“Who is this coming up out of the desert, leaning on her lover?” Song of Songs 8v5
Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness before anything new could begin, and it is the same for us. The desert is where the preparation happens, the hidden place of testing and of growth. Whether we feel life has forced us there or we have taken a decision to draw back from the world for a while, the place of solitude is the meeting place with God and ourselves. When everything else is stripped away we are faced with what is left, what is real, who I really am, what I really know and believe – with nothing else to lean on. All my appetities and motives are laid bare, as in the temptations Jesus faced. To quote my current favourite author, Richard Rohr, “Our patterns of control, addiction, negativity, tension, anger and fear assert themselves… the first things that show up are the wild beasts…” All my loaves turn to stone and like Him I am offered short cuts, even supernatural-sounding ones! ‘Wave this magic wand of Scripture’ and ‘twist God’s arm with this promise’ -‘take an easy way out’. But there are no easy answers to times of suffering, no logical explanations for Job’s comforters. It’s all hidden in the mystery and all we can do is submit and worship God alone. He wants us to know what is in our hearts, what we are made of, and whether we really love Him ‘more than these’ and trust His word to feed us.
For me this kind of testing of my faith proves that I have only ‘this small nugget of gold’ of which I can be really sure! I hope it is enough… it is nothing if not a humbling time. Yet God gives grace to the humble and fills the empty with good things; faith as small as a mustard seed is enough while He ploughs up my heart and prepares the way for the Lord to come.
I have been through such a desert in the last few months. Circumstances took away my usual lifestyle and brought many very hard questions, then when all my coping mechanisms were used up, exhaustion took my energy and health. God took me deeper than ever before – I was lost in the depths and thought I would never rise again. Rise to what? It’s not even ABOUT me! “I am not who you think I am. Nor am I who you need me to be. I am not even who I need myself to be. I must be ‘nothing’ in order to be open to all of reality and new reality” (Rohr again, Everything Belongs, p77).
Gratefully out of the place of emptiness I have found that I am simply His child, beloved, hidden in Christ. “I’m in a river that is bigger than I am. The foundation and the flow of that river is love. Life is not about me; it is about God, and God is about love” (p79). The desert teaches us things we cannot learn anywhere else: ‘Yes, I AM your beloved son!’ So now as energy returns, purpose and direction in a new season, if I don’t continue to lean heavily on my Lover and find rest and grace there, trusting Him as a child trusts her mother… It doesn’t bear thinking about.