Friday, June 02, 2006

Padding the Ropes

So they pulled Jeremiah up with the ropes and lifted him out of the cistern…
(Jeremiah 38:13)

One Old Testament narrative offers insights into helping someone after loss. Jeremiah, the "weeping" prophet, was incarcerated for predicting Jerusalem would fall to the Babylonians (Jeremiah 37). After meeting with King Zedekiah, who wanted a different spin on the future, Jeremiah was confined to "the courtyard of the guard" (v. 21). After a group accused Jeremiah of discouraging the people, the prophet was lowered into a muddy cistern (38:6). The Bible says he was down in the mire.

This cistern is a powerful analogy to the grief that follows any loss: dark, restrictive – an unlikely venue for hope. But Ebed-Melech decided to challenge the mistreatment. He delicately reproached Zedekiah, pointing out that Jeremiah "will starve to death when there is no longer any bread in the city" (38:9). The king reconsidered and ordered Ebed-Melech to take 30 men and retrieve the prophet.

Yet Ebed-Melech didn’t rush to the cistern. Instead, he detoured to a room where old rags and worn-out clothes were kept. Then at the cistern, he dropped the rope to Jeremiah and instructed, "Put these old rags and worn-out clothes under your arms to pad the ropes" (v. 12).

Possibly when Jeremiah had been lowered into the cistern, the rope had broken his skin. To prevent injuring him further when pulling him out, Ebed-Melech wisely padded the ropes.

Our task in ministering to those who are living with loss is to "pad the ropes." Many well-meaning people wound individuals living through loss by babbling a well-intended clichĂ©. We are so convinced we have to say "something." But instead we need to “do” something. We should look to those simple things, the seemingly meaningless “old rags” that God can use to pad the ropes. We help pull those who are down in the mire up when they are ready, not before, and we ease the burden by padding the ropes.

Ebed-Melech did not have to get involved in Jeremiah’s situation. But he did. He didn’t just pull, he also padded. He waited until Jeremiah was ready and pulled and worked with him.

Every griever has three needs: to find the words for the loss, to say the words aloud, and to know that the words have been heard.

If all the things that make me happy, successful, and safe suddenly disappear, in that loss, I can still know God. He will not leave me in that cistern.

The only way to live through loss is to pay thorough attention to the grief and to take that to the Lord in prayer – and to hope someone will show up with "rope and old rags."

Loss doesn’t get better — it gets different. The older I get, the more the repertoire of losses I accumulate. But one by-product of an apprenticeship with loss is wisdom.

There are life lessons we learn only through loss. Ebed-Melech extracted one muddy prophet from the cistern. Jeremiah wasn’t home free, but remained a prisoner "in the courtyard of the guard." Don't expect or encourage them to "get back to normal". Normal no longer exists for them and their job is to create a "new" normal for themselves. This takes a long time.

Sometimes, in losses, we find no "and they lived happily ever after" endings. But we can experience one in which we "live ever after the loss — aware of the grace and peace of God."

You see, in this story Jesus is Ebed-Melech, and we are the thirty men who help get Jeremiah out of the mire. God will help you when you are ready, and He will send others to pad the ropes, Amen.

We will all face losses, and some will be unexpected and quite grievous to us. However, God says He gives us songs in the night, and so we must expect that it will be night sometimes.

If you want a rainbow you have to deal with rain
If you want a healing you have to deal with pain
If you want victory you have to deal with sin
If you want salvation you must be born again

Jesus died for sins, and He died for your and my sins as well. Jesus is the hand at the end of your rope. The truth is that everyone has sinned, and that everyone dies.

The real question is, do you believe?


Jerry Bouey said...

Good stuff, JD. That certainly is a rich chapter. Last year, God taught me some neat things from it, and now I have gleaned a bit more from your thoughts on this passage.

If you are interested, here is the message I preached in November on Jeremiah 38:

Sinking In The Mire

forgiven said...


Great Teaching... the cistern of life.
I'm so glad that Jesus is pulling me out of the mire ( all the time).
Thank You Brother