Psalm 136:13-14 VOICE To Him who split the Red Sea in two and made a path between the divided waters, for His faithful love lasts forever. Then allowed Israel to pass safely through on dry ground, for His faithful love lasts forever.
One of my treasures is a walking stick Daddy brought me from the family farm. This stick is a former fence slat made from an American chestnut tree logged on the farm many years ago. This stick dates to before the chestnut blight caused the American chestnut population to go extinct in the late 1800’s.
American chestnut wood was perfect for fence slats and posts because of its density and chemical content. The wood’s thickness and its’ tannin and phenol concentrations made the wood resistant to weathering and insect decay. This type of wood was needed for its strength against cattle or hogs pushing on it and longer lengths of time before breaking or falling over. Trust me, if you’ve ever laid or repaired fence, you want to go as long as possible before having to put in new slats or posts again.
This principle about solid sturdy fence materials holds especially true when making them the way they used to on the farm. They used a process called riving. This isn’t just cutting wood with a saw. Riving occurs when a froe (a special tool) is forced into the wood. The forcing with the froe causes the wood to split at natural cracks along the grain into long pieces suitable for fencing. (Think Abraham Lincoln here.) The strength of the wood throughout the slat or post is preserved in the riving process because the wood splits only where it’s weak. Thus, the slats or posts aren’t equally shaped or sized but are distinctive in having followed the natural grain of the wood. The strength in the grain of the wood is evident in prominent ridges running the length of the wood where this piece of wood was forcibly split from the tree.
Daddy found this former fence slat (and a few of its counterparts) still standing at a far edge of the farm a few years ago. Because of its distinctiveness in shape, size, color, lack of weathering, and density, he immediately identified those slats as chestnut wood made by that riving process. Today, my walking stick might not look like much to most people but those who know its history see the functional strength and beauty in it.
I think the same thought holds true for those living faithfully in suffering, especially if the pain started years ago and is still ongoing…
When God allows the rive of suffering in a life, a person is split end to end at his weak points. But when a person is split like this, God’s strength remains in his core and sizes him more into the Image of Christ. The person may not be much to look at on the outside. Yet he’s distinctive in his resistance to being pushed around by the enemy or weathering by fear. He can keep standing on the far edges forgotten by others because he knows he’s known by his Good God.
A rive of suffering divides truth from what is not truth in a person. And what remains after the riving is not just functional but beautiful. Time and pain may soften the edges of the rived sufferer in word, emotion, and thought but love’s deep dense ridges are never worn away as they run straight and true through his life. And that love keeps giving a natural resistance to those pesky insects of arrogance, apathy, and despair.
As importantly, a fence made from rived materials works together in symbiosis. Sure, each slat and post is innately enduring in its strength but cumulatively, the pieces give each other (and thus, the fence as a whole) a greater strength. This is also seen in Christians supporting each other in lives of suffering. Each one positioned and placed to help the next to see truth and stand firm in grace growing from that distinctive love (see Romans 1:12). In turn, they are not only supporting each other, but the church as a whole, with their enduring faith in the One Who is with them there in the riving.
For that love holding rived sufferers together years ago in the early church and today is the same Love Which spoke creation into being and sustains it even now (see Hebrews 11 and Colossians 1:15-17). The same Love Who carried his cross posts to Calvary and hung upon them to death for the rived and the not. This same Love is my Jesus Who rived the grave and is risen once for all so I would be redeemed once forever (see Romans 6:10).
Yet there are never weak places in my Jesus. He is all strength, power, might, and glory! But in all His majesty, my Jesus knows the rive of suffering and the rived sufferer in ways none other can. And His strength, not mine, is evident in my standing against the weakness.
Jesus, thank You that You are here in the riving. Thank You that You have a plan for good here in this pain. Thank You that in the many places I am weak Your strength is displayed. Please help me to keep standing here in faith on the far edges of fear. Please help me to keep resisting decay, in my body, mind, and hopeful expectation.
Psalm 86:11 CSB Teach me your way, Lord, and I will live by your truth. Give me an undivided mind to fear your name.
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Written by and copyrighted to Beth Madison, Ph.D., 2023.