As we explored Yellowstone National Park last summer, I was struck with how nature-y it is.
Let’s pause and let that deep, well-written sentence sink in:
Yellowstone National Park is very nature-y.
Man, I’m good.
Here’s what I mean: so much of Yellowstone is overgrown, dead, and unattractive. Sure, you have the well-maintained, easily accessible, and beautiful popular, touristy parts, but off the beaten path things are less picturesque. There are dirty parts, parts you don’t want to take pictures of. There are fallen trees no one is interested in clearing away. There are dead animals rotting under bushes. There are obstructed views and burned out sections.
It isn’t all pretty and breathtaking. Some of it is gross.
Yellowstone National Park is overwhelmingly huge. We were there four days and felt we didn’t even see ten percent of it. When I pictured going to Yellowstone, I only imagined the parts I’ve seen on TV, the parts covered in magazines and online. The pretty parts.
I was kinda shocked at how much death, destruction, and decay we found in the park.
I see a lot of myself in Yellowstone: the contradiction between beautiful and ugly, life and death. The picturesque parts where things look magical and the underbelly of gross decay and death.
In the Old Testament, because the Israelites were that contradiction too, they couldn’t come before God. They were dirty and unclean–everyone knew it–so they had to have others go to God on their behalf. They had to bathe correctly, be ritually clean, not have had their periods for so many days beforehand. They had to clean themselves up before going to God. They had people, the Levite priests, who could do their bidding for them, making it easier to bring their sacrifices, their offerings, their praises.
The good news is we don’t have to do that now. I get to come to Jesus dirty, broken, and full of decay. I don’t have to pretend it’s all perfect and happy. I can come to him hurting, dull, and dead. I don’t have to clean up the outside while I’m dying on the inside. I get to allow my outsides and insides to match. I get to say I can’t do this on my own, I need help, and He’ll jump at the chance to bring life to me.
He isn’t shocked by the mess. He isn’t confused by the decay I have under the surface. He’s been in it the whole time. He’s been waiting for me to cry out.
Yellowstone has these huge hot springs. They are beautiful to see, the way nature has created out-of-this-world colors in the middle of the wilderness. But the pictures we see don’t share the whole story. What you also get when you visit the hot springs is stench. The heat, the water, the sulfur–it’s a little overwhelming and overpowering. This visually beautiful piece of earth is actually really, really stinky. Imagine boiled rotten eggs.
So you’re walking along these wooden paths build above the hot spring, taking breathtaking pictures to show off on social media and to print for the scrapbooks while trying not to breathe too deeply. There’s beauty and there’s stench. There’s picturesque and there’s rotten death.
For so long, I tried to clean up the mess on my own. I can handle my business. I know answers. I have solutions. I have a plan. I have a list. I have a savings account.
But then things started to happen that were completely out of my control.
Things I couldn’t handle.
Other people’s messes I couldn’t contain.
Questions I didn’t have answers to.
Things not on the plan or the list.
Problems my bank account couldn’t help.
Suddenly I couldn’t keep all the pieces together, I couldn’t keep the pretty-picture facade going. There was too much death and destruction and mess seeping through. Things were starting to get stinky. People were starting to notice.
And so I stopped trying.
Surrender sounded like defeat, but now it feels like freedom.
I don’t know the answers.
I can’t contain these messes.
I don’t know how to handle this situation, my broken heart, my messy, messy life. I can’t fix the broken people around me.
I think we need to be more honest about Yellowstone. The guidebooks need to mention the horrible traffic you’ll encounter in the summer, the hours you’ll spend looking for parking, sitting in traffic jams, and trying to get into the park. They need to advise you to watch out for dead animals and tell you about all the animal poop you’ll walk through. They need to tell you about the crowds, the road construction, and the burned out sections from forest fires.
Yellowstone isn’t always pretty.
I think we need to be more honest about our lives. We need to be more vocal about the disappointments, the middle-of-the-night fears we can’t quiet. The death and destruction we’re encountering, the shit in our way. We need to talk about the detours, the blocked paths, the broken people. The ways we don’t have it all together. We need to discuss the fires raging that feel overwhelming and encompassing.
Our lives aren’t always pretty.
In the Old Testament, time and time again we read stories of destruction and rebirth. God allowing something to be destroyed, something that was causing pain and sin and distracting His people from Him. He destroyed cities, families, people groups. He took away safety and security, vineyards and armies, to show His people who He was, who they should put their trust in, why His way was better.
But He never left the destruction forever. He always allowed rebirth. He allowed new growth. He allowed better cities, stronger families, wiser people groups to spring up where only rot and ruin had been. He let fires roar and destroy, but then He made beauty from ashes.
The hard part for me (not for God, but for me) is the waiting. The waiting for the rebirth. The start of hope again. I’m sitting in the destruction, in the ash. I’m sitting in the underbrush filled with rotten leaves, animal carcasses, and lots of poop wondering where we go from here. How do you make good from this mess? What does Your good look like? How do I recalibrate again and again and again?
Yellowstone is very nature-y. Life is very messy. Both are dirty and beautiful and not what I expected.