Would You plant a garden in this wasteland?
This has been my prayer for a long time. I actually stole these words from a song by Brogan Gaskill, called Elijah. I thought these lyrics were especially beautiful and they resonated deeply with me, so I turned them into my prayer.
Truth be told I didn’t want to write about this. It feels too vulnerable, like my heart is just a little bit too much out there on the table. But I read somewhere recently that you should own your pain and not be ashamed of it, so I’m trying to work on that. And also the main reason why I write is because it brings encouragement and joy to my own heart, and because maybe someone who reads my writing could find those things, too. Maybe my vulnerability could make someone feel a little bit less alone. Maybe it could help them love Jesus more. And for that, it’s all worth it. So here we go.
I can look at my life and see the Lord’s hand in almost every single corner of it, working and growing and restoring and convicting. I’ve seen Him move in powerful ways in every aspect of my job in ministry, through my friendships, my coworkers, my family, my church, my roommates, my community group, through strangers, in all my weaknesses, and in the mundanity of the every day. I’ve seen Him in almost every single corner and I’ve marveled at it. But there’s this giant, vacant hole right in the middle, that at first glance you might think the Lord just forgot about. Admittedly, I’ve wondered a few times if maybe He has. It’s this one area of my life that no matter how much I pray over, it remains seemingly untouched by the Lord’s hand. Most days it feels like an ache in my heart. And sometimes the Lord gives me rest or more faith and the ache begins to cease, but it never fully goes away. Believe me, I’ve tried everything.
So what’s the ache? It’s called unfulfilled longing. It’s called hope deferred. It’s called waiting. It’s called laying my deepest dreams and desires down at Jesus’ feet, unsure if He will ever fulfill them but desperately hoping and praying that He will.
When I was little I always dreamt really big. For a little while I wanted to be the first woman president, then I wanted to save all of the puppies from the puppy mill, but mostly I wanted to play soccer at UNC Chapel Hill and be the next Mia Hamm. She was the best women’s soccer player in the world, so obviously that was the goal. It was fun to dream big because when you’re young you think you can do anything. You think the world really is your oyster and you can do or be anything you want. It was never a question of whether or not I’d be good enough to play at UNC, that was just the plan. But now that I’m older, my dreams have become a lot more realistic and a lot less shiny. I have various dreams and desires for my future but the biggest and deepest one is simply to get married and to have a child of my own, or maybe four… I want to experience what it’s like to love a man who loves Jesus and to be loved by him in return. And I want to have a big family full of babies of our own along with foster children we welcome in and love on and care for for however long they need us to. I want to buy a house with my husband and make every room in it look beautiful. I want to invite the neighbors over for dinner and practice radical hospitality for the sake of the gospel. I want all of it. And it’s the very thing I feel I was created to do, yet I stand in this middle ground, not knowing if Jesus will ask me to lay down these dreams forever, or just for a little bit longer. And it’s funny, because I never really had expectations for marriage or for any of it growing up. I remember always being excited to be a mom, but I was never the girl making the Pinterest board for her wedding. Honestly I was always too busy trying to be Mia Hamm. I guess I thought marriage would just happen. So now that I’m here, it feels confusing, like “oh, this isn’t something that’s just guaranteed for everyone? I thought it was just part of being human?” I never considered the possibility of it just not being in the cards. Or if one day it is in the cards, I didn’t expect the journey to get there to be so hard and painful and disappointing.
I look back on this area of my life over the years and all I see is pain and brokenness and disappointment and emptiness and the ache of unfulfilled longing. God, do You see me? God, do You hear my prayers? Do You hear me begging You to somehow make this mess into something beautiful? God, would You plant a garden in this wasteland?
You look around and start to see Him giving these gifts to everyone else. And you rejoice with your friends because you really are happy for them, but along with it comes the temptation of fear, anxiety, and sadness. Have you ever felt like this? Have you ever found yourself feeling stuck and confused, telling God that you didn’t agree to this. This isn’t what you wanted, this isn’t how you thought life would be, and this weight feels a little bit too heavy to carry every day. Do you ever find yourself here? What do you do with that? What do you do when you’re disappointed in how life is turning out, but yet have zero control or say in the matter? What do you do with a God who created you with these desires and calls them good, but who chooses not to fulfill them?
