I like learning the origins of idioms. For example: “mad as a hatter.” Back in the day, hatters would use mercury to separate and cure felting from fur. The felt would go on to be used in making hats. But inhaling mercury fumes over a long period often lead to mercury poisoning, complete with neurological damage evidenced by confused speech and distorted vision. Thus, mad as a hatter.
Or “make no bones about it.” The earliest version of this idiom was the reverse: people were “making bones about it” when they wanted to raise a fuss. The idiom is probably related to soup, with the idea being that soups with bones in them were difficult and unpleasant to swallow, while soups which had been strained to remove the bones could be smoothly consumed. When someone made bones about something, he or she was indicating a difficulty with accepting or swallowing it. (Yes, I know it's a Star Trek picture...but it's "Bones" McCoy. Run with it.)
Where am I going with this?
Some of the songs we sing in church include the phrase: “Prepare the way of the Lord.” A turn of phrase brought to us by Isaiah and Psalms. I’ve always envisioned a scene like a Hollywood movie premiere: Dress up. Send for the limo. Roll out the red carpet. Make sure you have the makings of a great after-party. Etc.
But I learned that’s not the right mental picture.
In the ancient Middle East, villages prepared for a visitation from their king weeks in advance. Workmen cleared a path and built a road that would provide the simplest accessibility for the king and his entourage. This process simply included clearing a roadway, smoothing, and leveling the surface. Of course, this process was no small feat. The terrain in that part of the world was very diverse with valleys suddenly rising up into mountains. Cracks form in the mountain rocks, often spilling dangerous boulders into the valley. If the king did not find the path adequately prepared, he would bypass the village and withhold his blessing. That reaction is suited for a movie star (where’s my red carpet?!), so maybe my mental picture wasn’t all that off….
Or maybe it was. Because Isaiah includes this passage: “And it will be said: ‘Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.’ For this is what the high and lofty One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.’” (55:14-15)
Here, the king isn’t commanding for the obstacles to be removed for himself…he wants road to be nice and neat so his people can get to him.
Don’t get me wrong, we should be doing upkeep on the preverbal roads in our hearts and lives. We should present our best and roll out the red carpet. But isn’t it reassuring to know that our King is just as committed to the process? He isn’t put off by rocky roads. He’s willing to invest in the time and effort it takes to clear the way from where we are to where he is.
And if our King is willing to do this for us, we should be willing to do this for others.
Sometimes the roads connecting different relationships in our lives can be pretty banged up: earthquakes, mudslides, boulders…or just new unfamiliar terrain. Let me encourage you to do all you can to clear those paths. You may have more resources at your disposal than the person living at the other end. Don’t withhold your blessing just because you didn’t get a red carpet. Be invested. Help to clear the road. It’s what the King would do for you.
And if you feel like you’re facing a huge roadblock in your life. Look around. Maybe there’s a detour you haven’t spotted yet. And don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. Remember, removing obstacles was a decree from the top. God’s invested. He’ll work with you to clear the way.
The burden’s not just on us. We won’t miss out if we’ve done what we can and the road still isn’t smooth. Like so many things, both sides are engaged in the process. Clearing the rocky road is two-way street. (Ok, I admit it. Pun intended. No bones about it.)