From Threat to Treasure
Nacre (/’neiker/NAY-ker/naekre/NAK-re) also known as mother-of-pearl, is an organic-inorganic composite material produced by some mollusks; an inner shell layer, it is also the material of which pearls are composed. It is strong, resilient, and iridescent.
When something enters uninvited into a mollusk, or oyster shell it has often, poetically, been believed to be a “grain of sand,” the truth is that the mollusk is usually responding to a parasite. It is responding o something that may cause sickness or even death. The beauty lies in what the mollusk, or oyster, does with that “irritant.” It takes that “intruder,” and begins to cover it with “nacre,” a substance that layer upon layer will turn it into a pearl. In fresh water a pearl may form in 1 to 6 years. In salt water it may take 5 to 20 years.
The oyster seals the “threat,’ – this “uninvited stranger”- in what we know as “mother of pearl.” This lustrous material builds up over time and becomes beautiful in our eyes. The pearl that is formed from the threat, becomes a treasure. How is that? I am certainly not the first to reflect on this paradox and I will not be the last. But what can we learn?
What is it that we can do to “layer’, or “cover,” the difficulties that come into our lives? What responsibility do we have to do our part in turning the “threat,” into a treasure? The suffering that comes into our life – can it be fundamentally changed? Not just in the way we perceive it, but in the way we move through it and begin to live with it. Suffering changes us. Some of us are changed for the better, some are changed for the worse. But we are all changed.
Difficulties in life don’t usually create something new in us – more likely, they reveal what has been there all along. Difficulties mostly just lay us bare. As Amy Carmichael, missionary to India, reminds us: “A cup brimful of sweetness cannot spill even one drop of bitter water, no matter how suddenly jarred.” We are not like the mollusk, creating something beautiful out of the raw material of our bodies. We must have help to do this. Because, really, none of us are “brimful of sweetness.” And life provides the jarring to reveal what is inside on a regular basis.
I have recently witnessed friends nearby in their response to an EF-4 tornado ripping their neighborhood to shreds. They have lost friends and family. Death has come to their doors. Unimaginable loss. The “intruder” has come into their lives. How will they process this? How will they “cover” this unthinkable loss? How will they “re-cover” their lives when so much is changed, lost, ripped from their grasp? Only time will tell. Several whom I have met are already picking up the pieces in beautiful ways. They are serving their community with grace and beauty. They are “re-covering” the tornado with peace and love. Others are coming in and “layering” this community with hope and care. It has been beautiful to behold. Maybe we have more in common with the oyster than we thought.
The oyster and the pearl have always fascinated me – The oyster, rough and mostly unattractive on the outside; the pearl, a lustrous and luminous surface reflecting light and absorbing it at the same time... The lesson of the pair – creating something beautiful from an intrusion, a negativity, an irritant, something that may even be a threat to life.
I find it stunning that when believers enter heaven it will be through gates formed of single pearls. Revelation 21:21 states it plainly: “And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the gates was a single pearl…” God does nothing by accident. He is purposeful in His every move. What do these giant pearls mean? For they are full of meaning for us for then, and for now. It is something to ponder.
How will I respond to the intrusions on my peace?
How will I cover the pain?
How will I layer with goodness the suffering that comes to me?
How I will I find a way to change the ashes to beauty?
I will need help. That is a given. What I learn from the oyster is that I must be changed from the inside out. Only then can a treasure come forth, only then will the threat be quelled, only then will I re-cover.
It is why we need a Savior. It is why He has given us the Body of believers. It is why we will one day enter heaven through a symbol of the greatest suffering ever known to man – The “Pearl of great price” is the gospel. It is a pearl because it was the wounding and death of the only perfect man that ever lived. And he “re-covered” in a resurrected body – the most luminous and iridescent life that ever lived – Jesus – Savior of the world. And gates of pearl will forever be a reminder that life will triumph over death, because Christ triumphed.
“Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised imperishable, an we will be changed…For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death where is your victory? O death where is your sting?’ The sting of death id sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” I Corinthians 15:51-57
In this month of May when I am learning to let go – today I let go of the idea that I can do it on my own.
Beside the Fire,