When it comes to this question, I am Jacob the God Wrestler. My heart breaks for the couple who’s been trying for years and still can’t conceive. Or for the person who longs to be married but the prayer continues to be answered with “wait,” or maybe even “no.” And of course I’ve felt the pain of it myself. For too long I held resentment towards the Lord in my heart because I simply did not understand. I struggled to believe that He cared about the desires of my heart, and that He was for me. It felt like He was withholding a good thing. Sometimes I thought maybe my prayers were just bouncing off the sky, which felt like a better explanation than knowing He was receiving them and just choosing to remain silent on the other end.
All of these questions took me on a deep dive in learning what I really believed about prayer and about God and suffering. I started a prayer closet where I wrote down prayer requests on sticky notes and I’d keep track of the ones that were answered, because I desperately needed to know that God was still moving in other areas of my life, or at least in other peoples’ lives. I kept a note on my mirror above my dresser that read, “God is madly in love with you.” Back to the basics. It’s both an elementary and a revolutionary truth, but one that, for a little while, I struggled to actually believe. I started a “what gift did the Lord give to me today” journal because I needed to believe that He is a good Father who loves to give good gifts to His children.
But even as I was in the thick of this, wrestling and fighting to believe in the Lord’s kindness again, my heart knew that He was doing something good. The temptation was to give into cynicism, distraction, and to harden my heart, but I knew He had something more for me. I asked Him to show me the blessing, I asked Him to draw near, to give me a new song, to let me in on what He was doing, and to help me to fall in love with Him again.
I’ve spent years with this same unanswered prayer that’s felt like a brick wall that’s utterly impossible to move. And I spent several months wrestling pretty deeply with the Lord over it. But you can only wrestle with Him for so long until it simply comes down to a choice. Will I trust Him or not? Will I believe that He is good or will I not? Do I really want to wait on what He has for me, or do I just settle? Is He worth it? Is He worth following if a wasteland is where He led me?
“Is He worth following if a wasteland is where He led me?” As I type these words out, I realize that this is the story of God’s people. I think about the Israelites after He led them out of Egypt and into the wilderness for forty years. I think about Abraham and Sarah and how the Lord promised that Abraham would be the “father of many nations…” but then how He left them waiting for twenty-five years. I think about Hannah with her barren womb and how she was praying and pouring her heart out at God’s feet for a child for nineteen years. I think about Joseph and all of the dreams God put in His heart, and how they didn’t come to fruition for thirteen years. But mostly I think about Jesus’ death on the cross and how we always want to skip right to Easter, right to the happy ending, but how there’s those three dark days in between. And I think that maybe the Lord does His deepest and most beautiful work in those in between days, and I think that’s why in every story in the Bible, when the prayer is finally answered, it’s so incredibly glorious.
Ultimately, I do believe that the Lord placed those dreams in my heart and I believe He will answer my prayer, in due time. I believe He will plant a garden in this wasteland, and I imagine it will be full of so much color and light and joy and redemption and dancing and love. And I believe that the Lord will be glorified in it, as it’s my prayer that He would be. But for right now, He has a different calling for me to fulfill. Right now, here in these often painful waiting days, He has so much purpose and intentionality. He has not forgotten me here. He is not choosing to withhold or to tease me. Right now, He is growing my heart in a way that He knows only this could. Here, He is growing me in gifts that are even more precious than gold. These gifts look like strength and perseverance and compassion and humility and a deeply formed character and a hope in God that does not waiver based on whether or not He is giving me what I want. So I accept the waiting as what it’s meant to be- an invitation and a gift, even though it rarely feels like either. But I’m learning how to be faithful here and I’m learning that coming to my Savior with sadness and tears can be a form of worship, too. In Elisabeth Elliot’s words, “He makes us wait. He keeps us on purpose in the dark. He makes us walk when we want to run, sit still when we want to walk, for He has things to do in our souls that we are not interested in.”
