The Chains We Show and The Chains You Cannot See

He was handsome, with dark black skin, a proud erect stance and a muscular build. I hadn’t seen him before but I was fairly new so perhaps he was a regular. He moved quickly across the yard and took his place in line. It was Friday morning and I was serving breakfast to our local homeless community.

He was younger than the average man there and taller by several inches. But the thing that made him stand out was what he wore. Draped around his neck was a thick chain.

No, that’s not it. That picture you have in your mind – a thick gold chain, a piece of jewelry – that’s not it. He wore an actual chain.

No. You’re still not picturing it right. It wasn’t like a bike chain or a dog chain, it was more like this.

chain-690088_1920

The chain he wore around his neck was a heavy, steel chain – dark gray like thunderclouds – the kind of chain you would expect to see in a shipyard, tied to a piece of equipment or lifting a crate to the deck of a ship.

It weighed several pounds. It was at least three feet long and each link was two inches – but in spite of it’s weight, the young man stood straight and tall. The burden of it made no impact on his posture.  He had that chain draped around his neck and hanging down his chest as casually as a winter scarf.

As he moved up the line, I felt it and it was clear the other men felt it too. The tension in his body crackled in the air around him, electric like a gathering storm. Inadvertently, the men in front of and behind him moved a few inches, giving him a wide berth.

Finally, he stood before me. I looked up into his handsome face, smiled and greeted him. He stared back at me with blank eyes as dark as a winter night, without a flicker of light or warmth.

He didn’t respond to my greeting but simply took his food and walked away.

I finished serving breakfast, completed my morning tasks at the kitchen and went home, but I couldn’t get this young man out of my mind.

That chain. He was literally wearing his chain. He had surrendered to the burden that life dealt him so completely that he wore it, like a millstone, for the world to see.

How weary he must be, shouldering that every day, I thought. I sat down on the sofa, imagining the weight on my own shoulders, and prayed for peace for his soul.

That’s when it struck me. We all have chains. Some of us show our pain on the outside, sending signals to the world through our faces, our clothing, our scars, a tattoo and even a chain. There’s a scar that runs the length of my husband’s chest – the result of his open heart surgery. It’s a constant reminder to us of his brush with death.

Most of us, however, wear our chains on the inside. Our scars are hidden there where nobody but God can see.

We wear masks to hide the pain. Paste on smiles to disguise our scars. Laugh and nod to one another while hiding the burden of our chains.

I have borne my own chains. The chains of my sin. The burden of my past. The heavy weight of regret and pain. These chains shackled my spirit with fear. I was helpless to remove them on my own. But then this.

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Oh, how the tender words of Jesus ministered to my heart, like an ointment to my sin-sick soul. When I fully surrendered my sin and my pain to Jesus, he removed the chains that were binding me and set me free to love fully and accept his forgiveness completely.

I don’t have to bear the burden of my sin. You don’t have to bear the weight of your shame.

Surely He has borne our griefs

And carried our sorrows;

Yet we esteemed Him stricken,

Smitten by God, and afflicted.

But He was wounded for our transgressions,

He was bruised for our iniquities;

The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,

And by His stripes we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;

We have turned, every one, to his own way;

And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:4-6