”
It’s the latter part I couldn’t get past, “I am not in charge of carrying this pain anymore.”
An earth-shattering revelation rose within me.
I had absolutely no clue who I was without pain. Rightly, because I had been carrying it most of my life with one person. With another, I had carried it over twenty-five years, more than half my life at the time.
There are many different pains I have been (and still am) walking through with Jesus off and on for years. Facing it with Him became more palatable because He would speak tenderly, expose lies, replace them with Truth, and bring His love in tangible ways as I processed.
But could I trust Him enough to let go of the pain? What would He do with it?
To throw it away felt diminishing, as if the pain didn’t matter, because pain was diminished much of my childhood. God would not further impose a wound.
Someone told me He would turn my pain into something beautiful, from ashes to beauty. While that gave me hope, I still couldn’t let go. Weeks turned to months of wrestling with God over the fifth portion of that forgiveness exercise. Until one day, out on my porch, He reminded me of a few key things other mentors and my counselor had said to me at various points:
- the truth God sees me, and my heart matters to Him.
- I am brave, braver than I realize because I face my pain.
- stepping into deeper waters for more healing is both a willful and brave act.
After this, I let out a guttural cry to God from the depth of my long-aching soul,
“I am bound, and I want to be free! I am bound by pain and hurt, and I want to be free!!”
It was then God tenderly spoke these words,
Bravely face your pain with Me until it becomes a pearl.
It was like waking from a deep sleep, groggy yet aware something significant is happening. Happening deep within me. A word powerful enough to wake the dead. Yet, awakening came slowly. First, a vague memory I once learned surfaced: pearls form because something gets in that hurts the oyster or mollusk. Secondly, the fact I love pearls intrigued me; a love so increasing over the years that I started buying a new color of pearl stud earrings for my daughters and myself every Christmas. Truly, this God-breathed analogy carried significance and weight to it.
In my research the past couple years, more richness and depth illuminated the connection of a pearl to our pain, and what God desires to do with it all.
What causes a pearl to form within a mollusk, usually an oyster or mussel?
Hint. It’s not the proverbial grain of sand. Most oysters are capable of expelling sand. What causes a natural pearl to form is often a parasite, some type of sea-worm that invades the mollusk and grabs on deeply so that it cannot be expelled. This invader slips in between one of the two shells and the mantle, the protective layer covering the organs.
For us as humans, there are pains that we can shake off, and then there are pains that wound us to our core. Self-inflicted, uninvited actions or words, or even inactions, death, accident/harm/injury, crime, or other significant losses that work their parasitic ways into our hearts and mind. We cannot expel these invaders by our own efforts alone.
What is the mother of pearl?
A substance called the nacre (NAY-ker or NAY-kre), known as mother of pearl, quickly begins covering the irritant. It forms between the pain and the delicate, vulnerable organs.
My prayer that first day upon receiving this analogy became, “Let Christ in me be the nacre that comes between me and the irritants and pains until a pearl forms.” May it continue to be my prayer and become yours.
Did you know it takes YEARS to form a natural pearl?
Often a long and slow job, it can take one year just to form a few layers of nacre around the shell walls and the pearl. A precious, natural pearl may take more than twenty years to form! In contrast, cultured pearls are often rushed out of the oyster too quickly, resulting in too thin a coat of nacre and low-quality pearls.
This brings me such peace! Such comfort! The road to healing and wholeness has been L O N G. I’ve belted the cry of the psalmist many times, “How long, oh Lord?” There are many layers to our healing, and only God knows what we are ready for and when. He is kind, gentle, patient, and understanding. I am learning I can trust God, even when a place is particularly hard to face. For He is working in me for my good, with my best interest at the core of His heart, restoring me to wholeness and bringing me greater freedom. My friend, do not try to rush this. We will not be strong enough to live in this world fraught with evil if we try to rush or skip out on any part of our healing. That would leave us vulnerable to act out of our sin and brokenness.
What determines the size of a pearl?
The longer it takes for the nacre to fully form around the irritant, the larger the pearl.
Truly our sufferings are varied. Make no mistake, the longer it takes to heal your broken heart, the larger the pearl it will bring forth in your life.
What fashions the color of a pearl?
Different types of mollusks can produce various colors of pearls. This is determined by water conditions, disease, and/or the supply of nutrients.
How lovely we become so colorful as God fashions our pains into such beauty, determined by many factors both within us and around us. God will take everything, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and work something good out of it for those who love Him. (Romans 8:28)
In short, a pearl is a foreign substance, covered by layers of nacre. An uninvited parasite invades a tender, sacred space where a mollusk’s vital organs lay vulnerable. Yes, this means the irritant that caused the pain in the first place is still there inside that pearl, now surrounded by a strong, resilient, protective coating.
There are many gruesome things we have seen that we cannot unsee. People forced many things upon us that we cannot undo. Our own battles with parasitic sin have added to the shame. I know making time for solitude with God, especially to face your pains feels too hard. Too scary. Impossible even. But there is a God who is strong enough to cover it all. He bends heaven and earth for your healing. He is the soothing nacre ready to stand between all that has hurt you, even where you’ve hurt yourself.
Will you join me in bravely facing your pain with Him until it becomes a pearl?
How precious will your pearl be? What color? Will it be lustrous? How large? How priceless?
Let us find out together, you and I – it would be a grace to walk with you here.