God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Genesis 1:30)
I took them up in my arms;
but they did not know that I healed them. ~ God (Hosea 11:3)
We had bruised hips, blistered feet, and various scrapes and cuts; battle wounds with the mountain. Our destination is a remote alpine lake. It is a talisman for me, a place of reverence. Some of the glory bestowed upon the lake is due to its rugged beauty and some is because it is the headwater for many myths that have shaped my life.
To say it is elemental and formative to my life as a human being on this earth would be accurate. At age thirteen on my first trip to the lake, I moved from being a boy into the awareness of what it meant to be a man. Over the next many decades, I took many friends and family into this sacred place.
The lake is cupped in an alpine cirque as if treasured by the right hand of God. Surrounded by thousand-foot cliffs that crumble into talus and scree right into the cobalt blue water; and at other places, the slope is gentle enough for shallow topsoil to find purchase. The dark loam, however thin, is rich enough to grow lush mountain grass, skunk cabbage, cinquefoil, and giant dandelions. Colorado blue spruce lace one end of the lake like giant fingers holding the water in place.
Our group believed in “leaving no trace” while in the wilderness. I was struck at how little had changed in the two-decade since we had tried to clean up the careless mess of others. The lakeshore was pock-marked with dark charcoal fire-rings. Rusty tin cans, plastic, and other trash littered old campsites and even hung in the trees. So, we decided to leave one clearly visible and accessible campsite with a fire-ring and clean up the others.
Carefully we cut the sod and laid it to one side. Digging down beneath the topsoil to the gravel base, we then buried charred pieces of wood and any organic items we could find.
The bottles, cans, and plastics we packed out. We replaced the sod and watered the area making many trips to the lake with our single liter bottles. We offered a prayer of dedication asking our Creator-God to bless the efforts to right the environmental wrongs of others.
We wanted to honor the Creator we felt so close to in this remote wilderness, but we also did it because we wanted the place to look better for our own enjoyment. Maybe we even wanted to teach a lesson of what it means to honor the land to others who would come to the lake.
So why was it so easy for me to find the restored area two decades after our efforts at environmental restoration? Did we do it wrong? What struck me as I stood at that place beside the lake was this: in spite of our best efforts, some ecosystems are extraordinarily fragile and healing takes a long time.
Sadly, I could still see the outline of the trench. The sod stood like clumps of green braille on brown ground. Honestly, the area where we buried the refuse looked more like a grave than a place of restoration. I said a prayer, shook my head, and walked away.
It has occurred to me that our souls are much like the fragile ecosystem above treeline: remote, strikingly beautiful, and fragile to the carelessness of man. Whether that harm is self-inflicted, neglect, or from others; we scar easily. Restoration takes a long time.
What then? Do we fail to cooperate with God in restoring His world? Do we quit because it takes longer than we want? Do we busy ourselves with some task or project that has a more immediate return on our investment? No. We must not be so shallow. Time is tender and tough above tree line. Tender in that it only takes one moment to do generational damage to the land. Tough because it is stubbornly relentless in its process of restoration. It is the same with the restoration of a soul. I must remember that God doesn’t get in a hurry about anything.
Scanning the souls in my relational landscape, I see a charred fire-ring of betrayal here, a pock-marked heart there, and I can’t help myself. I pick up the shards of broken souls, the crumpled cans of discarded dreams, and the burnt wood of moral failures and start the process of cooperating with our God to restore his world, one life at a time. It may take a long time for these marred souls to blend into the lush land of the Kingdom of Heaven, but what else can I do? Some things are even more precious than water cupped in the hand of God.