Four Words

Four words…
…and a dead heart beats.

Four notes sung by holy lips…

…and lifeless eyelids tremble,
stiff limbs stretch,
cold veins warm…
…and the people fear.

They are amazed, dismayed, afraid.
Afraid of the power of four words.

A young girl crowded with loneliness, surrounded by people but alone. Longing for love but fearing…fearing that once people know her, they will despise her, a blushing bride afraid to lift the veil.

There are no doors and the window is barred, I feel the concrete walls closing in, preparing to crush me. The air is stifling-stale. I gasp. Sweat runs down my temples and a deep-seated sob catches in my throat. I must escape or die. The room continues to shrink or else I am going mad. I must escape or die. Through the barred window I catch glimpses of green, of wide open spaces, of fresh air and of freedom just beyond my grasp. My mind struggles to piece together the missing parts of the picture blocked by the bars. The picture eludes my imaginings. I must escape or die. SOMEONE! please show me the rolling green hills where I can rub off my saddle sores and gallop through the wind, a pony who answers to only One Rider.

In a downward spiral, the maelstrom continues: feeling wanted and loved for only a time, times and half a time. Like the addict after a drink, one glass is never enough. The height is followed by a plummet, the ship dipping further and further into the raging sea until it rises no more. Moments of happiness marred by the shadow that lurks behind every fleeting compliment. It will not last…soon they will know.

The lion was waiting for me. He was waiting till it was quiet and I crawled into bed alone. Countless nights I put my pillow over my head and cried myself to sleep, thinking that my sobs would drown out the voices in my head. But when I awoke they were always there, ready to pull me down like a millstone around my neck, ready to suck the very life out of me.

Desperate for love, anxious to please, always left empty.
Dry bones are all that is left.
My name…is “no mercy”.

The face in the mirror taunts me yet it’s the only face I have. When a friend was silent, when an older woman pursed her lips, when my parents were reserved, I felt rejected. Standing on the outskirts of a huddle, in the no-man’s-land of a laugh, I wondered what I was doing wrong. “It must be my fault. How could anyone love me?” Every rebuke seemed to me a confirmation. It should not matter what others think–do as unto the Lord, I murmur. But the smiles of God seemed so far away. If God did not choose me because I earned it, surely He couldn’t actually love me for me. Afraid of man-centered religion I relegated God to the role of indifferent benefactor in place of loving Father.

Surely being saved from wrath was enough?

And yet…it did not matter to me that I was saved from Hell because without assurance of God’s love I lived Hell every day.

And when I doubted God’s love, human love became more necessary.

Don’t be a man-pleaser–this said with scorn as my bridal veil lies trampled in the market square.

“Unclean! Unclean!”
I’m the leper crying out in the streets.
I’m the Eunuch rejected at the temple’s door.
I’m the woman caught in adultery…

The stones hail down on me, exposed to the world and ashamed, their mocking shouts filling dusk’s darkening void. The scarlet letter so long hidden on my breast betrays me as a failure, as a fraud, as an outcast. Even the cold earth outside the city gates recoils at my touch. Blood trickles down my cheek from the swelling-welt on my temple and my bones scream out, on fire. My cracking ribs pinch my breath and I choke as I weep for mercy. Sticks and stones may break my bones but words…words will pierce my soul. I’ll do anything to make this pain stop…I’ll do anything…anything.

…So to please man, I stopped pleasing men. Concealed behind orthodox gowns, pious words and holy vows, in white-washed tombs where only the dead live, the harlot returns to her lovers, the drunkard to his drink, the dog to his vomit and the small boat teeters on the brink, takes one last look at the abyss beneath then vanishes in the swirling foam…

Dry bones gleam white in the valley of the dead.
In the valley of the forsaken, I weep and mourn
because I doubt the life-giving power of four words.

But from the four winds of Heaven the mouth of God breathes…
…breathes life into dry bones and whispers four words: “I have loved you.”

“Now, child, arise.”

Four words…
…and a dead heart beats,
lifeless eyelids tremble,
stiff limbs stretch,
cold veins warm…
and I fix my eyes heavenward and see the prison has no roof.

“I have loved you.”
the smell of green grass fills my nostrils,
pure sunshine warms my skin,
I cough up water and I sing…I sing of the power of four words.

What I perceived as a maelstrom was actually the Spirit’s Baptism.
The Valley of Achor, the valley of the dead and forsaken, has become the door of Hope.

“I have loved you.”
My hand clings to the key of promise.
The Son of David has had mercy on “no mercy”.
He has given her a new name,
an everlasting name that shall never be cut off,
I am the disciple whom Jesus loved.

“I have loved you.”
welcomed invasion of my heart.

“And when I passed by you
and saw you wallowing in your blood,
I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’
I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’”
{Ezekiel 16:6}

It was Love that invaded my prison, Love that saw the begrimed walls and rolled up His sleeves, Love that stripped me of my prison rags and clothed me with redemption’s robes.

Love is messy
love is invasive
but it is this love that will. not. let. me. go.

it’s only an invasive-love that knows my ev’ry thought and loves me still,
only an invasive-love seeps into my soul, sprouts a leak, and floods the streets,
this is a holy invasion: this drop of heavenly love grown into a torrent.

Rejected so I could be accepted.
Scorned so I could be cherished.
Exposed so I could be clothed.
Bound so I could be free.
Oh, Love which makes the lover ugly, to make the loved lovely.

“I have loved you.”
four words that raise the dead, cover the shamed adulteress,
make the eunuchs whole, breathe life into dry bones
and set the captives free.

freed by love–now freed to love,
freely given–now freely give,
freed to live, glorious freedom…

…But what of the broken lives, broken hearts, a city of darkness-dwellers,
enslaved in their own prisons of rejection, fear, doubt, piety and hate?

Oh, we of little faith who doubt
the resurrection-pow’r of four words.

“Before the throne of God above, I have a strong and perfect plea,
a Great High Priest who’s name is LOVE, who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands, my name is written on His heart.
I know that while in Heaven He stands, no tongue can bid me thence depart.”
{Before the Throne of God Above – Charitie Bankcroft}

By Emily J. Shiflet


8 thoughts on “Four Words

  1. Pingback: When I Just Can’t | Living In Heavens shadow

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  3. Pingback: Songs of Asaph: Mystery of Mercy (Andrew Peterson) | Living In Heavens shadow

  4. This…This is incredible. Well-written, beautiful and moving. Two lines struck me with their elegance and power. “…and I fix my eyes heavenward and see the prison has no roof.” And “this is a holy invasion”

    Liked by 1 person

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