Sadness is a funny thing. It has a way of wrapping us tightly in its grip and remaining a part of us for what seems like an eternity. There are times you think you have unwound yourself and found joy again, only to find you are once again under its control.
Sadness sometimes even morphs into misery or despair, and you begin to feel there is no way out of its grasp. These feelings can begin in many different circumstances. They find their way into the lives of every type of person. That is when you may begin to ask yourself, when will it be over? When will I find my way out? When can I trade beauty for these ashes?
Beauty for ashes? Such a strange and ancient phrase.
If you grew up in the church or around people who did, you may have heard it quoted. Even if you didn’t, you may have a general understanding of what it means. But, do you know how to discover it for yourself?
Often the process of discovery begins with a greater understanding. Where did this phrase come from and what does it really mean?
The use of ashes in mourning is seen in ancient Egyptian culture, at least as far back as 2278 BC. Ashes and dust were rolled in, sat in, and thrown on the head to demonstrate a deep mourning over things like national disasters, loss of a loved one, devastating circumstances, and sorrow over one’s own egregious errors.
In Isaiah 61, where the biblical phrase “beauty for ashes” appears, Isaiah is delivering a message to God’s people who were living in captivity and under great oppression at the hand of their captors. Isaiah’s message was to give hope during their dire circumstances because God had plans for future blessings despite the trouble the people had gotten themselves into. Isaiah had come to promise that they would be trading their ashes for a crown of beauty, mourning for joy, and despair for praise!
When I look at my own life and those of my friends and loved ones, I can imagine many of them figuratively rolling in dirt and heaping ashes on their heads because of the devastating things going on around them. I know I have felt such despair that I would think to myself, “I just want to crawl in a hole and never come out.”
I see divorce, abuse, addiction, political unrest, lies, betrayal, natural disasters, death, and illness all around. But what has changed? Are these things new? No, they have been around for all time. How have those before us made it through their sadness? How have they found joy on the other side of circumstances such as these? Have they eventually found beauty instead of the ashes they were drowning in?
The answer is yes, and so can we!
For some, the process of this trade seems almost instant. However, for most of us, it will be a little different. The process may be slow and steady. Or it may be more intermittent, like many small glimpses of the sun through the clouds, until the clouds finally burn off to reveal the glowing blue sky above. However, I believe it all starts with the idea that it is possible. Let’s think about that for a moment.
It. Is. Possible.
Not only is it possible, but it is also real to find beauty both during and birthed from the ashes in our lives. For me, I see beauty when I look at the twinkle in my daughter’s eye and hear my son laugh. They are here despite, and even because of, my broken marriage. Beauty can be the sweet memories or the legacy left behind by a loved one who passed too soon. It is found in the stories of survival after a disaster when all hope seemed lost.
Remind yourself of the times you have heard stories of beauty coming from despair and ugliness; remind yourself of the times it has happened in your own life! Reminding ourselves it has happened before helps us believe it can happen again. History does tend to repeat itself.
Now that you have stopped heaping the ashes upon your head and are beginning to look around, the grasp sadness has on you has begun to loosen. Once you begin to feel a little hope in the possibility of beauty, sadness weakens further. It is now you find you can stand and remove yourself from the dirt. Your strength is building, and you can step forward, leaving sadness behind even if it’s just for a moment. Those moments will get longer, and your strength will grow.
Now, more than ever, it is important to begin to train yourself to seek out the beauty around you. Some have kept gratitude journals to help them look for things to be grateful for each day. If you have studied resiliency, you may “hunt for the good stuff.” Regardless of what you call it, it is about learning to find beauty, no matter what you are going through. For example, my kids and I revel at the beauty of the morning sky and the colors of the desert mountains each morning as we head out for our day. The more you choose to trade in your ashes and instead put on a crown of beauty, the more your strength will increase and the more beauty you will find around you. Eventually, the moments of sadness are shorter, the misery seems a distant memory, and the times of contentment begin to grow. Soon you will realize that the beauty is completely independent of your circumstances. You can find beauty despite what is going on around you. This is when the joy comes.
Does this mean you won’t find yourself feeling your old foe, sadness anymore? Of course not. But, instead of lost in its grip, it will now be like a quick handshake or catching a glimpse as you pass by. Now you are enveloped in the warmth of beauty rather than the dust and ashes of misery. Join me on this journey. All you need to do is buy your ticket of belief and eventually you will arrive at your destination.
What beauty have you exchanged your ashes for? Where have you seen this phenomenon in someone else’s life? Please share your stories with me below so we can encourage each other.