Following the Thread

Several years ago I read a book by Tim Keller called King’s Cross. This week a specific story from the book came into mind, and I wanted to share it with you all. Here is the story that Tim Keller writes about:

About 150 years ago George MacDonald wrote a children’s book called The Princess and the Goblin. Irene, the protagonist, is eight years old.  She has found an attic room in her house, and every so often her fairy grandmother appears there.  When Irene goes to look for her she’s often not there, so one day her grandmother gives her a ring with a thread tied to it, leading to a little ball of thread.  She explains that she’ll keep the ball.

“But I can’t see it,” says Irene.
“No.  The thread is too fine for you to see it.  You can only feel it.”  With this reassurance, Irene tests the thread.

“Now listen,” says the grandmother, “if you ever find yourself in any danger… you must take off your ring and put it under the pillow of your bed.  Then you must lay your forefinger… upon the thread, and follow the thread wherever it leads you.”

“Oh, how delightful!  It will lead me to you, Grandmother, I know!”

“Yes,” said the grandmother, “but, remember, it may seem to you a very roundabout way indeed, and you must not doubt the thread.  Of one thing you may be sure, that while you hold it, I hold it too.”  A few days later Irene is in bed, and goblins get into the house.  She hears them snarling out in the hallway, but she has the presence of mind to take off her ring and put it under her pillow.  And she begins to feel the thread, knowing that it’s going to take her to her grandmother and to safety.  But to her dismay, it takes her outside, and she realizes that it’s taking her right toward the cave of the goblins.

Inside the cave, the thread leads her up to a great heap of stones, a dead end.  “The thought struck her, that at least she could follow the thread backwards, and thus get out…But the instant she tried to feel it backwards, it vanished from her touch.”  The grandmother’s thread only worked forward, but forward it led into a heap of stones.  Irene “burst into a wailing cry,” but after crying she realizes that the only way to follow the thread is to tear down the wall of stones.  She begins tearing it down, stone by stone.  Though her fingers are soon bleeding, she pulls and pulls.

Suddenly she hears a voice.  It’s her friend Curdie, who has been trapped in the goblins’ cave!  Curdie is astounded and asks, “Why, however did you come here?”

Irene replies that her grandmother sent her, “and I think I’ve found why.”

After Irene has followed the thread and removed enough rocks to create an opening, Curdie starts to climb up out of the cave- but Irene keeps going deeper into the cave.  Curdie objects:  “Where are you going there?  That’s the way out.  That’s where I couldn’t get out.”

“I know that,” says Irene.  “But this is the way my thread goes, and I must follow it.”  And indeed the thread proves trustworthy, because her grandmother is trustworthy.

When Jesus told the disciples, “We’re on the way, follow me,” they had no idea where he was going.  They thought he was going to go from strength to strength to strength.  They had no idea.

Imagine sitting down with a seven-year-old and saying to her, “I’d like you to write me an essay on what you think it’s like to fall in love and be married.”  When you read the essay, you will say it isn’t very close to the reality.  A seven-year-old can’t imagine what love and marriage will be like.  When you start to follow Jesus, you’re at least that far away.  You have no idea how far you’ll have to go.

Jesus says, “Follow me.  I’m going to take you on a journey, and I don’t want you to turn to the left or to the right.  I want you to put me first;  I want you to keep trusting me; to stick with me, not turn back, not give up, turn to me in all the disappointments and injustices that will happen to you.  I’m going to take you places that will make you say, “Why in the world are you taking me there?” Even then, I want you to trust me.”

The path Jesus takes you on may look like it’s taking you to one dead end after another.  Nevertheless, the thread does not work in reverse.  If you just obey Jesus and follow it forward, it will do its work.

MacDonald, author of The Princess and the Goblin, put it like this in another story:  “The one secret of life and development, is not to devise and plan… but to do every moment’s duty aright… and let come- not what will, for there is no such thing- but what the eternal Though wills for each of us, has intended in each of us from the first.”  And in yet another:  “You will be dead, so long as you refuse to die.” That is, you will be dead so long as you refuse to die to yourself.   Follow the thread.  You say, “That sounds pretty hard,” and you’re right. How can we possibly follow the thread?  It’s simple but profound.  Jesus himself does absolutely everything he’s calling us to do.  When he called James and John to leave their father in the boat, he had already left his Father’s throne.  “He left his Father’s throne above, so free, so infinite his grace.”  And later he’s going to be ripped from his Father’s presence, on the cross.  It’s going to look as if your thread is taking you into dead ends, places where you’ll get bloody, where the only way to follow the thread looks like it could crush you.  But don’t try to go backward.  Don’t turn to the left, don’t turn to the right.  Jesus Christ’s kingship will not crush you.  He was crushed for you.  He followed his thread to the cross so you can follow yours into his arms.

These days I have been contemplating a lot about my career path and trying to lay out all the necessary steps to pursue different careers. Tim Keller’s final words that close the story have prompted me to reflect on what I prize in life. “[Jesus] followed his thread to the cross so you can follow yours into his arms.” What is it that I am longing for in following this thread? Is it a life that pans out the way I want it to? Is it respect? Is it a “plan A” life that I think God has willed for me? Is it safety? Or is it a Person?

In Philippians 3:14 Paul states that, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s goal is Christ. In the midst of his crazy life of being put in jail and experiencing utmost suffering, Paul encourages his readers to continue “straining forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:13).  And what lies ahead is Christ.

This week as I ruminated on and catastrophized life decisions, a simple stop sign appeared before these running thoughts. In the midst of feeling restless over the uncertain end of my educational and professional pursuits, I was reminded that the end is indeed certain. While I cannot guarantee what my life will look like at the end, God has guaranteed what I will see at the end: Christ. This isn’t to say that it’s not important to plan and be wise. Instead, this is a gentle reminder that you always have security, hope, and a Person, even in moments of insecurity, discouragement, and loneliness.

So Jen, keep following the thread. Life is confusing at times, and the thread feels so bare. Sometimes you experience hurtful, significant events, and sometimes you even wonder why you had to experience them. Sometimes you are at a loss of words, and sometimes you struggle to make life decisions. In these moments, I know you are tempted to turn to yourself and your own “wisdom” to make sense of it all. I know you want to direct the thread your own way. But remember don’t fall into yourself, fall into the arms of a Person. To be honest, I’m not even sure what that means or looks like. But to think it and want it is at least a start…

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