You know that little “what gift did the Lord give me today” journal I told you about a few paragraphs ago? As of today I’ve almost filled all of the pages. And remember my sticky note prayers? I now have a whole stack of them that I got to watch the Lord answer. There is still so much joy here. Our God is extravagant in giving gifts, which is a truth that my heart had forgotten. He gives sweet friendships and perfect sunny weather and laughter and good food and a job that I love and encouragement through His Word and beauty through music and nature and seeing families live out the gospel through foster care and adoption, and so much more. I prayed for joy in the waiting and He answered. Now I flip through the pages of this little journal and I’m incredibly humbled. He is not a God who withholds any good thing. He is not a God who hears prayers and chooses not to respond. He is not a God of scarcity, and He is certainly not a God who simply does not care about the desires of my heart. He is the God of abundance. He is the God who created us out of an overflow of love. He is the God who has invited us into an eternity with Him that will be filled with more beauty and glory and redemption and joy and love than we could ever even imagine.
I’m sitting over coffee with a friend who’s talking about the pain of waiting, the pain of uncertainty and not knowing, the pain of longing, and my heart floods with compassion because I get it. It’s in those moments that you become grateful for your own story and your own pain, because then you at least have something to offer, something to say. Of course I have a thing or two I’ve learned along the way that could maybe encourage her, but mostly I can say, “me too,” and we can walk in it together.
So if that was you that I was sitting across from and you opened up about all the dreams and desires in your heart that you long to come to fruition but how the waiting has been painful and hard, I’d lean in and my heart would fill with compassion. My eyes might even fill with tears. I’d tell you all the ways the Lord has been kind and gracious to me in my journey, and how He will be with you, too. I’d tell you to keep praying, to continue seeking the Lord’s face, and to not give up. I’d tell you to sow your tears, so that you will reap with joy. I’d remind you that the Lord has not forgotten you, and that your sadness and disappointment is not lost on Him. I’d tell you that there is so much fruit in the waiting. That it’s deeply uncomfortable, but that it can also be a season that is holy and honest and raw and full of worship and intimacy with the Creator of your soul, if you lean into it. I’d tell you to not be afraid to tell God exactly how you feel. To tell Him all about your disappointment and the ways you thought things would be different, how you thought they’d be better. How you thought you might be better, happier, wiser. How you thought you would love and trust Jesus more. Tell Him about your confusion and about your unmet expectations. Take the time to lament and even grieve. Pour it all out at His feet. He will meet you there, I promise. Maybe it’s marriage you’re longing for, or maybe infertility has been a long and heartbreaking road, or maybe it’s something else. Whatever it is, He sees you. He sees you walking this road and choosing to still follow, even though it’s not what you wanted; even though this is a far cry from the life you had dreamt up. He sees you fighting to believe in His goodness even when you don’t understand. He sees you trying to be faithful in the midst of it all and to somehow lay it all down at His feet. This is called faithfulness. And He is proud of you.
As the people of God, we are a people of longing. And what a privilege it is to be so incredibly and uniquely familiar with the feeling of longing. To have a deep understanding that we were made for more than this. And to look forward and be reminded that even if our deepest desires are not fulfilled on this side of heaven, one day they will be, a hundred times over. One day, all of your longings, both big and small and everything in between, will be wholly and perfectly satisfied. In the words of singer-songwriter Chris Renzema, “we will dance on disappointment in a world made new.” Amen to that.
If any of these words resonated with you and you would like to chat or talk further, I would be more than happy to meet you for a real coffee date. None of us were made to walk alone and I know specifically that if you’re walking this road, it can sometimes get lonely. So don’t ever hesitate to reach out, even just with a prayer request. It would be my privilege to walk alongside you.
And if you made it this far, thank you for reading. 🙂