On this first day of September, I say we celebrate enduring this past month. I don’t know about you, but in all her humidity and heat and storms, August has mirrored (and likely expounded) the heat index on my insides. “Feels like 105,” August said as my six-year-old played her first soccer game. Oh September, treat us more kindly? Cover us with a dry breeze every now and then?
Cover. Makes me think of a Hebrew word I came across four Augusts ago: kaphar. It means to atone, to reconcile, to annul, to forgive.
This is what the Old Covenant priests’ sacrifices did – they made atonement, covered over the sins of the people. This is what happened at the Mercy Seat on the Day of Atonement (kippur). The lid of the ark of the covenant was called kapporeth, another derivative of kaphar… to cover. The place where the Mercy Seat sat.
Pope Francis says The Name of God is Mercy, and we are in a kairos era of mercy. When asked why humanity is so in need of mercy, he said, “Because humanity is wounded, deeply wounded. Either it does not know how to cure its wounds or it believes that it’s not possible to cure them.” So true.
This word kaphar has one more meaning: to cover over with pitch.
My husband is a civil engineer whose specialty is asphalt. When we were dating, and still to this day, as we drive along he tells me the ins and outs of paving a road well. I have slowly grown to enjoy it. [Can you believe he loves the smell of asphalt?!] The first thing he taught me about paving roads – probably instigated by complaints about potholes – is that the paving machines can’t run in winter. The asphalt has to be hot enough in order to be applied correctly. So until the weather is warm enough, the road crews can’t repave a foot. They can only fill in potholes by hand. A temporary fix.
Winter causes potholes in the first place, then prevents repair. Winter, what’s up with that? The bitter-cold, barren seasons of the heart inflict similar damage, don’t they? Seep into your cracked fears and freeze, only to tear a rent wider and deeper, until once solid ground crumbles under foot.
Creator God knows this, and He is a respecter of seasons. Even when we long to live healed and whole, it is truly mercy that, in our immediate winter-time trauma, He patches up our souls so that we can continue to function. A temporary fix.
In her new book Heart Made Whole, Christa Black Gifford explains the process this way: “Out of his overwhelming love for me – for all of us as His children – God brilliantly fashioned our hearts in a way that equips us to survive in the world, giving them the ability to keep pain from overwhelming us so we can function. However, this coping mechanism was given as a temporary solution to help survive emotional pain, but never as God’s permanent solution to heal it.”
It is not a temporary fix we hope for. It is forgiveness, it is mercy, covered over thick, once and for all, that all we potholed-people desperately need.
Oh mercy! A time comes, when the weather is warmer and the heavy equipment can operate, that He purposes to dig up the pothole and get to the bottom of the fault. And so He comes back around to do it right.
This August, I’ve felt the black of the pitch. Hot – sticky – stinky – in ruin. The equipment is heavy indeed; stripping away the crumbled asphalt that gained its strength from others’ opinions, others’ encouragement, other’s attention. The tension and pressure of metal teeth the size of my head grates into my core. Orange cones and flashing lights keep traffic away. “Right lane closed ← merge left.” Some days I feel He has diverted the flow of traffic too well, that no one can see me. It seems friendship cannot be grasped. It seems that we do not have enough. I am lonely. I am anxious. I am discouraged at the seeming lack of progress and all the mess.
And yet, I am beginning to see this too is Mercy. To cover over with pitch, to fully fill the holes in my heart, to make me new, to make atonement – all is mercy.
“But I’ve dealt with all my issues,” you may say. Well, so have I, and yet here I am again. That’s the thing about being alive – there is always more weathered wounding to be had. And that’s the thing about being alive in Christ – there is always more healing, always more freedom, always more redemption to be found in and through the King of my heart. To have a sure highway, a firm foundation, a healed heart, the deeper work must be done. In my experience, every type of healing – emotional, relational, physical, mental, and spiritual – follows this pattern: it gets worse before it gets better. For this hope set before me, I can endure when it gets worse, knowing it is possible to cure the wounds.
If you are in pain today, if your life seems to be crumbling around you, I encourage you to search out God’s perspective is. Maybe He’s getting to the root of your broken places, because He means to heal and fill you well. Maybe it’s getting worse because it’s about to get better.
And if you are in a season of temporary fix, it’s okay. God is brilliant and near and knows. You can trust that His manual filling will last exactly as long as it’s supposed to, and His grace will be enough to get you through until you have the space to become undone.
Take some time alone and invite God into your heart. Ask Him what season you are in, and how you can partner with Him in that season toward wholeness. Whether a temporary fix or a deeper hot-weathered work, never doubt He has your best interest in mind, and He wastes nothing, and He does all things well.
“Search my heart, O God, and see if there be any hurtful way in me,” we often pray, and rightly so. The true journey is to go along with Him, diving into the deeper places of our souls, so He can illumine the eyes of our heart to see what’s really going on. Search together with Him, and the fear and loneliness will not overcome. His gentle ways and steadfast hope will sustain.
Search my heart, O God, and take me with you as you go…
With this cry, I come to the seat of mercy, where Jesus has paid for my whole and perfect heart, and say yes. I choose to partner with God to undo the patch job – to dig it all up again, and then some. To get below the deepest fault, uproot the old and establish the most excellent way. I commit to giving myself all the space and time and grace necessary to finish this road maintenance well.
And I am taking a cue from my husband by learning to love the smell of asphalt, for it means a heart is being made whole.