Follow the Thread

In his book, King’s Cross, Tim Keller describes a scene from George McDonald’s novel, The Princess and the Goblin. Our family has enjoyed reading McDonald’s novels over the years, so it was fun to come across this description while reading Keller.

In McDonald’s novels about Princess Irene (The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie), Irene discovers her magical grandmother in one of the attics of her castle. Because Irene’s grandmother does not always appear in the enchanted attic, the princess is delighted when she discovers her there, speaking in her silvery voice and spinning her magic thread.

One day Irene’s grandmother shows Irene how to find her if she is ever in danger. She gives the girl a ring which is attached to an invisible thread. When danger threatens, Irene should put the ring under her pillow, take hold of the thread, and follow wherever it leads.

The Princess and the Goblin

Soon after, the princess wakes up frightened, hearing strange noises. She remembers her grandmother’s instructions and follows them. Though she cannot see the thread, feeling for it she takes it in her fingers and follows it. To Irene’s dismay, the magic thread leads her straight into the goblins’ cave where she meets a dead end at a stone wall.

Thinking she cannot go any further, the princess tries to follow the thread back out of the cave, but she can’t. The thread isn’t there. She can only feel it if she is going forward. She realizes she must go through the stone wall, so she painfully perseveres in ripping away each stone, one by one.

To her astonishment, Irene discovers her good friend, Curdie, behind the wall where the goblins are holding him captive. She frees her friend, but then determinedly continues to follow the invisible thread deeper into the cave. “I must follow my thread,” she tells Curdie, “whatever I do.” Though she is in a terrifying place, she trusts that her grandmother is holding the other end, and there she will be safe.

I have felt like little Irene many times in my life as I have tried to follow Jesus. The walk of faith often feels like taking an invisible thread between my fingers and following it along, inch by inch. And sometimes, like Irene, I have ended up in scary places. Places that feel so much like a dead end that I want to turn around and retrace my steps, quickly, but I can’t. I have to go forward, bloody fingers and all.

Right now I find myself in a “goblin cave” on our journey toward a second adoption. We’ve been inching our way along the thread, only to find ourselves in a scary, unfamiliar place. When we adopted Wesley, we used Bethany Christian Services, a wonderful adoption agency that protected us from a lot of the frightening risk that goes along with the adoption process. This time, however, the “thread” seems to be leading toward the state foster care system, which is neither Christian nor particularly protecting of adopting families.

As I sit in this cave, staring down dark, eerie tunnels, I want to retrace my steps and run back to the places where I have felt safer. But I sense that, like Irene, I can’t. We’ve got to go forward. We must follow the thread. We might have to tear down stone walls and our fingers may rip and bleed. But as we pull away the stones, we might just help set somebody free.

The cave reminds me that Jesus followed the thread, too. He allowed the thread to lead him out of light and safety into darkness and danger. Though he may have wanted to retrace his steps more than once and return to the safety he had known, he didn’t. Instead, he tore down the stones that held me captive, one by one, until I was free, bloodying his hands in the process. He trusted God, his Father, to hold tightly to the other end of the thread and embrace him in the end.

I know that I must do the same. The same Spirit that led Jesus through his cave and beyond lives in me. He will enable me to inch along my thread, following Jesus. I will remember the joy of being set free, and so persevere in tearing down the stones for someone else. If I bleed, I will remember Jesus’ blood, shed for me, making a way for me to fall into the embrace of the Father. I will hold on to that hope: that he is holding the other end of the thread and that is where my safety lies.

The princess and her father


  1. Mmm, such beautiful imagery. How often have I wished to retrace my steps only to find the thread isn’t there. It’s a trying and lovely thing to know we must keep inching forward. So grateful for the Spirit inside me. And grateful for the Father at the other end whom one day I will get to embrace…

  2. Love this reminder of the Wonderful Cross. Thank you, Lindsay, for sharing how you are preaching the Gospel to yourself daily! Love you.

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