1 Reason Why Life Has More Thorns than Roses – God’s Idea of a Hot Date

Scary Deserts
The first time I traveled to the desert I was terrified. Scorpions live in the desert. Poisonous snakes live in the desert. The desert is thirsty. Everything that grows there has thorns.

Big Bend National park photo BigBendNationalpark.jpg

The highlight as “Fitz”, our teacher, chose to describe it, was a solo. Each student was taken to an isolated spot and deposited there with strict instructions not to move. With a promise to collect us again in 24 hours, the adults walked away. I had only a canteen of water, a sleeping bag, a journal, and (a concession to wimpy kids like me who could not go without food), a ziplock bag of gorp. I was certain the adults would return to find only my empty carcass. I pictured vultures, like the ones in Disney’s Jungle Book movie, bald with wrinkly necks, picking my bones clean before resuming a pointless discussion about what they should do next.
Soul Deserts
There are deserts of the soul that are every bit as desolate as the Big Bend Chihuahuan desert. After my marriage began to unravel, my soul was forced into a solo in such a desert. I felt indignant, cheated. “God I did everything right! How could you let this happen?”
I flipped through my Bible seeking answers. My eyes fell on Isaiah 54:6. “For the Lord has called you like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God.” I recognized myself in the verses immediately. I looked one verse up, “For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name…”  The words were originally directed to the ancient nation of Israel. Could they also have been meant for me? In the New Testament the church is the bride of Christ, and I am part of the church. I decided the intended audience for those words included me. It was good to know that I wasn’t as alone as I felt.
I Wish God Had Skin
I meditated on the verses for a while, chewing on them the way a cow chews cud, but the comfort wouldn’t move from my head to my heart. I didn’t really want comfort in the desert. I was trying to thumb a ride on the first camel out of the desert. I wanted my perfect little world back. It was all an illusionary perfection of course, but it was my illusion, and I liked it a lot. Besides, I had practical questions. Questions I was too embarrassed to ask even my closest friends. Questions like, OK Lord, you are my husband, but you don’t have skin. What happens when I need a husband with skin on? For example, I need sex. What about sex? My heavenly husband didn’t answer.
A friend directed me to Hosea 3:14 “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor (trouble) a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt. And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband’ ….”
God Woos
The multiple ties between the two passages were obvious, but one part startled me. God allured her into the wilderness.
In my mind, I can’t quite separate the word “allure” from the word “lure”. It brings to my mind the memory of the huge trap the Department of Wildlife used to relocate a bear from our area when I was growing up. The trap was a big cage that was baited. I pictured a bloody hunk of meat hanging in the back of the trap. The meat lured the bear in. The door slammed shut behind her. She was relocated to a remote wilderness area. As if I were the bear, I could almost hear the door slam shut behind me, and the whir, of the helicopter blades cutting the air over my head as God flew me to this remote wilderness and dumped me.
What Do I Really Want?
During my 24 hour solo years earlier, I cheated, just a smidgeon. I climbed the hill to see that my classmates were scattered nearby, well within shouting distance. Comforted, that someone would hear my screams when they began, I settled down a bit. The minutes out there seemed twice as long as normal minutes, as unnaturally overgrown as the insects. Gradually, as my fear subsided, I began to perceive something I never expected, beauty in the stark landscape. After dark fell I stared in awe at the brilliance of the Milky Way in the unpolluted sky. I opened myself to the extravagant abstract art of the sunrise, and the subtle painting of dusky earth tones that made up the landscape. I learned to hear the music of the silence, the skittering of sand along the surface of the ground, the song of those enormous insects. The desert became to me a giant who wooed me patiently. Before the 24 hour solo was over I wrote a love poem to my desert giant.
It took longer than 24 hours for me to appreciate my relational desert the same way I learned to see the Big Bend desert. One night I went outside, planted my bottom on a rock, crossed my arms, and demanded answers of God. “Where God? Where are the vineyards in this desolate valley? Why can’t I hear you if you are speaking tenderly to me?” I told Him I was not going to budge from that rock until He explained to me why He would allow me to suffer calamity worse than my worst nightmares. Though He did not cause it, the sovereign God could have prevailed against the evil that was ripping my world apart. The day ended, night came, the rock I was sitting on got very hard, and God did not explain himself to me. Something important did happen out on that rock though. Like the stars, present all day, but invisible to me until after dark, I began to know that I was not alone out there on the rock. God didn’t dump me in the wilderness. He traveled there beside me. I didn’t realize it then, but a seismic shift was beginning. I was seeking God instead of only seeking his blessings.
Over months and years, gradually, I began to see. There was something even more important to God than for me to enjoy a happy marriage. He wanted me, not my pride. He wanted me to love him, instead of worshipping the idols of safety and security.
Door of Hope
I have sojourned in deserts many times since that first foray years ago. Each time I am airlifted into a time of purgation I resist. I cry. I rage. I search for quick ways to grab back whatever God has stolen away. Then, eventually, when I am exhausted, I settle down in the gathering darkness and grow quiet. The fullness of the silence envelopes me. In time I grow quiet enough to hear God speaking tenderly to me.
I don’t think God allows pain gleefully. He hurts when we hurt. He catches all of our tears in a bottle. So why does a good God allow times of injustice or loss? I still don’t have an adequate answer to that question. I do know that without the losses I’ve suffered I would have been too encumbered with blessings to know him intimately. He has to strip me of the things I cling to instead of clinging to him. He allows me to be removed from my emotional hermitages, so that he can woo me again. Only then can I discover the one thing I truly need. My valley of trouble becomes a door of hope.
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