Something about his life hit home to my heart. Maybe because I want to have open hands to whatever Jesus gives like He did… because I want to love Jesus like he did. And maybe because I know deep down that it won’t be easy.
Here is his story…
His name was Joseph Scriven and he lived in Ireland. His future was bright with promise… in one day he was going to marry his best friend. That evening he was headed to meet her for a few moments together before the sun went down and their beautiful day began. He was riding up to the spot they were supposed to meet when he saw men pulling a body from the nearby creek. His heart skipped a beat. As he got closer he realized he was looking down into the lifeless face of the girl he loved and planned to marry the next day. Something had scared her horse as she rode to meet him and she had been thrown from it and lost consciousness when she landed in the stream. She had drowned only moments before he had arrived.
Joseph was heartbroken. He was left alone to grieve the day he had dreamed of but never was. He couldn’t bring himself to stay in Ireland. The memories were too sharp. In the end, his travels led him to Canada where he began giving himself away for the poorest of the poor. Somehow through all of his achingly heartbreaking story he had come to lean deeply on his Friend he loved more than anything else. Instead of hardening his heart, his pain propelled him toward His Jesus. He shared the innermost pain of his broken heart with that Friend and his honesty bound them together.
Joseph traveled around Canada serving the least of these. He tutored the children of poor families and cut their wood. A man once observed how well he did his work and commented to a friend, “that looks like a sober man. I think I’ll hire him to cut wood for me.” The response from the man was simple, “that’s Joseph Scriven. He wouldn’t cut wood for you because you can afford to hire him. He only cuts wood for those who don’t have money enough to pay.” The people of the area highly regarded this man who walked with God in the most mundane chores and the deepest pain.
While he was tutoring the children of a family in the area he met the family’s niece and they fell in love. Soon after they joyfully announced their plans to get married and once again Joseph had a human companion to share his life with. His heart must have soared with gratefulness. But a few weeks before the wedding, 23 year old Elisa fell ill with pneumonia. Despite Joseph’s gentle nursing, she died two weeks before the wedding.
It’s hard to even imagine his grief. He had lost the love of his life again. His dreams lay shattered at his feet— again.
But somehow this drew him even closer to his Friend— his best Friend… the one who would never leave… the one who heard every pain in his heart. Somehow He didn’t grow bitter with anger. His hands remained open to grace in the darkest of days.
Joseph fell ill some years later, and while a friend was visiting him he happened across a poem Joseph had written for his mother several years before. He was so moved by the poem he asked him about it. Joseph said simply, “The Lord and I did it between us.”
His poem became a song. And the song became famous, reminding generations of What A Friend We Have in Jesus. All because of one man who realized how beautiful and compassionate his Jesus was and made him his best Friend and all in all…
It’s easier in this world of disappointment and ache to close our hands to grace. At least it is for me. I begin to see the clouds and raindrops and miss the rainbow in my life that come because of them. I start to see things as my right. And when a loving Hand removes them I feel cheated of what I thought was mine.
It hit me again a few nights ago as I begged God to show me how I had lost perspective... The title of a friend’s blog came to mind, and with it an instant recognition of what I had forgotten… Hands Open. Heart Full. I’d neglected the one, and without the first the second won’t come.
I reread the conversation of one of my favorite modern authors with her brother-in-law and I remember…
“Sometimes I think of that story in the Old Testament. Can’t remember what book, but you know—when God gave King Hezekiah fifteen more years of life? Because he prayed for it? But if Hezekiah had died when God first intended, Manasseh would never have been born. And what does the Bible say about Manasseh? Something to the effect that Manasseh had led the Israelites to do even more evil than all the heathen nations around Israel. Think of all the evil that would have been avoided if Hezekiah had died earlier, before Manasseh was born. I am not saying anything, either way, about anything. Just that maybe … maybe you don’t want to change the story, because you don’t know what a different ending holds. Maybe … I guess … it’s accepting there are things we simply don’t understand. But He does.”
The only way to really live full in this broken world is to be content with Jesus alone. To open up our hands and heart to whatever He offers— to Himself. To keep our hands open when He takes away our treasures because really He is our greatest treasure and we’re willing to loose anything to gain more of Him.
Christmas is often a time of gifts and expectations. But really, our expectations kill our joy. And Christmas was never about what we could get. It was all about what He could give.
When we see all the world as rightfully ours and any loss as deprivation, our perspective is warped.
But when we see every gift as a grace we don’t deserve… when every thing we receive is an unexpected blessing because we know rightfully none of it is ours… when we see every loss as a treasure because it brings us closer to our Jesus… then we see right. Then we live with hands open and our heart is filled.
When I open up my hands and heart I am opening myself up to be drawn closer to Jesus than I ever could be when I keep my fists clenched.
I'm learning to see disappointment and shattered hopes as a call to draw near to Jesus.
And when I do, I am given the greatest gift of all… the gift of friendship with Jesus. A friendship that can stand any drowned dreams, dark days, and dying plans.
He’s the Friend Scriven wrote about…. and He is greater than any gift we could ever have held in our clenched fists.
What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.
Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Are we weak and heavy laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In his arms he'll take and shield thee;
Thou wilt find a solace there.