This year has been a season of longing – longing for normalcy and longing for a return of routines, activities, and hangouts. Some of these longings are simple and easy to persevere through – longing to stand in a crowd at your favorite band’s concert, longing to go to the grocery store without being armed with Clorox wipes, or longing for the start of the college football season. Others are rooted in more sensitive and desperate parts of our hearts – longing to be surrounded by a life-giving community, longing for employment that feels meaningful and worthwhile, longing for a new relationship or healing in a current one.
In many ways, our whole lives are a series of thirsts that culminate in the ultimate thirst for Christ. The reality is, this thirst is unlikely to be fully quenched this side of heaven. With that in mind, how can we carry the very real longings of our hearts through the long journey of our lives? Sometimes I look out at the longings of my heart and see what appears to be a barren field. How can this place become fruitful? What is possibly going to change when I feel so powerless? Will I be abandoned to these longings?
Facing the reality of hope
In the Bible, barrenness has three different contexts all defined as being “of land that bears no crop.”
There are moments in my longing when I begin to see my hopes as land that bears no crop – as areas that yield disappointment and mistrust more than surrender and fruitfulness. A favorite podcast of mine poses the following question about identifying places of barrenness in our lives: Where do I feel powerless to create life and newness?
The beautiful and scary paradox of powerlessness is that in my powerlessness I have to fully rely on and hope in the One who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving. Simultaneously, I have to deal with the question: What if nothing changes? What if God doesn’t use His power to act? Does this call into question the character of the One I love and live for?
A lineage of barrenness
These thoughts take me to Genesis 17 when God establishes His covenant with Abraham. Previously, in Genesis 11:30, Abraham’s wife Sarah is described as barren, yet God intends to make a great nation from them. In a beautifully direct way, God tells Abraham, “I will make you exceedingly fertile; I will make nations of you; kings will stem from you.” God speaks into a place of what could only be hopelessness and powerlessness in Abraham’s life and says, “I am making you the father of a multitude of nations.”
You might think in response to this clear, lengthy, and specific proclamation by the everlasting God, Abraham would be completely confident and assured of God’s plans. Instead, he is overcome with shock stating “Can a child be born of a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah give birth at ninety?” (Gen. 17:17) When Sarah hears the news in Genesis 18:12, she laughs with a sort of cynicism.
Why laugh after being told one of your life’s greatest longings is going to be fulfilled with an astonishing generosity? I think this reveals a profound reality about our human condition: Like Sarah, we are terrified to believe God can and will move in the barren parts of our life. To hope with abandonment is to make ourselves completely vulnerable and open to being wounded with disappointment. Laughing with skepticism at the belief God can do the impossible in our lives is a feeble attempt to maintain power and self-protect.
God’s life giving action
In episode 18 of the aforementioned podcast, Adam Young describes the barrenness in our hearts as “the arena of God’s life-giving action.” What areas of your life do you most desperately long for God’s life-giving action? Are you willing to open yourself up by admitting powerlessness in order for the God of our rescue to enter?
A sweet reminder for me as I have wrestled and wandered through my own longings are the words in Psalm 27:
“I believe I shall see the Lord’s goodness
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord, take courage;
be stouthearted, wait for the Lord!”
In moments of disappointment in my life when the ground around me feels barren, I have come to realize one of the hardest parts is the disbelief and fear it stirs up in me that my Father has forgotten me. In the face of one of these experiences recently, I went to prayer. I expressed my confusion, frustration, and impatience. I told God of my desire to trust Him fully as a daughter but my fear that doing so would leave me more destitute. In that moment of honest dialogue with God, I heard a steady, strong, unwavering voice speak in the recesses of my heart – “I am your Dad, and I don’t miss your appointments.” God saw my fear and spoke the truth over me when I came to Him in stillness, honesty, and vulnerability.
It is because of the assurances of His words in scripture and prayer that I have the courage to wait and the grace to be stouthearted. I know being a follower of Christ and lover of God does not guarantee the fulfillment of my desires here on earth. However, I believe we are called to wrestle with hope. We are called to believe God is a gardener interested in cultivating the barren parts of our heart, and He can spring up new life, new power, new wine, and new hope in all circumstances.