“The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places,” and I can’t deny it. Psalm 16 is important to me. I return to it over and over as it explodes with themes that I struggle with — forgetting God’s benefits, doubt, looking to other things for joy and identity besides God (i.e. idolatry). I return to it to remember that indeed “the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. Surely I have a delightful inheritance.”
This morning I was studying John 20 and Mary Magdalene’s encounter with the risen Jesus outside of and in the tomb. I loved Matthew Henry’s take on it. His 17th century commentary always, across the centuries, makes Scripture fresh and accessible to me. He said, “We often perplex ourselves needlessly with imaginary difficulties, which faith would discover to us as real advantages. Many good people complain of the clouds and darkness they are under, which are the necessary methods of grace for the humbling of their souls, the mortifying of their sins, and the endearing of Christ to them.”
That got me thinking about the boundaries of my life being in pleasant places in spite of the fact that I don’t always know it. I often reminded myself, when I had to discipline my children, that it wasn’t my job to be sure they had fun each day but — instead — to raise them for long-term character, so that they could be productive adults and not just temporarily thrilled children. And that’s a good reminder today that I see circumstances in my life that might seem to be — in Henry’s language — “difficulties” when in fact they are “advantages.”
I made myself (i.e. disciplined myself to) write two columns in a notebook — one for “difficulties” and one for “advantages.” The trick was that I had to imagine potential advantages to those same difficulties. They are one and the same.
Mary Magdalene, in the passage of John 20: 1-18, was looking for a dead body. And she was crushed that it wasn’t there. Instead, behind her, was Jesus risen, saying her name. Listen to Matthew Henry again:
“Christ, in manifesting himself to those that seek him, often outdoes their expectations. Mary longs to see the dead body of Christ, and complains of the loss of that, and behold she sees him alive. Thus he does for his praying people more than they are able to ask or think.”
We often see circumstances in our lives that look intractable. And yet, they are the very means of deliverance into something better. With God, the boundary lines (insofar as they are his allowed will) are right where they should be. Which makes them pleasant. Even if we think the grass is greener elsewhere.