I sat down with a friend this week with soup and chocolate chip cookies to catch up on life over the past three months. Something about winter makes for a good environment to go deeper. To say the things that seem scary and scream “too much”.
So we sat and poured out the parallels and the seemingly too hard to process. Six PM turned into 7 PM and soon it was 8:30 and both of us had cried, both of us had laughed and prefaced stories with “I know this sounds like a lot”. Both of us had told stories while looking up and to the left because sometimes it feels like too much to make eye contact when you’re telling the darkest parts of your story.
Three months is a long, LONG time. But the shortest amount of time as well. I think we could have talked for days.
Something she said brought up the song “Seasons” by Hillsong. She sat and read the lyrics out loud until she got to the one line that is probably the most breathtaking in the whole song. “Melt the ice of this wild soul, til the barren is beautiful”.
Til the barren is beautiful. “What does that look like for you,” she asked.
What does it look like to have everything stripped away so cleanly that it is literally the most raw and beautiful part of you?
I sat really quietly for a bit pondering that. And I remembered Jonah. My college group studied Jonah literally the MONTH I walked through my first ever heartbreak.
Now, I know it can be hard to see the parallels of Jonah and heartbreak if you just know the story of Jonah in the belly of the whale.
But, let me tell you what I learned that month. God was telling Jonah to go to Ninevah to preach. And Ninevah was NOT where Jonah wanted to be. He legitimately got on a boat and ran the opposite direction of Ninevah in an attempt to escape what God had planned for him. AND GOD SHOWED UP AND LET HIM GET EATEN BY A FISH. When that fish spit him out guess where Jonah went? Ninevah.
Okay that’s the backstory. But back to my point of barrenness.
Outside the city of Ninevah Jonah was defeated and tired. It was hot. While Jonah slept God made a vine sprout up to provide shade from the sun. Jonah was STOKED to say the least. But then he didn’t thank God for the vine. He basically just worshipped the vine. So God took the vine away.
I think that’s a really beautiful and hard comparison to life. Life isn’t easy, but God gives us the things we need. And because our flesh is so weak, sometimes we spend more time worshipping the vine rather than giving praise to the God who made the vine. Who saw what we needed and gave it to us.
That realization wrecked me in college and it still wrecks me to this day. Because I forget so often. Because I walk around so happy and joyful over the STUFF. The PEOPLE. The BEAUTY in life. But I often am worshipping those things more than God.
So what does barrenness look like to me? It looks like the most empty, raw, vulnerable places.
A vine-centered person falls in love with the things God gives.
I wrote those words in 2016 when I was weeping constantly over a boy who I loved more than just about anything in the whole world.
I was so vine-centered at that time. Mourning something so deeply but forgetting in those hurtful moments to run to God. Instead I just spent so much time begging in prayer for that boy to come back.
I AM vine-centered. I find so much joy in my humanness sometimes. The pretty and flashy. The manicures and the status. I forget where it comes from. WHO the good in life comes from.
I think barrenness is the place where God is begging to show you how much he wants you to let him be in control. To show you that nothing good can be produced without him.
I think it’s the hardest and most terrifying parts of life.
It’s the place where you feel the most humble and the most out of control.
For me it will always be the place where I realize that I’ve been praising the vine and not the vine-maker.
It’s the moment you have to hit your knees and ask for forgiveness. It’s the moment you realize how many people you have hurt out of selfishness and stubbornness. How many scars you’ve given from trying to steer your own story.
Barren. It’s beautiful because it’s when you get to be the closest to our God. Because he has so carefully and mathematically calculated how to speak to your deepest heart. To wake you up and show you that you absolutely will wreck yourself alone.
He’s been attempting to wake me up a bit. In a very calculated manner. Looking back at the past few weeks… he’s been begging.
Reminding me that a pretty night at the symphony won’t make my heart feel better. Showing me that no amount of clothes in my closet will ever make me feel whole. Proving that even the sweetest love from a boy can’t fix me. Temporary joy didn’t save my soul.
Vine-centered. Something I so easily default to whenever I get wrapped up in what I think I should have. Looking to the right and to the left instead of looking up.
I think it’s terrifying to wake up from something like that. But it is also so sweet to see yet again how He has been chasing you.
I suddenly have this picture in my head of a little girl with skinned up knees and a tear-stained face. Her Dad is standing over her thinking “I told you not to run. I told you you’d trip”. But he isn’t mad. He’s scooping his little girl up and hugging her so tight saying “I am sorry you’re hurting. Let me help make it better” and carrying her home.
That is really what I feel like right now. I inflicted pain upon myself. And He had to show me that. But he’s carrying me through the process of healing. Carrying me home, always. Showing me the places and the words to say to walk back in His will.
I had to apologize for some awful things I’ve done. I had to start a conversation with the words “I’m coming in real humble this morning”. And then admit that I had been an awful person. Manipulating things so that they would look like what I thought I needed.
I had to walk straight up and look a friend in the eyes and tell her I am really sorry for something I did months ago but tried to stuff down.
It is a hard concept to grasp. To understand that there is absolutely no fruitful production without him. There just isn’t anything we can walk through with control.
And if we forget where the good comes from, then there just won’t be anything good anymore. If we manipulate our own stories, looking for ways to keep control, we will fail miserably.
But when we walk with Him there isn’t any need for control.
He’s opening only the right doors. Healing wounds and producing only the things that give life.
Barrenness for me is the place where God is speaking and showing me exactly who He is. He’s stripped away layers of things I thought I needed and is looking me in the eyes…gesturing to the mess I made and saying “all of this….it wasn’t ever any yours to carry. It just isn’t.”