Talk about a “pearl of great price”!
A Filipino fisherman this week revealed the unusual good-luck charm he’d kept hidden under his bed for ten years: a 75-pound pearl.
No, that’s not a typo – his two-foot-long, fresh-water treasure weighs as much as your average 5th-grader.
The extraordinary beauty of natural pearls comes from the way they are made. When an irritant lodges inside a mollusk, the animal protects itself by surrounding that irritant with layers of a smooth, glossy substance. This “nacre” is made of tiny crystals that align perfectly so that light reflects along one, then refracts when it hits another and splits into a softly glowing rainbow. The thinner each layer and the more layers there are, the stronger the pearl and the finer its luster: the more it gathers up light and reflects it out.
I’m reminded of something my Grandma used to say when someone hurt me: “Just draw a larger circle around them, honey.” Turn it into beauty. Envelop them with love like a mollusk wraps nacre around an intruder or uses it to dress a cut. I imagine wrapping my arms around my angry, flailing two-year-old. “Draw a larger circle, Sarah.” Pour on the love. As Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Mt 5:44-45).
Love really is the answer. And when we pour it out layer after layer, year after year, covering up those hurts with love and forgiveness, it builds beauty into our souls.
A lot has been written about how to apply this to our own lives as we learn, by God’s grace, to turn our trials to pearls.* But what happens when those pearls get exposed? That fisherman kept his mammoth treasure wrapped carefully under his bed for a decade, and it’s still a thing of great beauty. But now that it’s out in the open, it can’t just sit out on the mantel.
And indeed, here it is enclosed in what I assume is a climate-controlled case until a decision is made what to do with it:
I expect one reason fake pearls are so popular today is not only the price, but the fact that they’re easy-care. Real pearls must be pampered. Unlike diamonds and sapphires, they’re organic gems. They need air and moisture and are easily damaged. Perspiration and cosmetics, even perfume can damage or dull the delicate surface.
It seems to me that we can learn something about how we handle those irritants in our lives that we’ve already “dealt with.” Over the years I’ve strung quite a necklace together of forgiven hurts and love-covered trials. I like to look at them sometimes. They show that love triumphs. They remind me that even when hurts don’t go away, I can cooperate with God’s grace and watch them become something beautiful. But a pearl is only as beautiful as its outer layer—and I can lose all that I’ve gained by how I act today. Here are some rules for caring for real pearls that apply to us as well:
- Keep pearls free from perspiration
In other words…
Don’t “sweat” the irritation! When circumstances re-activate that hurt, don’t let it nag and worry you. Wipe off that perspiration before it does damage. Remember that “God gives more grace” (James 4:6). Go back to him for help, apply more “nacre” of love or forgiveness or blessing.
- Keep pearls free of cosmetics and perfumes
In other words…
Don’t highlight them: It’s tempting to flaunt our spiritual “successes,” to draw undue attention to them. But pride acts on our souls like chemicals on a pearl, leaving us dull and obscuring the light that otherwise would shine from within.
Don’t hide them: The opposite extreme is to cover them up. But unless there’s a good reason to do so, when we hide or bury the struggles we’ve had, even those we have won, we look fake. Nacre (love’s covering of hurts) is evidence of God’s grace in our lives that makes us “real” and relatable. It can draw others to Him and give hope.
Pearls are meant to be seen and touched.
—They must be exposed to air and moisture. Seal them up and they dry out. It’s the same thing with the evidence of healed wounds in our lives. They must constantly be exposed to the “moisture” of grace, to the continued application of love and forgiveness.
—And they are meant to be seen by others, as evidence of God’s loving care and the grace that’s available to us every day.
It’s easy to wish to get rid of those long-lasting thorns in our sides. But then I think of that fisherman’s pearl, all 75 pounds of it. Imagine how many years that clam must have spent covering up a piece of grit. Years of dealing with the same thing right led to a thing of breathtaking beauty and value.
Let not yours be the outward adorning with braiding of hair, decoration of gold, and wearing of robes, but let it be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. (1 Peter 3:3-4)
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* For example, see Arlita Winston’s teaching on “Vintage Treasures.” Arlita is a highly regarded Protestant Bible teacher and speaker who also happens to be my mother and the inspiration for much of my own teaching. We’ve given a joint retreat, “Dare to be Treasure,” on this topic.
© 2016 Sarah Christmyer