In Psalm 139 David says that before we were born, God knew everything about us, even the words we would say. That His Presence is with us no matter what life brings or where we go. David tended to wax eloquently and take poetic license at times. His words aren’t prefaced with “Thus saith the LORD” and are in a book that contains a lot of metaphor, so they need to be interpreted from that perspective. But God says elsewhere that David was a man after His own heart. It is certainly clear that, despite his flawed humanness, David had a deep intimate relationship with God. David’s words, rising from that place of intimate knowing, have much to teach us about God and His involvement in our lives.
As my own life unfolds, it becomes clearer and clearer to me that a Divine Hand does indeed sew the bits and pieces of our lives together with a cosmic thread. That everything is connected from start to finish and has purpose despite the seeming randomness of life’s various elements. There have been far too many precisely timed happenings in my life for them to be coincidence or chance. How all that fits into the theological picture, I don’t understand. I just know that what I’ve experienced in my life and heard from many others points clearly to a sovereign Being whose nature and name is Love.
When I was “running around” (Old Order Mennonite term for going to youth activities), at Sunday night singings I frequently chose the song “Come Ye Apart.” The poignant words, married with the beautiful tenor ending notes, thrilled my heart and ear and called to something deep within me.
“Come ye apart!” it is the Lord Who calls us,
And oh, what tenderness is in His tone!
He bids us leave the busy world behind us
And draw apart awhile with Him alone.
‘Mid restless crowds with all their noise and tumult,
No rest, no leisure, find our spirits there;
Our vision fails, our sense of life’s proportion,
Unless we seek the quiet place of prayer.
And so He calls us into desert places
Where human voices may not drown His own,
There to receive the fuller revelation
He makes to those who wait with Him alone.
It’s been a year now since I moved into this town apartment after two months of homelessness – staying with friends, housesitting, traveling. I kept my possessions limited when I moved. Clothes, the essentials, a few special items. Plants to purify the air and provide life and solace.
I wanted my life to be as simple and clutter free as possible, but aesthetically pleasing. Beauty feeds the soul. And light. Lots and lots of natural light.
I settled in to live. And write the book that I had come to Ohio to write. I thought.
Alone in a 75 unit apartment complex in an unfamiliar town, I was surrounded with strangers, all living in their own little world. Occasionally, if we happened to meet at our doors, I’d exchange polite Hi’s with the two nice college-going brothers who live next to me. Once in a while I’d chat with the talkative ex-police officer, sporting an artificial leg, who keeps watch on the complex from his blue bench. Sometimes I’d chat with some of the tenants in the laundry room or parking lot. Generally, though, everyone kept to themselves. I pretty much did too.
Life in a world of detached strangers was a huge shift from living in a close-knit community surrounded by friends and family every day. For weeks, I lived in sort of a daze, mostly just doing the next thing.
Fall led into silent white-walled winter. Frigid weeks and months circled into spring; then days and days of summer rain that puddled finally into hot dryness. A desert place of seasons.
In “Grace Disguised,” I wrote about the deep loneliness that broadsided me and my sense that God wanted to teach me something in it. How I determined to learn His lessons. The clarity of mind He gave me for the journey.
Very soon into the journey, without consciously realizing what was happening I began to withdraw from almost all human contact, both real life and online. Once in a while I talked with family and friends back home, mostly just if they called me. A few longtime close friends stayed connected via email, texting, or occasional phone calls. Sometimes I’d do stuff with local friends. But mostly I was alone, wading through the maze of learning to do a new life on my own.
It was as if God Himself drew me into a desert place where no human voices could drown His own. He knew me so well – my lifelong penchant for turning to humans instead of Him for fulfillment. To have my needs met; my ego stroked. Gently and tenderly He had me remove that crutch of my own volition without even realizing what I was doing.
At first I spent hours reading books and researching random things on the internet. Listening and learning. Always learning. Soaking my mind with information. God continually kept leading me to the very things I needed to know. It was like He had me on a specific learning trajectory. All I had to do was keep moving forward and open my mind and heart to His next lesson.
Along the way, I began to spend more and more time with God. Pouring out my heart – verbally, on paper, in tears. Sometimes simply sitting in silent wordless agony. Wrestling with deep-seated pain and grief and fears, etc. – the stuff that lives in humans’ souls everywhere. Listening in quiet surprise to the anxiety that simmered as I lay in bed. Casting my cares and fears upon Him in the dark silent watches of night.
Or sometimes noisy watches if my neighbors on the other side chose to party, as they were wont to do on random nights. I didn’t mind their noise, even in the middle of the night. It felt like a comforting blanket of sorts. Human voices meant I was not totally alone in my sea of aloneness.
