When you leave the desert do you kick the dust from your feet? Forget what’s behind and look only toward the future?
I’d be tempted to say yes except for the view framed by my metaphorical rearview mirror.
For two years I felt myself to be living in a kind of prison. Not a harsh bread and water only kind-of-prison. More like these words from Psalm 139: “You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.”
Hemmed in by God, prevented by him from pursuing my usual pleasures, my long-held plans, I was given only God himself. Felt only his heavy hand.
Have you felt how heavy that hand can be?
God loves us, but he can weigh us down till we can hardly bear it. Till we can’t bear it.
But, if his hand is heavy, his voice speaks comfort.
I can remember reading the Bible and feeling like those Israelite wanderers. But I worried – maybe this was no desert? Maybe I just needed to learn contentment? Gratitude?
Perhaps this wasn’t a profound spiritual experience – maybe it was only my own bad attitude?
I sat in church and wondered until a young woman I hardly knew (a woman who did not know the question I was asking) turned around and spoke to me. In the brief space between worship songs she said, “I think God wants you to know that he will not leave you in the desert. This will not last forever, and he will lead you out again.”
Ever since I’ve clung to those words: “This will not last forever. He will lead me out again.”
And those words were true. He is leading me out. I know now that not all prisons are hideous.
This is what I see when I look back: something beautiful. A perfect plan. A gracious way.
And this is what I say to the One who led me there: thank you.
I’m a lover of stories. I’m a writer of stories. Increasingly, I understand my life and I understand my God through the lens of story.
There’s one story I can’t escape (though I have often wished I could leave it behind or move past my need for it): the story of the Israelites wandering in the desert. This story is tribal: it’s about those particular people, at that particular time. It’s global: refugees lost and searching for home. It can also be deeply, achingly personal.
It’s a story of living in between …
I’m honored to be telling my story here today. Will you join me?
I encourage you to explore Angie’s website Woman, In Progress. She has a great deal of wisdom to share, and I am blessed to call her friend.
Sometimes I think about the privileged ones in God’s story. The ones called out into the desert, like Abraham, Moses, even Jesus. The desert was brutal. Not a place or an experience they would have chosen.
It was also beautiful. They met angels there. They met God himself there.
There are others, too. Like Hagar. Hagar knew desolation in the desert, but it was also there that she discovered the intimacy and the peace of being seen. “You are the God who sees me,” she said. “I have now seen the One who sees me.”
To follow God into the desert is to turn your back on ordinary life. To trade comfort for something much harder and much better.
I know this, but why do I also know that I don’t want to hear that call? Shouldn’t I be willing not only to follow but to run toward the God of the desert?
I’ve had these lyrics bubbling up in my mind for days:
When we were young
We walked where we wanted to
Life was ours
And now we’re old
We go where we’re told
The Lord’s Spirit calls
Follow my road to sorrow and joy.
(from “Desert Father” by Josh Garrels)
We left Chicago two years ago to follow that singing voice into the desert. I hoped for joy, but found, mostly, sorrow.
I’m not sure I would have followed had I known.
I’m glad I didn’t know, because we never do look far enough ahead.
I would have seen loss. I would have seen loneliness, and I would have stopped looking, turned my back, and walked the other way. I’m sure of it.
I would have turned my back on the road that would carry me through the loss, through the loneliness and toward …
Another daughter. A gift and a blessing I was sure would never be mine. I was sure, and I was wrong.
Now I pray, with hope and joy, the final words of “Desert Father.” I pray them for myself. I pray them for you:
Who wait by the blue shores
To part the water
Show us a new way
The impossible dream
Through the deep and the unseen
Carry us home.