The Sovereign Lord is my strength, he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights. –Habakkuk 3:19
There are very few things in my life that I cannot put a beginning to. If I can’t pinpoint the exact time they entered my life, I at least can nail down an approximate sometime that they started…..
…..has always just been around.
I would venture to say that this just might be one of my daddy’s favorite books of all-time. And because of that, it’s held pretty sacred status on bookshelves and desktops throughout my homes since before I can even remember. I can actually remember wondering What the heck is a ‘hind’ anyway? And I was so confused as to why they would be on high places, because the only time I ever heard the word “hind” was when my mama would talk about swatting my “hind-end.” Very confusing.
But, when I was old enough to “get-it,” I was bestowed with my very own copy of Hannah Hurnard’s allegorical masterpiece. Still have that yellow-paged copy somewhere.
Sadly, even though I may have been old enough to technically “get-it,” I was in nowhere near the place I needed to be to truly appreciate the beauty in it.
In fact, even over the too-high-to-even-count-’em times I’ve read the book in the past years, I’m not sure I’ve ever been in the place to truly appreciate and understand it fully. I think I’ve always read it as a great piece of literature (because I’m one of those kinda girls), but also just as a really lovely portrait of God’s journey for us as He calls us to be His children. A fairy tale of sorts. And we already know how I feel about a good fairy tale. And, though, I’ve always loved the book, it really has just taken that sort of honorary place on my own bookshelves and memory….. Basically, it’s been awhile since I’ve read it.
But, God is amazingly cool in His orchestration.
Because just last night, my dear sweet friend sent me a text full of precious encouragement (on a night that I was about to throw in the towel, no less), and it simply said:
You are like little Much-Afraid holding hands with Sorrow and Suffering but the Master Shepherd knows you wanna go the HIGH PLACES.
And that was enough.
Enough to cause me to go digging for my book. And I’m a hot mess of weepy tears as I read its blessed promises as though I’ve never touched these pages of the story before.
Let me give you a brief summary just in case you haven’t read it before:
Much-Afraid is a crippled shepherdess who very much lives up to her name as she works in the service of the Great Shepherd down in the Valley of Humiliation. By invitation of the Shepherd, Much-Afraid begins a very long and difficult journey to reach the High Places, a place of promise and hope and ultimate love and healing, a place where “perfect love casteth out fear.” But, in order to reach the High Places, Much-Afraid must endure an onslaught of characters and obstacles that work their hardest to detour her from the path. She meets Bitterness. And Pride. And Craven Fear. And a host of others that almost master her, if it were not for the Great Shepherd’s unfailing help and love.
Think Pilgrim’s Progress…..only easier to read. And, not hatin’ on John Bunyan, but written much much much more beautifully.
Here’s where Jesus stepped in last night and said to me: Read these words again, my little Much-Afraid, I had them written for you in this time.
There’s a certain part in the book when Much-Afraid and her faithful companions (given to her by the Shepherd himself), Sorrow and Suffering, are journeying along what seems to be the very direct path up to the High Places, when suddenly the path turns and heads in a direction that would put the High Places to their back. And it is leading straight down into a vast wilderness of desert and what appears to be deadness. No growth of any kind. Just sand-dunes. Much-Afraid is bewildered by this and doesn’t understand this change of course. She questions it in this exchange from the book:
“I can’t go down there,” panted Much-Afraid sick with shock and fear. “He can never mean that–never! He called me up to the High Places, and this is an absolute contradiction of all that he promised.”
She then lifted up her voice and called desperately, “Shepherd, come to me. Oh, I need you. Come and help me.”
In a moment He was there, standing beside her.
“Shepherd,” she said despairingly, “I can’t understand this. The guides you gave me say that we must go down there into that desert, turning right away from the High Places altogether. You don’t mean that, do you? You can’t contradict yourself. Tell them we are not to go there, and show us another way. Make a way for us, Shepherd, as you promised.”
He looked at her and answered very gently, “That is the path, Much-Afraid, and you are to go down there.”
“Oh, no,” she cried. “You can’t mean it. You said if I would trust you, you would bring me to the High Places, and that path leads right away from them. It contradicts all that you promised.”
“No,” said the Shepherd, “it is not contradiction, only postponement for the best to become possible.”
Much-Afraid felt as though he had stabbed her to the heart. “You mean,” she said incredulously, “you really mean that I am to follow that path down and down into that wilderness and then over that desert, away from the mountains indefinitely? Why” (and there was a sob of anguish in her voice) “it may be months, even years, before that path leads back to the mountains again. O Shepherd, do you mean it is indefinite postponement?”
He bowed his head silently, and Much-Afraid sank on her knees at his feet, almost overwhelmed. He was leading her away from her heart’s desire altogether and gave no promise at all as to when he would bring her back. As she looked out over what seemed an endless desert, the only path she could see led farther and farther away from the High Places, and it was desert.
Then he answered very quietly, “Much-Afraid, do you love me enough to accept the postponement and the apparent contradiction of the promise, and to go down there with me into the desert?”
………..”I do love you, you know that I love you. ….I will go down with you into the wilderness, right away from the promise, if you really wish it. Even if you cannot tell me why it has to be, I will go with you, for you know I do love you, and you have the right to choose for me anything that you please.”
……It was there that Much-Afraid built her first altar on the mountains, a little pile of broken rocks, and then, with the Shepherd standing close beside her, she laid down on the altar her trembling, rebelling will.
–Hinds’ Feet On High Places, “Detour Through the Desert”
I don’t know what else to say other than: Lord, I do not understand. It seems crazy. But I will go down with you into the wilderness, right away from the promise.
And I’m going to try really hard to lay down my trembling, rebelling will.
Oh boy, indeed.
Hannah Hurnard’s book can be found HERE.
Read it. You’ll be changed. I promise.