Continued wakings in the middle of the night with a sense He wanted me to read a specific chapter in the Bible became precious as I listened intently for His new message for me. The messages were manna to my soul literally – they became more valuable and sustaining than sleep.
This went on for weeks. I kept opening my heart and mind to whatever He wanted me to learn.
Repeatedly He would break into this desert time with some tangible message of His love via a human. Just enough to keep me connected to people and conscious of His working in my life, yet not distract me from focusing on Him and His lessons.
Often these contacts came from totally unexpected places – eclectic Bible study groups, a note one of the college boys next door stuck in my mail slot with his phone number in case I ever needed anything, a personal prophetic message from a pastor I trusted, an impromptu prayer and counseling session with a coffeehouse pastor team, the family who gave me a standing invitation to drop by whenever and where I spent many Sunday afternoons and shared holiday meals, a job that led to a rich friendship with a mother figure, a church with great sermons week after week, a Sunday School teacher with an humble life-giving view of Scripture, friends who loved having me come hang out and drink coffee, a free plot in a community garden, out-of-the-blue sweet words of blessing from one of the elderly gardeners whom I saw once briefly, rich fun connections with other apartmentees here. Etc., etc., etc.
Repeated unexpected God-arranged human encounters to nourish and sustain me as I went about everyday life in the desert.
Slowly and quietly through the long lonely weeks and months, His love started to seep into my heart and soul. Into the very core of my being. From the safety of this love, my heart began to trust Him at a deep wordless place. I became attune to His Voice in ways I never had before. I saw His Fingerprints everywhere.
Though little was happening with the book project, God kept bringing people and situations into my life, showing His hand was over every aspect of my life. Hinting that something much bigger than just book plans was going on. Making it clear that He would never forsake me. That I could trust Him completely.
Trust was not my default mode. Often I had to intentionally allow these truths to sink into my mind and heart. I had to deliberately choose to trust in the midst of anxiety and fear. To walk into unfamiliar and difficult situations. Sometimes ones that were way outside my comfort zone. Gradually I learned to hear His Voice above my own and follow it even when pride or my own desires clamored loudly for me to do otherwise.
As I did this time and again, God continued to bless me with gifts of love and tangible proofs that I could trust His care. Bit by bit my anxious heart quietened and trust in God became the ruling force in my life. Something alive, not just a platitude. A deep peace began to pervade my body, soul, and spirit even in the midst of continued stress and uncertainty. A peace that passes all understanding and opens the soul and spirit to life.
Years ago, Jesus’ definition of eternal life in John 17:3 captured my attention: eternal life is to know the only true God and His Son, Jesus Christ.
I remember still how startlingly clear it was to me that we can experience this eternal life here and now, not just after death. A brand new thought. And exciting. I knew I didn’t know God and His Son that way, but it was clear God desired this for His children. I wanted it.
Some years back, a white-haired gentleman whom I never saw before or since leaned onto my bookstore counter and with joyful confidence declared: “I know Jesus and He knows me.” Quiet peace radiated from him. His simple profound words lived in my mind. I wanted to own them.
Now after long weeks of desert time, He is granting those desires of my heart. Knowing God the Father and His Son in Spirit and in Truth. Eternal life here and now: a living vibrant thing.
It’s not a process you can rush. It takes time to learn to know the Father as a tender Daddy who cares about every aspect of your life and whom you can trust completely. It takes time to know Jesus Christ intimately enough to let Him heal deep vulnerable wounds in the heart that are too private to share. The process has to be lived through. Prayed through. Wept through.
And sometimes it requires just waiting quietly and receiving whatever He chooses to send by whichever people He chooses to send it. Sometimes people and ways that are very uncomfortable. Sometimes people and ways delightful beyond anything I could ask or imagine. But always, always good. Without fail.
Ownership of this desert-borne reality bears a stiff price tag. Desert time and its homework are not what the human heart desires ever. We are hard wired to shrink from it. It would be strange if we didn’t.
But the revelations to be learned in desert places are unspeakably precious. Revelations of Him that are real. Meat-and-potato truths that satisfy and sustain when life is white-knuckled hard and we have no human to fully understand or even care about the hard. Revelations in life and in death. In sleepless hours. In joy and delight. Despair and grief. Heights of pleasure. Pain’s lonely depths. Long spaces of nothingness. Tender moments of love and happiness. Horrific angst. Sickness. Health. In all of these He will reveal Himself to those who seek Him. Revelations of Love and Truth that no words can express.
And in those desert places, He tenderly reveals hard truths about our own hearts too, as we are able to face them. Revelations we could not endure were the Hand that reveals them not Love itself. Gently, kindly, firmly He shows us what is and what can be, and invites us to deeper richer truths about ourselves. If we dare learn them.
They, too, are infinitely precious and life-giving.
But that is another post for another day.
“His loving kindness, oh, how good!”