This is a story about taking a look at your heart and catching barns on fire.
There’s a big barn down the road from my house. There was, I mean. I’d passed by it 1000 times, in every season, at every hour of the day & night. When I was biking a lot over the summer, it was my favorite sight to see as I pedaled up over the little hill that gave way to the final stretch towards my house; its presence signaled the glorious finish line of another long bike ride was almost in reach.
It caught fire last weekend. The noise of sirens screaming is a rarity out this way, so when I pushed back the curtains of our upstairs window last Saturday night I wasn’t sure what I’d see.
Orange flames a mile high leapt up into the night sky. The curve of gravel that I’d rounded just hours before was lined with cop cars and fire trucks, lights gleaming red and blue. Firemen and policemen circled the blaze, arms waving and frantically pacing.
I stood, eyes fixated on the blaze.
It started with a single flame, this fire. Unintentional, surely. Haphazardly, carelessly. & yet, something so small ravaged an entire area. That’s what happens when you’re not careful.
Sunday morning brought a hurried knock on the door from a police officer. An investigation was being conducted because apparently, a child started the fire. The officer was going door to door, he explained, in hopes of gathering more information. My stomach knotted as he detailed the account of how they believed the fire began.
All I could think about was the terrible moment when the child realized the fire was beyond her control. For a few seconds, she probably thought she could manage it, stressed and uneasy, but fiercely determined to fix the situation. Yet inevitably toppling under the debilitating weight of panic sinking in as flames snaked their way across an entire field.
It’s almost baffling- that initial flick of fire took all of half a second to ignite. Yet that very millisecond-flame resulted in a raging, days-long fire that was never intended to catch.
I’m hesitant to say, but I’ve burned down my fair share of barns.
I’ve been careless; I’ve lit a match and stomped it out, heart racing.
I’ve stood paralyzed yet inexplicably mesmerized in the middle of a burning building with no visible way out.
I’ve sparked a lighter in one hand while clutching a tank of gasoline in the other.
Some barns have burned on my watch.
Some barns have burned at my own hand.
It’s been a good bit of time since that night I looked down the hill at the flaming barn. And I’ll say, these days I’m gun-shy around matches. But I’ll also admit- that even though that night was years ago, it doesn’t change the fact that I still wonder all these years later if I’ve actually got an arsonist’s heart.
I couldn’t have anticipated that the removal of one scorched bandage would reveal another layer of heart desperate for Jesus, yet sometimes still mesmerized by flame. I assumed all death in me had been burned away with the blazing collapse of that barn; I now know that’s foolish. Now I can only cling to the Promise of a Grave with hands dirtied by ash. In total honesty, my daily desperate begging for grace is still sometimes distracted by a relentless need for rush, for burning intensity, for consuming heat.
Some days I cower at the smell of smoke.
Some days I’m charging towards flame.
I guess what I’m saying is this- and this is the hardest to admit- what feels more like failure today isn’t thinking back on that younger version of me standing mesmerized in front of my own flaming barn. What feels more like failure today is the current me- desperately questioning why there are days I still find myself drawn towards flame. Questioning why there are days my skin craves heat. Questioning why my eyes fixate on a book of matches.
The sense of failure now comes when I’m ticked that I am not enough to save myself. When I’m frustrated that I cannot be my own Savior. When I’m too prideful to say that I am needy. When I’m angry that I am not Jesus.
All I know to say is this- the ache that flame produces continues to go one of two ways with me.
I either stubbornly refuse to hand corners of my heart over to Jesus and listen to myself scream as the heat blisters it callous.
Or I drop my knees to scorched ground & plead for Jesus to heal what I have ravaged.
No matter how distant or not so distant in the past your own burnt barn lies in ash, I’m learning it’s a choice every single day on how to move forward with the memory of flame. For every step forward, I’ve taken eight steps back. The refining fire of Jesus is as painful as it gets. It hurts like hell, but most days I’d say its worth pressing through the heat. This is a Savior who heals. Who bandages. Who walks into hurt with a heart for healing. Trust that. Know that those promises are true. It’s hard & I know the thought of it continuing to be so is not what anyone wants to hear. But keep pressing. Because the only thing that stands when everything you know is up in smoke, is Jesus.