I know that as followers of Christ we are to expect trial and suffering. But I find that expecting it and being prepared for it are two different things for me. Part of me conveniently forgets this truth until I’m staring at it, blinking in shock because it’s happening again.
A dear friend of mine, who has walked through no small amount of trial and suffering herself, recently was hit with more. Her walk through trial has so greatly encouraged my own and her wisdom, support, and encouragement have been such a huge blessing to me. My heart literally hurt to hear she was facing more. Yet through her pain, I was blessed yet again. This time through a conversation we had about cups (Yes, cups) and the resulting picture I was given.
I’m in a large upscale banquet room filled with tables covered in crisp white linen. Rows upon rows of us are seated. Expectantly waiting. Suddenly, there’s a shifting and murmuring as hands start passing along cups. From left to right and around to the other side, each table passes them one by one. Intrigued, I examine them as they pass through my hands.
Some are fine china, light and delicate with gorgeous, hand painted designs and gold rims. The handles so fragile I hold them on the bottom to pass them along. Others are of sparkling crystal creating orbs of prisms as they move along catching and throwing the light from the overhead lights. Still others are ornate goblets with designs that tell stories and inlaid with precious stones the size of robin’s eggs. I’m in awe of the differences, the uniqueness of each one, as I pass it to my right. Eventually I’m holding an earthen cup, more of a vessel. It’s edges are crude and it’s surface so rough and porous I’m sure that it can’t possibly hold anything. It’s ugly and it weighs far more than I think it should. In no small hurry, I look to my right to pass it along. Only to find their hands are still full. Looking around, I realize that everyone now has a cup. They aren’t moving anymore. Uneasy now, I glance to my left, hoping to pass it back the way it came. They actually lean away, protectively holding the cup they have. Increasingly alarmed, I look for sympathetic eyes, someone who might be willing to trade. I see pity and judgement in eyes averted. Overwhelmed, unable to bear holding it any longer, I place it on the table. My own eyes overflowing, I think if this is my cup, I don’t want one at all.
Head bowed, I rub my hands on my legs to try to rid myself of any remnants of that cup and I feel a hand on my shoulder. A gentle pressure. I look up through blurred lashes and make out an arm reaching in front of me and taking my cup. Startled, I look up into merciful, kind eyes looking straight into mine. “I don’t want it.” I whisper in explanation.
And His understanding kindness undoes me and I weep anew.
“It’s okay. Follow me.”
And because there is hope there, I do. Past curious glances I follow Him through the maze of tables and people and cups and I realize, they don’t even see Him. Puzzled and out of sorts, I follow Him through a doorway, into another room. The light is somehow softer here, but no less bright. There are people here too, but the tables are not covered in linen and they’re seated close together on benches. These eyes look right at me, and shift to my cup. But they’re not afraid. Instead, they shift to make room. Uncertain, I hover behind Him until He holds out a hand, calloused, yet soft, with remnants of clay under His nails. I take it, and my place at this table.
The people here, they lean in close while He dries the tears from my eyes. Through the open doorway I can hear music and too loud laughter. There’s clinking of dinnerware piled high with food and beautiful cups filled with drink. I can smell the abundance and see the chandeliers hanging high and glinting in florescent light. There’s a woman standing in the doorway with one foot in each room, her eyes distracted and pulled to the merriment next door. And I see Him get up, and hold out the same hand to her. Uncertainty and longing flashes quick in her eyes but she remains still.
“When you’re ready, follow me.”
The warmth here is greater than that next door and has little to do with the fire blazing in the hearth. There are no plates piled high with food or waiting in silver warmers. Instead, the fare is simple bread and wine and fills more than my stomach. I watch these people at the table with me as they share what they have and what they know. You see, it’s a work table and they’re looking up instructions in the books at their sides, helping each other. And their cups?
They’re being transformed by a master potter. Expertly washed and painted, they’re made new. Rough lines and crude material are made into the most beautiful of creations. And the fire? I’m now kneeling with a friend next to it, holding her hand. While He is reminding us that though it burns destructive hot to the wood within it, it’s bringing out incredibly unique colors and patterns. And when our cups emerge they will be more beautiful for the process and hold far more than they did before.
In the waiting, we’ll grow together and closer to Him. And maybe someday, when complete, we will no longer want to pass on these cups?
Jesus commands Peter, “Put your sword away, shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”