Monday, March 15, 2010

Wandering in the desert

For in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water. Isaiah 35:6-7 KJV

Having grown up in the beautiful Arizona desert, and living as an adult in an arid climate, I am quite conscious of where to find the air conditioning vents in a building, and how to arrange my garden to be water-wise. Many of my annual flowers and garden vegetables are planted in hanging pots or in large containers with wheels, so they can be moved to sun or shade according to season, allowing the plants to become perennials or to prolong their seasons.

Fresh water is precious to all life, and in many regions of the world, is scarce. Since time immemorial, battles have been fought over water and its potential to sustain life, refresh the thirsty, irrigate crops, carry boats and ships, cleanse, and provide recreation and refreshment. Some cultures worshiped gods of wells, rivers and lakes. Even carrying or storing water and generating energy by its movement is a major part of life—and strife—in the 21st century. Civilizations are displaced by drought and by wars over arable land.

The joyful song in Isaiah 35 follows a story of the destruction of the wicked, and the barrenness and desolation of the Judean desert abandoned to wild animals. After their conquest and kidnapping by foreigners, the Lord brings his children home from captivity—ironically, their exile was in Babylon, which we know today as a featureless wasteland.

Finding a stream in the desert is finding a miracle. Flowing water only happens after a thunderstorm, or when snows melt at high elevation. Springs of water reaching the surface are even more rare. Usually the water evaporates a short distance from the source, or permeates the sand and soil to join an underground stream or aquifer.

I return to this scripture, Isaiah 35, several times a month because its contrast between barrenness and fulfillment speaks to my heart. I’ve experienced the desert in both seasons. I’ve been the desert in drought. I’m the dry, thirsty sand, waiting for rain to not only soak in, but fill me up so I can burst into bloom and be a source of even more love.

Every day and night since I was a child, I’ve prayed for the one desire of my life: to be loved by one man, and to love in return. The desire of my heart is to be loved unconditionally. But that hasn’t been given to me yet. The love of friends and family, which I enjoy in abundance, is not the same thing. God gave me a promise years ago that I’d be delighted in, sought after, considered beautiful, and that I’d be married. I believe he means in this life; but as the years pass, some of my friends say that maybe God means that he will be my husband. That is not comforting at all. I need arms to hold me, and lips to kiss me, and a chest on which to rest my head. I need to be comfort and encouragement, a delight to his heart and a jewel to be proud of.

“Look in the scroll of the LORD and read: None of these will be missing, not one will lack her mate. For it is his mouth that has given the order, and his Spirit will gather them together.” Isaiah 34:16 NIV Even the wild animals have their place in the order of creation, and they have their mates and raise their young.

A dear friend suggested that all the loves in this life are a raindrop compared to the ocean of eternity (another water metaphor), and if love didn’t come to me in this lifetime, it would happen in God’s kingdom. But I can’t be satisfied with a hope that someday, in heaven, true love will come to me. Some believe there will be no marriage in heaven. But my 50 years of life are all the eternity I know. It’s my whole life until now. All I’ve known is to love but not be loved in return. My heart physically aches when I think about loving because it’s squeezing itself dry, and there’s nothing coming in.

I can’t bear the thought of living another 35 years to die unloved and unfulfilled in that way, then wake to eternity as a genderless spirit full of agapĂ© love for everyone. I can barely cope with the thought of weeks or months of comfortless existence. If scriptures are not to be taken personally, here and now, then why give us promises and hope at all? Why give the gift of loving, but not also the gift of receiving love? Why create the need for emotional and sexual love but not the ability to express it in a way acceptable to God? But for many years I have single-mindedly asked for love, and my heart is still empty. It’s been starved.

One argument put forth by Christians is that this is a sinful world, not intended by the Creator to be anything other than blissful, but that sin and its consequences have destroyed and mutated the plan of abundant living. But if we stop right there and are satisfied with that answer, then we negate Christ’s victory on the cross, and that he took our infirmities and punishment upon himself so that we could have his peace, his power, his health, his strength. We surrender the dunamis (dynamite) power that he has given us to do miracles in his name. And we give in to the notion that we, the redeemed, are martyred and persecuted and we have to live a dreary existence, hiding in caves until Jesus comes. No! We are crowned with victory and have been given the title deed to the kingdom of God.

We know from many scriptures that God will supply all our needs because he loves us; that he won’t provide a scorpion when we ask for breakfast, or a stone when we ask for a sandwich; that we can call him Daddy (“Abba”) and cast every care on him; and that we have full access to our inheritance and God’s presence because of Jesus’ sacrifice.

He not only gives us what we need, but what we “wish,” (John 15:7-8), and the “desires of our heart” (Psalm 37:4-6). It’s not the good works we do or the bad things we refrain from that determine God’s providence: it’s his love for us and his desire to make us whole and restored. I don’t believe that every prayer request has to be about enlarging the kingdom of God. He wants us to know from whom all blessings flow, and he delights to give us gifts.

It’s been said that nothing attracts love like being loving. But expressing love to some people will send them running because they were willing to settle for mere affection with no obligation. Others, even Christians, substitute instant-attraction physical intimacy for real love which takes time to grow, and call it “being in a relationship.” And they wonder why they get burned or why God doesn’t seem to bless them.

So I stand out in the desert, looking for that towering thundercloud to bring cool, sweet, blessed rain. Turn me, Lord, from a pit of dry sand into a wetlands of abundance. Instead of greedily soaking up any drop of rain that falls, send so much rain that I will be the bubbling spring of life-giving water.

“For true love is inexhaustible; the more you give, the more you have. And if you go to draw at the true fountainhead, the more water you draw, the more abundant is its flow.” ~Antoine De Saint-Exupery, 1900-1944, French writer.

Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow. Isaiah 35:6,7 NIV

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