A few weeks ago, on an early fall day, my kids and I took a walk through our neighborhood. During our stroll, we came across a flowering tree that was just beginning to lose its blooms. We stood beneath the tree and watched hundreds of bright pink blossoms surrender their hold and fall to the ground. As if standing in a pink blizzard, we witnessed the flowers come floating and dancing to the ground covering it in a soft, pastel blanket.
Lately, I have felt much like those blooms. I have felt that I am falling, or more accurately, that I am falling apart. There are days, when despite my best efforts, my failing strength gives way and I simply cannot hold on. Frustration, grief, anger, disillusionment, hopelessness, and fear all get the best of me and I am suddenly spinning out of control towards the ground. And like all of us do, I fight so hard to maintain control. Fingers clenched, knuckles white, muscles tensed, I grip the branches of this world with desperation and misplaced resolve. I struggle to remain self-sufficient and capable. But eventually, the struggle ends, my grip fails me and I find myself falling. And in those moments, in those failures, I berate myself for not holding on tighter, for not having enough strength, for losing control. And I imagine how utterly weak I must appear and wonder if God sees me as I see myself. Thankfully, I am certain that He doesn’t. As I thought about the floating blooms, I recalled that the sight of countless flowers dancing to the ground was absolutely beautiful. And I was struck with the idea that perhaps when we fall, just like the blossoms on that tree floating to earth, God sees us as beautiful. Is it possible that at the very moment we finally let go of whatever branch we are clinging to, it is in that instant that God finds us truly stunning and breathtaking? Here we are falling hopelessly apart and God calls us beautiful.
It brought to mind the first of the beatitudes. In Matthew 5: 3, Jesus declares, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” When I did some digging, as usual, the insights were profound. First of all, let’s be clear that “spirit” is referring, not to the Holy Spirit, but to our human spirit, our rational soul, or our disposition. And when I dug deeper into the Greek word for poor, it was nothing short of enlightening. The word, ptochos, is actually derived from the word ptosso, meaning “to crouch.” So put together, “poor in spirit” seems to imply a condition in which our disposition causes us to crouch. Now let me tell you that, with little exception, in my darkest and hardest moments I have found myself curled up in my bed, or huddled on the floor, or tucked up in the fetal position trying to comfort myself. I have crouched. My disparity, my mood, my disposition has brought about a physical posture. For me, that changes the impact of the verse. I have, more times than I can count, been crouched in sadness or despair. I have been poor in spirit. It strikes me that, rather than a pervasive existence, being poor in spirit is a pointed, specific condition.
And now, for the glorious promise that Jesus bestows to those who are poor in spirit. Most translations state the second part of verse 3 as saying, “for theirs is the kingdom of God.” However, in the Greek, the verse actually reads, “because of them is the kingdom of the heavens.” It’s magnificent, isn’t it? That the kingdom of heaven exists because of the poor in spirit. To think that God, in His grace, foresaw the human condition with all its heartache and decided that He must create a place where such heartache would have no quarter. And in promising such an existence, He granted such powerful hope to those of us who find ourselves, at one time or another, poor in spirit. For it is more often than not, the very guarantee of heaven’s existence that pulls us along and lifts us from our despair. As we are falling apart, the assurance that God has indeed seen our condition and limited its power is both thrilling and humbling. He will only allow so much. Our earthly anguish is just that, earthly. It is bound to this world and is allowed no passage to the heavenly kingdom. And suddenly, the realization that my spirit’s condition has produced such beauty, such grace, such richness is astonishing.
We are all falling apart at times. We are falling apart and God sees. We are falling apart and God moves. He moves so majestically that a kingdom is created. And until that kingdom comes, we will continue to fall apart periodically. And as we fall, God will call us beautiful.