Spiritual Growth, The Spiritual Discipline of Journaling

This Is Advent | The Stretched Out Threads of Grace

The tree is in the corner of our living room. Its lights are bright and the ornaments are high so a certain little boy doesn’t mess with them. I splurged on embroidered stockings last year and they hang off the blanket ladder to the right of the tree. All gifts have been ordered and wrapped and are piled under and around the broad artificial branches.

During this time of Advent, a spirit of uneasiness has lingered and I just can’t quite shake it. One morning I sat by the tree with the twinkling lights and asked myself the hard questions. I saw all the gifts and the unease rose to the point where I could no longer bury it or ignore it. I took in the angel on top of the tree, still unlit because we’ve been too lazy to find an extension cord to make it work, and suddenly the uneasiness was defined.

I thought of how I present myself to others like those wrapped packages – all shiny and pretty, with the ribbon tied and centered bow. I thought of how I want others to see me, regal and untouchable like that angel on the top of the tree. I thought about how deep down, I haven’t really been that convicted over my sin. How the “good-girl-complex” rears it’s ugly head, you know, the syndrome where pride takes over and sin isn’t all that bad in comparison to others.

The verse in Joel came to my mind – the one where it says rend your heart and not your garments. We are to gift our hearts to him,  I originally wrote in my journal, only to cross out after some digging. The word rend is used 19 times in the KJV. It typically appears in three major descriptions: the rendering of garments, the rendering of kingdoms, and how it is used in Joel 2:13. The imagery for the word in the Bible is not the same type of English definition we think of – that of offering something to someone. Rather, in this context, it is seen as tearing open, to paint the eyes (as if enlarging them).

This didn’t make much sense to me until days later when I did some cross referencing. In ancient days, the rendering or tearing of garments was a common expression of grief. When Jacob heard news of Joseph’s supposed death, he tore his clothes in anguish. It was an external sign of the deepest internal sorrow. In the times of Joel, the rendering of garments became a production, they twisted and misused the purpose. Instead of their hearts being full of sorrow because of the sin that separated them from God, they tore their garments and went about their business. What was supposed to be an outward expression of inward emotion because useless in the eyes of God since it was not reflected in the soul.

The “good-girl-complex” cheapens the cross.  It diminishes the need for salvation. When we think that our sin isn’t that big of a deal, it says I am not in need of grace. If that is true, then Jesus would have no reason to come and pardon us.

Good-girls project the image of perfectly wrapped packages. They go to church. They lead Bible studies. And yet underneath that shiny wrapping paper, they are just like everyone else – held together by pieces of grace-tape. To render our hearts is to rip open the paper to expose what is underneath – our sin and our need for Christ. And for a good-girl, that is a scary thing to do – because it may just mean that underneath that perfect image they fight for at all costs, they are really just a brown box broken open and revealed to the world. And maybe that will reveal the hypocrisy in their own hearts. So instead of ripping open our souls to the only one who can actually do anything about our secretive problems, we just keep wrapping more and more paper and tape around our hearts, shutting out the very Savior that came to set us free.

The act of rendering isn’t a pretty 4×4 square with perfect lighting. It’s not even a re-tweetable thought. It’s dramatic and expressive and painful. It’s being sorrowfully aware of the sin that so easily entangles us. It’s calling sin what it is – sin. It’s allowing God to rip off the tape that we’ve wrapped round and round our hearts and letting him expose truth to the pride that lurks inside. It’s letting God give us a glimpse of what sin does to him – it rips his heart up.

This wasn’t exactly what I was looking for when I started my treasure-digging into Joel. But God in his graciousness led me to another gold mine. Rend is used in regard to garments, kingdoms, and the heart. After looking at the garments and heart, I decided to follow the God-marked trail to the verses about the kingdoms. A lot of them talked about God rendering kingdoms away from evil people and even the Israelites themselves for their disobedience, however, when I got to the cross references in Isaiah 64:1 and Psalm 144:5 my pen wasn’t the only thing that quickened.

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, Isaiah says. Other translations say “burst from the heavens” and “tear the heavens open.” I then flipped to Psalms and wrote what it said in the ESV, Bow your heavens, O Lord, and come down! The word bow is also used in the KJV. My pen scribbled even faster when I came across the Hebrew definition: stretch out threads. I thought of how he stretches out the heavens like a tent and how curtains covered his holy presence in the tabernacle, and suddenly it all clicked.

When we are torn up over our sin and rend our hearts to him, he stretches out the threads of the curtain that separates us from him and gives us a glimpse of heaven here on earth. 

When our hearts are rendered, he enlarges our eyes to our need for him and then opens them all the wider to catch sight of heaven works.

It’s easy to hum the chorus of the great old hymn, “Here’s my heart Lord, take and seal it – Seal it for Thy courts above,” I wrote in my journal. It’s a lot harder to embrace the unease of soul that leads to the tearing and the required honesty…honesty we may not even want to address in ourselves. It requires time and vulnerability to present yourself bare like Adam and Eve once were, without the garments of sin habits. When we fall on our faces and let the Lord examine our hearts and expose the sin that thrives like mold in its crevasses, only then, seeing our sin with enlarged open eyes, can we embrace in ultimate gratitude Jesus’ great sacrifice for us – only then, will we see the heaven glory painted before our eyes.

My rend word study took me to one more verse, this time in the New Testament. After Jesus’ garments were ripped off him in preparation for his humiliation and death, the guards decided not to tear(rend) them but instead to cast lots for them. Little did they know that Jesus was getting ready to rend his garment of flesh to bring salvation to all. On the cross, Jesus split open our way to God. Heaven and earth once divided, now torn open —

This is Advent – Jesus coming down to this fractured world, separating the threads that keep us broken people apart from God. He rips open heaven and heaven’s mercy bursts forth. From one chronic good-girl-complex survivor to another, take hope this Advent season. We no longer have to face the eternal consequences of our garments of treachery because through his garment of pierced flesh we can now wear garments of holiness.

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