Recently I’ve been given the opportunity to walk through a season of repentance and reconciliation through my church’s STEPS ministry. I don’t know what all this will entail, but I know it involves doing an inventory on the past…and that terrifies me. As I was thinking about it, against my will, on the way to work this morning, this story came to mind. I don’t consider myself that great of a writer when it comes to telling stories, but this is one I felt I had to share. It isn’t Wednesday, but this is definitely life: unmasked.
Standing there, staring into the black, wondering what awaits. I see the armor I wear. I can touch it. The helmet, the breastplate. The shield and sword. I can feel it press against my skin and I only hope that it’s enough, because inside…inside I feel cold, weak, and vulnerable.
Desperately wanting to turn around. Terrified of what awaits if I take these steps forward. But even though I feel no strength, a Presence compels me forward. And I obey, for better or worse. I cross the line dividing the cool, soft grass that touches my feet around the sandals into the black, the unknown. The forgotten and buried.
As my foot hits the ground, the difference is clear. Before it was vibrant and green, now it’s rocky and the earth is black. Sword and shield ready, I press on through the rough, through the unknown. Moving toward the Light on the other side.
My steps are careful, balanced. This is war and is no time for complacency or laziness. I must be vigilant. I must be lethal. I reach the center of this rough terrain and find a plaque buried in the earth. Brushing it off I see that it reads “To move forward, you must go back.” I try to move forward anyway, but am unable. Puzzled, I stand at the ready again, looking ahead…and then the nagging thought overwhelms my mind, “What does it mean, go back?”
Feeling like I’m in the middle of a Herculean test, I turn around to go back. And then it happens. The ghosts of sins past rush upon me. I strike with my sword, but it swipes clean through. Swords can’t damage the incorporeal. I hold up my shield in fear, knowing of nothing else I can do. Then I feel this Presence overtake me, this Ghost coming to my rescue. I speak the words I feel pressed upon my soul. My blade becomes iridescent. I strike out at these past sins, these redeemed mistakes. The sword has no effect on its own, but the Light emanating pierces these immaterial beings, and they fall out of the air.
I look around, and it is quiet. I look myself over, and find that I am bloody and beaten from the battle. I want to get out, I’m tired of fighting…but the only way out is forward, and the only way forward is back. I keep following the path backward, eerie of what I’ll find. I feel a rumble in the earth, the ground shaking beneath my feet. I stop, dreading the next fight.
I feel something take hold of my ankle. I look down and see bone breaking through the black soil. I’m no longer on a battle field. I am in a graveyard. A graveyard full of past hurts which have been buried and all but forgotten. These skeletons break forth from their cages beneath the ground. They break loose and turn toward me. Eyes like fire and wreaking of death. They smell like the Hell they from which they came. Like the Hell which they imposed upon my life.
Gasping for air, I look around. Frustrated at the badges these skeletons wear: betrayal, abandonment, and isolation. There were other unnamed skeletons, but these…these were the 16 year old pains that shaped my life. I thought I was rid of them! Who dares to unleash these destructive monsters upon me again!? I look for another enemy to fight, the one who did this…but he is nowhere to be found. So I again brace myself for battle, looking furiously at that which stole so much of my life. I will have vengeance! They will pay. They will die this time…but how can a skeleton die? Isn’t it already dead?
But the skeleton moves toward me. They all move toward me. I may be a fool, but I will not be a coward. I lunge into the fray. Striking with the sword, blocking with the shield. Kicking and swinging. I will not be ruled by these masters again. I will die first. The sword, in all its iridescence, has no effect. There is only the chilling sound of steel clashing against unfleshed bone. I strike at the neck. The head falls to the ground. But the body keeps fighting, driven by another force. Stunned and weary, the skeletons overtake me. They cannot remove the armor, for it is not truly mine, but belongs to the One who gave it to me.
I hit the ground with a thud as they throw me forward…forward. Forward beyond the plaque I read before, and I see the Light again. But the skeletons have already surrounded me…and then I feel that Ghost again. I speak what I feel I must, and the Light flashes forward, blinding radiance all around. Then the strangest thing of all, the Light speaks. And it hurts. Oh, God, it hurts! The Light spoke and the very sword I carry pierced my own heart.
The words didn’t hurt, nor did the Sword. The pain was caused by something hidden made visible. Out of my own heart grew strands of mithril leading to the very skeletons I was fighting. And bonds appeared as though forged by Hephaestus were fastened to the three leaders…the three pains that shaped me.
Then the Light Himself pressed the Sword deeper into my heart, as I cried out in pain, begging Him to stop. But He didn’t, yet there was no malevolence felt. Only peace, and love. I began to shake as the hilt of the sword touched my chest. I shake violently, but remain painfully aware of my surroundings, and then something unexpected happens. Amidst the pain I see the mithril and unbreakable bonds shatter, and the skeletons turns to dust.
Then the sword reappears back in my own hand. It wasn’t removed, it had done its work and returned to its proper place. Then the Light touched my chest, and the blood flowing down from my heart ceased to flow. Without a word, I knew I was whole. I knew I was His. I knew that He had killed the giant I could never kill. The Light shapes me now, not the pains.
I looked around once more, and I hadn’t moved, but the black was gone. The rocky, black earth was now green.
I was alive. I was free.