“Beauty from ashes” is a familiar biblical phrase, one we see lettered on Pinterest and quickly prescribed to those in distress. I’ve always fast-forwarded past the ashes part and stared hopefully at beauty. I’ve made it a movie montage, those triumphant minutes in which the determined heroine revamps her closet, conquers her work expectations, gets to the gym, and retakes control of her life over the course of one peppy, motivational song. When the song ends, she no longer has a unibrow, her clothes are awesome, and she’s about to conquer the world. Beauty from ashes!
But life has no makeover montages. Often where we long for a soundtrack, there is silence.
I witnessed a best friend get the worst news of her life, and as her sobs rang in my ears, I thought in wide-eyed horror, “Ashes. These are ashes.”
Ashes mean that something burned to the ground. Something was destroyed beyond recognition. Something was fundamentally changed, and it changed us, and we can never be what we were again. Something dark and evil occurred. Ashes.
That day we sat in the theoretical ashes and ran our fingers through them. We covered them with our tears. We pounded them with our fists. Oh God, can you really make beauty from this?
It made me think of my least favorite verse in the Bible, one that never fails to puncture my heart: “For the thing that I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me.” (Job 3:25)
Where can beauty be found in this place of ashes, of un-resolution, of devastation?
In the margin of my Bible, near Job’s painful utterance, there’s a smeary note I once scribbled in black ink: “Is Job a love story?” It was a weird thing to write. I wrote it through tears and with naiveté, hoping that this time when I read, it’d feel more like the movies. That I’d see Job’s pain given purpose quickly, that I’d see him happy and whole again within minutes.
Instead I’d trudged through chapter after chapter of weighty and confusing lament. Life is like that. But in chapter 13, the words punctured my heart again, and I knew: Job is a love story. Property gone, children dead, and plagued by physical ailment, Job says in shaking voice, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him” (v. 15).
Don’t you hear it? This is a declaration: I will love you no matter what.
I have never heard anything more beautiful.
God does restore Job, eventually. There are more doubts to wrestle, more questions to ask, more ashes to sort through. But even there, in the ashes, a strange kind of beauty—the beauty of faith. Of a man determined to love no matter what. Of a God who is good no matter how it seems.
Dear sister in the middle of ashes: there is beauty to be found here, too. The beauty of a “no matter what” kind of faith that can only be forged in the most impossible of circumstances. Remember the greatness of the God of Job, whose words drew him to awe and humility:
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? … Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garnet and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it, and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?” (38:4, 8-11)
He is Lord over the oceans, and He is Lord over these ashes. You can trust Him while you wait for resolution. May He strengthen your faith and overwhelm you with His presence so you can love Him no matter what.
And one day, sister, these ashes will be transformed into real and lasting beauty. How do I know? Because the God of the oceans and the ashes is in the business of resurrecting dead things and restoring them to life. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).