Some weeks ago I was asked to speak about “a season of my life” during a women’s brunch at church. The message was to be brief, and encouraging. I knew that I should share about the prior 7 years… a very dry and empty spiritual time from which I was only just beginning to emerge. But I didn’t know, I had no idea, how I could possibly relate this experience in a manner that might be encouraging to anyone. Because honestly, I wasn’t encouraged by it myself.
My “walk in the desert” began in 2008 with the death of my beloved nephew Jon. He was among the first of many soldiers to be undone by the effects of PTSD after returning from the Iraq war. He was only 24 and I loved him as if he was my own. His suicide, coupled with subsequent tension within my family, seemed to sever all connection between mind and soul. During those years I laughed, I cried, I celebrated, I worried, but I didn’t feel.
I didn’t feel the presence of God in my life though I knew He was real. My prayers seemed to return empty, unheard, though I knew He could hear me. The spiritual rituals to which I had been accustomed, no longer moved me, inspired me, comforted me. It was all dead to me, and I to it. The only time I felt remotely close to God was during long hours on my knees weeding my gardens. I’d pour out my heart to Him, tears watering squatters as they were yanked from the earth. Twice I heard his voice. Two times. Heavenly nuggets more precious than gold. He gave me only enough to sustain me. But He gave me enough.
And then slowly, ever so slowly, in the past year… a flicker. A twitch. A spark. Like the butterfly flutter of a gestating infant, I began to feel the Spirit move within me once again. The soul stirring as if from a long, deep sleep.
And though I was grateful to be exiting such bleak spiritual darkness, I had no idea how I might relate my journey in a manner that would be helpful to anybody.
And so I fell asleep one night, struggling to find some purpose to my path.
God speaks to us in many ways, sometimes in our dreams.
At some point during the night I woke to the salty sting of tears sliding past my temples. I was weeping. And the memory of my dream was clear, solid, as a window pane. I had been pleading with a distant God. “Where were You all those years when I sought you out? Where were you as I languished in my garden, emptying my soul?”
And that night, in that dream, God appeared. Not as a person, but as a presence. And I was swept up in His arms. Swaddled in his Love. And He spoke words to me that even today, move me to tears. Because I had been so wrong about Him. And so undeserving.
Yet He was so compassionate. He simply said,
“Susan, didn’t you know? While you were weeding, I was weeding too.”
And as I slowly drifted back to wake, clinging the edge of the glass, not wanting it to slip away, it all crystallized. Seven years of darkness crystallized. And suddenly I understood.
While I was weeding, He was weeding too.
In my sorrow, I had neglected the landscape of my soul, and allowed a lot of awful things to take root, crowding out the Good that once flourished. Suffocating the very breath of God. Muffling the sound of His voice. Leaving no room for that which I longed.
And He weeded.
For seven years He weeded. I must have been a mess.
Jesus replied, “Every plant not planted by my heavenly Father will be uprooted.”
Matthew 15:13 NLT
God uproots nations. He uproots cities. He uproots the wicked and the disobedient. That which defiles – He uproots.
So too in our souls. He weeds grief and plants joy. He weeds despair and plants hope. He weeds lies and plants truth. The God I thought had abandoned me, had instead knelt by my side and weeded. As I weeded.
Until the fertile soil lay bear, readied for new growth, good growth, His growth.
At the end of the day, when my gardening is complete, I’ve developed a little ritual. I rake up the debris, collect up the tools. Pile everything into the wheelbarrow and cart it 10 paces into the yard. And then I turn and survey the freshly groomed earth. And behold – something beautiful.
When the Lord’s work in us is complete, will he not also, from His seat on the throne, give a long approving nod to us
as he takes in what he sees.
You and I.
“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 1:6 NIV