As Close As It Gets
Books That Have Shaped Me – Part Thirteen
August 1, 2012
“The Benediction Project”
15. Rose from Briar, by Amy Carmichael (Christian Literature Crusade, 1973), 200 pp. First Published 1933.
This posting brings to a close the series I have been writing on the 15 books that have most shaped me, primarily in my personal life but also in my professional life. These two spheres of life are so overlapping and entwined that I am not able to separate them very well. I trust that this series, which began with the June 30, 2011 blog posting, has been of benefit to you in your life and service for God.
The final book in the series is Rose from Briar by Amy Carmichael. The title may sound familiar to you because in the five years I have been writing this blog I have considered Carmichael’s remarkable little book twice before (April 30, 2010 and February 26, 2011).
I wrote in my posting of April 30, 2010, that this has to be one of the top five books in my entire life, from the standpoint of helping me live well. It was written over 75 years ago, but I read it only within the past several years while I was experiencing an extended, intense period of suffering. It is not an easy work to read, not only because of the tight, sometimes turgid English (British) but because of the depth—true profundity—of the author’s understanding of suffering. If I had read this book in my earlier or middle years, even though I have suffered frequent piercing headache pain all through those years, I suspect I would not have benefited from it very much. But with the chronic health trials since my heart transplant in 2003, and with the growing realization that I was getting steadily worse, not better, I developed a much deeper need and longing to be understood and guided by one who had traveled this way before me.
Amy Carmichael lived from 1867 to 1951, most of her adult life (55 years) as a missionary to the Donhavur region of South India. In 1901 she began a home for little girls who were taken and trained as dancing-girls for the Hindu temples, which meant a life of evil for them. Boys were also rescued from moral danger and taken into the home.
In 1931 Amy Carmichael had a serious fall and ended up as an invalid for the last 20 years of her life. She came to know God intimately through her sufferings, and she expresses the most helpful thoughts about physical, emotional and spiritual suffering I have ever read. Ruth Bell Graham, deceased wife of the famous evangelist Billy Graham, said, “By far the best I have found” on the subject of living with serious illness. Many books and tracts written to the ill are written by the well. This work is written to the ill by one who understands by personal experience the depths of illness. I keep this book close by my bedside.
The most powerful impact Rose from Briar has had on me (and thus has shaped me) is twofold. First, the author’s descriptions and analyses of her sufferings, both physical and (especially) mental-spiritual, are closer to those concerning my own sufferings of recent years than anything I have ever read. This is the basis for the title of this posting. I knew (and know) that someone actually understood the way I feel, and, to a person living with a serious chronic illness, this (other than immediate relief for excruciating pain) is the sufferer’s greatest need. At least in my case it has been, and continues to be. I deeply long to be understood, even though I know that no one but God can fully understand me. Carmichael “gets it,” however, and I am held captive by every page of her book.
The second way this work has impacted me flows directly from the first. Not only does the author describe and analyze her suffering (and mine) with greater depth than I have ever seen, but she offers—gently and by way of her own experiences—the most helpful thoughts about how to live with one’s sufferings. And not only live, but live triumphantly. I have no doubt that I will read Rose from Briar for the rest of my life, over and over as long as God allows me to read. I will do as I have been doing, reading one page or one brief chapter at a time, regularly but not necessarily every day, until I come to the end of the book, at which point I will start over. And so on, and so on.
I will close with one of many selections from the book that has strengthened me greatly.
“Those who have had that peculiarly piercing pain which is as though a nail were driven through the palm know how close it can draw the heart into a tender fellowship with Him whose two hands were pierced, not ‘as though,’ but in awful fact, by very nails of iron. There is a kind of solemn joy in coming in the flesh anywhere near the suffering flesh of our Lord. As a child I remember the thought of His Divinity so far overwhelmed the thought of His humanity that it was impossible to realize that He suffered being tempted. … The holy, pure and beautiful spirit of our Saviour suffered so much more than we can understand that words fall off, afraid to touch so profound a mystery; but there was also the sensitive flesh born of a woman. There cannot be a pang in our flesh that was not, and sharper far, in that sacred Body on the Tree. And so in a new way, as we newly understand even only a little more of what He bore for us, we draw near to Him.
“Sometimes in Donhavur we, who dearly love the little children about us (and the older ones too), have looked up from some engrossing work to see a child beside us, waiting quietly. And when, with a welcoming hand held out, to the Tamil ‘I have come,’ we have asked ‘For what?’ thinking, perhaps, of something to be confessed, or wanted, the answer has come back, ‘Just to love you.’ So do we come, Lord Jesus; we have no service to offer now; we do not come to ask for anything, not even for guidance. We come just to love You” (pp. 118-119).