Burn out

She was walking so close to the flames you couldn’t watch without holding your breath. Every step she took, embers sparked under her feet as they stumbled across the hot charred wood around the fringes of the fire.

She was carrying too much, that was clear. A pile of heavy books stacked in her boney arms, an elbow jutting awkwardly with a handbag dangling from it, precariously close to the fire, its contents of photographs and biscuits nearly spilling out onto the floor.

Her eyes were red, bloodshot from the smoke swirling around her face. Her cough rang out into the night, but she didn’t have a hand spare to cover her mouth as she gagged on the ash floating down her throat. 

The quiet buzz of a mobile phone shook her cardigan pocket. She knew it would be mum, and she knew she didn’t have the strength to answer. After a painfully long time, the buzzing ceased and the crunch crunch crackle of the hot charcoal under foot was all that could be heard again as the girl continued her course around the fire.

She shouldn’t have been that near to the heat and the flames. Anyone could see that. 

But the girl had been walking alone the night she crossed the fencing, and she had been picking up objects from the ground as she went, too distracted to notice how near the fire she was getting, too focused on meeting her goals to stop and ask for help.

And now there she was, a breath away from burning.

She was too far off to hear the voices of friends, calling her back from the edge. She picked up another academic journal from the ground, balancing it on top of her bible in the pile her weakening arms were clutching. She didn’t hear her phone buzz again, this time someone from church checking where she was for music practice. She helplessly watched a handful of photographs tumble out of her open bag and curl up into flames in the fire as she staggered on; photos of her family, her friends from home, all those faces she felt she couldn’t quite reach.

Through the smoke and tears, the girl lifted her head just enough to notice the sky had fallen black. The stars were hidden, the moon was lost, the world seemed empty, but for the crackle and spit of the fire. 

And the heat, the heat was becoming unbearable. Trying to take in oxygen just filled her lungs with smoke and hot pain. She couldn’t keep walking, her arms began to shake and give way, her footing was slipping, knees crumpling, she’d have cried for help long ago if she thought she had a voice left, as her frame began to lurch towards the body of fire she’d tried so hard to withstand... 

“Be still.”

The voice came so loud out of the darkness that despite the heat, the girl froze. Loud, and yet so intimate, so close to her own ear it was like the shout was a whisper in her head.

“Be still, and know that I am God.”

A rush of wind filled her ears, cool clean oxygen seemed to chase across the night towards the girl, wrapping her up, breathing-away the smoke, the ash, the flames, as she drank in the air. The heat was gone. The fire doused, drenched. The girls’ books, bags, her diary, her phone, the photos of the people she felt relied upon her were now suspended in the air in front of her, as if held by huge, gentle hands.

The crushing weight of expectation had lifted. The demon of deadlines had fled. The pressure of time, not having enough of it, not giving enough of it to people, seemed to have been washed away with the fire. And instead, creeping in to the young student’s mind, warming her weary body and quenching her thirsty soul, was a deep, untouchable peace. She was enough. Just as she was, who she was, was enough. Always.

“Be still, and know that I am God.”

Miriam Swanson

Global Student Mission Leader

Miriam helps equip the church for student mission internationally. She's based in the USA and hungry to see young adults follow Jesus with all of who they are. 

Partner with Miriam