Desert Places

10:30 AMHeather

She ran into the desert, away from her circumstances.  Away from the ridicule and rejection.  Away from shelter and safety.  Her situation seemed so desperate that even the desert held more appeal than her home.  The rough landscape, barren and dry, reflected her thoughts and feelings about her own life.  What good could come for her?  What hope did she have?  

Her whole life had downward spiraled.  And she seemed to feel that running from it all, despite the danger, was preferable than enduring it one more day.  

Have you ever been there?  When the things you are facing overshadow your last ounce of hope and strength and you find yourself in a fight or flight response?  Running sounds appealing.  If only you could outrun the pain.  If only you could distance yourself from the circumstances.  Because the wastelands of the desert seem to be the landscapes of your life.  The heat of the sand and the dryness all around mirror your painful fiery circumstances.  Like the groaning Israelites wandering around aimlessly, griping and complaining and preferring even their captivity over the sense of hopelessness there in the desert.

After the birth of my second child, I went through a post partum depression that felt like a desert.  It's strange in hindsight.  Because there I was in what I should have considered some pretty awesome circumstances.  Two healthy boys.  A great husband.  Our first home.  Two reliable cars.  Even an adorable pet dog. And the ability to quit work for that hard year. I have to admit that even in the midst of the post-partum I knew it was illogical to feel so overcome by darkness.  What did I have to complain about?  

But, that was a very distinct desert time for me.  Some days, I struggled to function.  Thankfully, I had a couple of friends who would come to my rescue.  They would pray for me--because I honestly had days I was not on speaking terms with God.  They would invite me over or come help me.  My oldest son became well acquainted with Bob the Builder and other animated distractions.  My husband became adept at cooking dinner for us after a long day at work.  

Even there, even in that desert, I knew God saw me.  But, the weight of the emotions were still overshadowing my days.  I think I could have related quite well to Hagar.  The one who ran into the desert.  

Hagar was the servant of Sarah.  As in Abraham and Sarah.  And she followed her master's commands to help the elderly couple have a child.  She conceived Abraham's son and must have felt pleased that her obedience had the desired effects.  Except she didn't account for Sarah's jealousy and contempt.  The mistreatment was too much because Hagar ran into the desert.  

Perhaps that is where you are right now. In your own desert of grief, or pain, or loss.  In your own desert of unfulfilled dreams.  Or your first round of holidays without your loved one.  Nothing but desert in all directions.  

Except for one thing.  Genesis 16 says that Hagar was met by an angel.  There in that desert.  And the angel gave her instructions and reminded her of God's promises.  And Hagar gave this name to the Lord..."the God who sees me" (Genesis 16:13).  

And that is what I want to tell you, bloggy friend.  There in your desert.  There where God feels so incredibly distant and life just feels barren.  I want you to know that you have a God who sees you.  And if your desert feels like a return trip...because your circumstances just keep cycling into wilderness places, then I want to tell you something.

Hagar ran into the desert not once, but twice.  The first time she was pregnant and Sarah mistreated her.  So she ran.  She felt no hope of her future.  The second time, she was sent into the desert, once again because of Sarah's mistreatment.  Abraham sent Hagar and her little boy Ishmael into the desert with some food and water.  When the water ran out, Hagar just waited to die. But her pain and suffering was not hers alone this time.  And distraught over the thought of watching her son die, she placed him under a bush and moved away from him. And she began to sob.

Are your desert places dragging loved ones in with you?  Are you suffering in a season where your spouse or child or someone else you love is in pain as well?  And you are left with your body wracked with sobs.  

Please hold on.

Because not only did Hagar come to know the God who sees her, but there, that second time in the desert, she came to know the God who heard her cries.  

God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”  Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer.
Genesis 21:17-20

If you are there, in a desert wasteland, please know that you have a God who not only sees, but he hears.  And he will lift you up and take you by the hand.  He has great things in store.  Your life is not over.  He is not done revealing his faithfulness in your life.  He wants to open your eyes and let you see the water that will give you hope.  The Living Water that will quench your thirst.  

He wants you to know that he is with you, just as much as he was with Ishmael and Hagar in that desert. He's that same God.

And he wants to whisper this promise.  He wants you to take him at his word and let it be the knot at the end of your rope.  He wants you to stake all your hopes on him.

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

Isaiah 43:18-19 

He calls us to not be defined by our pasts.  He wants us to not pitch our tents in the desert but to hang on for the new thing.  That's how he does things.  He brings new things out of desert places and the wilderness.  Oh the irony that in my season of post partum it was a trip to the desert of Palm Springs with my husband that turned the tide on my depression.  God literally took me to the desert and showed me that he had new things to come.  And there, in those few days in a literal desert, I felt the cloud beginning to lift, ever so slightly. 

I've begun reading the book of Luke, and on Saturday, all of these thoughts about desert places and new things began to swirl around.  I was brought back to that very harsh and hard summer of 2001.  Because I read this:

I've long remembered the promise that nothing is impossible with God.  But I don't recall ever seeing it in context.  This verse is smack in the middle of the story about Elizabeth, a relative of Mary, who was advanced in years and faithful to God, yet she was barren.  How many tears had she cried in that desert place?  How many times had she wondered why her?  How many times did she wrestle with anger and depression because despite being faithful and even having a priestly pedigree and loyal family lineage...she had no children? She had no legacy.  She had no hope. No future.

But, she who was said to be barren was in her sixth month...for nothing is impossible with God. Luke 1:36-37

And it just all ties together the situations of Hagar running into the desert and the wilderness places where we feel we long wander.  Feeling forsaken while our faith dries up.

But God calls us back to the promises of Scripture.  He calls us back to his Word.  To see that he is the God who sees you in your desert.  And no matter how long you dwell there or how many times you find yourself there, he also hears your cries.  

And he, being bigger than all deserts, larger than all circumstances, more powerful than all any wilderness...he is doing a new thing.

Because he is a God who brings life and new things from that which is said to be barren.  It may not look like you'd imagined.  It might be a different course than you'd pictured.  The way he redeems your rocky paths and brings purpose to them may not be like you'd thought. But you can stand on the promises of Isaiah 43 and Luke 1.

He is a God who is doing a new thing.  Do you not perceive it?  He is making a way.  He is making streams in your wasteland. 

Not even death can conquer this promise of God. He brings life even from death.  Because that is who he is.  The God who resurrects our dead places and brings life from the barren.  The God who sees you and hears your cries.

The God with whom nothing is impossible.      

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