As I continue to read Kathleen Norris' Amazing Grace
, I am soaking up a little bit from each chapter - each one has a sentence or paragraph that totally stands out to me and is resonating somewhere deep inside...."But they [the Israelites being led out of Egypt], as any of us might, began longing for the devil they knew, rather than face the unknown road ahead." – Norris on salvation
How often I have looked backward at what was comfortable and familiar, as opposed to looking ahead at the scary and unknown. No matter that the comfortable and familar had been outgrown or was harmful, it was simply known. And that was easier than walking into the unknown. That's where I was the summer of 2004. I had left friends, family, a great job, a great church, fulfilling ministry, single life and moved with my new husband six hours away into the desert. At first, as all journeys are, it was exciting. But then, the desert-ness of it all set in. The isolation and lonliness and eating manna day after day, not being entirely sure on some days if there would be manna the next day and not being sure if I cared. I longed for the days "before."
I'm reminded of the song Sarah Groves sings called Painting Pictures of Egypt"
"I don’t want to leave here, I don’t want to stay. It feels like pinching to me either way. The places I long for the most, Are the places where I’ve been. They are calling after me like a long lost friend...The future seems so hard And I want to go back. But the places that used to fit me, Cannot hold the things I've learned. And those roads closed off to me, While my back was turned."
After two years of walking in what seemed like circles in the desert, God had done some pretty miraculous changes on my heart. The quietness I was surrounded by helped me hear His whispers. So much so that sometimes it seemed (and at times really was true) that He was hiding His face from me. That He had become silent and I was in some waiting room. But silence and whispers have a way of getting one's attention better than all the yelling and talking in the world. Have children? Both "the look" and oh-so-quietly instructing a child as you look in their eyes does wonders for obedience. It has a way of getting their attention. God did the same with me. I had so much noise in my life before the desert that I don't know if I would have heard Him completely or well enough, had He yelled and jumped up and down. So full of my "ministries" and activities, life and myself. So He was silent and whispered at times lessons of unconditional love, patience and humility.
Moving into the desert, causes one to really feel the ugliness of who you have become and it either changes you or reduces you. Sometimes I went back and forth between being changed and being reduced. In the end, the desert experience did both. I was reduced in the sense that God became bigger than me, more mysterious than I thought possible and immeasurably faithful. That has a tendency to promote humility and oh how humility changed me.
I haven't "arrived" or anything. I have a long way to go on this spiritual journey, but there are less days when I seek the "devil" I knew and more days when I long for the adventure of the unknown.
I heard this great message one time about the silence of God. The speaker referenced Jeremiah 29:11 - you know the one:
For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)
So often we cling to that verse as a promise - and it is - but we neglect to see what is on either side of that promise. On the initial side of that promise, in verse 10, is God telling us that He will be gone for 70 years. 70 years. That's a lifetime to us these days. And I'm sure, even though they lived for two and three and five times that back then, 70 years was a long time to have God be silent and seemingly gone.
This is what the LORD says: "When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. (Jeremiah 29:10)
Hemmed in at the end of the famous 29:11 promise is a two-fold "then you will-then I will" scenario which to me, is an even greater promise than verse 11 tells because it lays out the "plans" referenced in 29:11.
First my response is required, which is initiated by the years of silence and brought on by missing God's presence:
Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me...(Jeremiah 29:12a)
And then God responds:
and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile." (Jeremiah 29:12b-14)
Here's the real promise I find in Jeremiah 29:
God will listen to my prayers.
I will find God when I seek Him with all my heart. He will be found.
He will bring me out of captivity.
He will gather me together with all those that have been banished.
He will bring me out of the exile He carried me to.
His silence will end and His presence will be made known.
I'm sure that the times of silence and waiting aren't over. I imagine that there will come other times in my life when it will seem (and maybe rightfully so) that God is hiding His face from me. But whether the silence is for 2 years or 70, I will hold onto the promises found in Jeremiah 29:12-14, knowing that He will hear my prayers and be found when I seek Him with all my heart. That He won't leave me bannished or in exile and in the desert, Life can be found even in parched ground