I have become like wineskin in the smoke, yet I have not forgotten your statutes. Psalm 119:83
A wineskin is a ancient bottle made of leather. If it got too near someone’s campfire for too long a period, it would dry out, crack, and become unusable. However, a little bit of exposure to the smoke would be a good thing because the wine would take on a distinctive smoky overtone.
Time in the valley of suffering has changed the spiritual properties of many believers for the worse. They spent so much time near the fire that, over time, their inner landscape began to deteriorate. They became brittle; their heart fractured. Those closest to them were the last to notice how radical the transformation was. It happened slowly over time. However, an acquaintance who had not seen them in some time was struck by the comparison. One glance told them that something inside had deeply changed since the last time they were together. They wore their story in their whole demeanor.
I am no stranger to the fire and its effects. Perhaps you aren’t either. Sometimes, our crises are not of the ‘overnight’ kind. They are years, even decades long. I have become acquainted with myself when under great stresses. I have seen how easily I can be broken, how prone is my soul to cynicism and hopelessness. Only God’s grace and His perspective on my suffering can save an otherwise tragic passage.
Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “Pain makes us bitter or better.” King David might say, “It makes us an unusable vessel (like a smoke damaged wineskin) or a seasoned vessel that just gets better with time.” Which one I turn out to be is not determined by some luck of the draw. Becoming better will only be because I made a daily, intentional choice to walk through my fire with a childlike spirit, trusting in God to help me, change me, and keep me tenderhearted. If any of this is to be accomplished, it is only a work of His grace and mercy.
I love the metaphor of what happens to wine in the wineskin when it has been touched by smoke. The flavor and aroma is appreciated by any connoisseur. That reminds me not to run from pain but to allow God to touch my life with its effects. I want to be one who tells myself the truth of my own story. I want to grieve the losses and celebrate the mountaintops. The spiritual wine I offer to others will have the flavor of something aged, something divine.
It’s a delicate balance, Lord. The pain of today can kill me or save me. Make me a better vessel and save me from destruction. Amen