My Heart is Covered in Ash
OCTOBER 13, 2020
My car is covered in ash.
If we step outside to make our way through the smoky haze, we can smell, see, feel, and taste the fires that have engulfed most of the western states this month. What you see on the news is all true: the sun is an apocalyptic eerie red and our afternoons are disorienting because we’re tricked into thinking it might be evening already.
This morning brought word of a friend preparing to evacuate in case Hurricane Sally reaches her Louisiana home. The COVID-19 numbers aren’t heading in the direction they ought to be. We have cancer in our family, recovery from a recent brain tumor, intense heat waves, and mounting stress tied to all of the above.
I went to bed weeping last night. All of this—all of this global pandemic and stuff—but the California fires are what made me finally break down and want to give up. California really is as beautiful as they say, and we are on fire.
My heart is covered in ash. The biblical analogy isn’t lost on me. “Sackcloth and ashes,” I think. Yes, sackcloth and ashes. I joked to a friend that I’m just waiting for the pestilence and boils and she retorted, “Don’t joke like that!”
But what if the pestilence and boils manifest? What if our world gets worse before it gets better? What do we, as believers in the God who is poised to save us, do when the world is on fire?
I rolled out of bed this morning with that question ringing in my ears. My eyes were still puffy from my pre-sleep cry and the light streaming through the bedroom windows remains hazy. I taste the ash in my mouth. I read my inbox and shake my head at the National Geographic newsletter quoting Robert Kunzig, Senior Environment Editor: “We’ve seen fire and we’ve seen rain before. If there’s one thing science is clear about, it’s that we’re going to see much more of both in the future.” Even science supports my musings of a planet growing weary.
What do we do?
I dropped my head over the sink as I splashed cold water on my face. I dropped it all and whispered in my smoke-husky little voice, “God, help me believe that you are who you say you are and that you will do what you say you will do.”
He pulled me over to the book of James. The first paragraph of chapter one tells me that I can count all of this year’s worth of yuck as my joy. That in my suffering, maybe because of it, we’ll lack nothing.
Then he tells me that his wisdom is my sufficiency. There are words in verses 6-8 that make it seem, at first glance, as if he’s telling me how to behave: But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
We might think that he’s telling us to shape up and stop being wishy-washy all on our own, but back up and remember the verse that precedes the action: If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
Ask. Ask, he says! And when we ask, he tells us he gives generously.
Even weary and wartorn, I think I can ask. Can you? A simple humbling act of asking the God whom we believe is in control of all of this mess, who sees the virus’ origins, who knows its trajectory, who understands hurricanes and fires and boils and pestilence.
My heart is still ashy. So is my car. The asking for wisdom isn’t a done deal in my soul, but a minute-by-minute act of worship that acknowledges who God is and where he stands in all of our pain and suffering. I don’t always trust him, but I can return to him and tell him so; in the admission of my weakness and unbelief, he promises wisdom, strength, grace, and peace for every uncertain moment ahead. And because he has proven himself faithful time and time again, I can drop my head into the sink a thousand times and know that he hears my cries for help.
Kendra Fletcher is a mother of 8, speaker, author, and podcaster. She is the author of Lost and Found: Losing Religion, Finding Grace, and Leaving Legalism, and she regularly writes for Key Life Ministries. The Fletchers reside in California, where they play in the Pacific Ocean as often as possible. Find her here: www.kendrafletcher.com