Sometimes I feel like I'm a girl getting ready for prom when it comes to my relationship with God. As if need to get all gussied up and 'perfect' before He'll want to be seen in public with me.
And fairly often, the world sees Prom-Ready Carrie. To be honest, for those who read my blog, it's the version of me you know best. The woman who works with orphans. The one who writes about her faith. Whatever labels you give me, they are most often flattering ones. You never say, "Oh, you know Carrie. The one who is a complete control freak."
But that might be more true.
We are so well-cared for right now… we have shelter, food, and everything we could possibly need. But Jacob doesn't yet have a job. And instead of trusting that God will provide one in the right time/season, I turned into Jacob's manager and job coach. Like most bad moves, it started with the best of intentions. I wanted to help him… but my help quickly turned into flat-out control, and a few weeks ago Jacob confronted me about it and asked me to step aside unless he requested my help.
He was gentle, but things got ugly quickly.
To be honest, I knew he was right. But I grew defensive and accusatory and came up with all sorts of reasons why I was 'helping' him and why it wasn't what he thought.
But it was what he thought. And working to weed these ugly things out of my relationship with Jacob has shown me that the roots go all the way down into my relationship with God.
I was chatting with my mother-in-law yesterday morning, and she shared a passage from Hosea that she'd been reading. It isn't a flattering chapter… about Israel's unfaithfulness to God; comparing Israel to a prostitute - Hosea's wife. And I saw myself in Israel. I am Hosea's wife.
I fail to recognize that all I have is a gift from the Father (2:8) and instead try to "run after other lovers and sell myself to them for food and water, for clothing of wool and linen, and for olive oil and drinks." (2:5). Running after lovers is a shocking way to put it, but really it does reflect my heart… refusing to rely on God for what I need and what He wants to supply, and instead trying to take matters into my own hands and make a way for myself.
But you know what God says about our self-reliance and self-destruction? He says He will fence us in with thorn bushes, block our paths with a wall, and make us lose our way. We will seek these other lovers, but we will not find them. We won't catch them. (2:6-7) He won't let us.
Thorn bushes are pokey and painful… sort of like when your husband confronts you with the less-than-ready-for-Prom version of yourself. But it is an act of love to be fenced, blocked, and stopped as we seek to make our way along paths of disobedience.
I don't know about you, but when I'm confronted with thorn bushes and walls and I start to see that my masquerades aren't fooling the audience, I turn from Hosea's wife into Eve. I want to hide. And I go a step further - acutely aware of my nakedness, I feel lonely and isolated. Like I deserve to be unloved, as if love were contingent on performance and having it all together. In short, I feel like I'm in a desert… a barren wasteland where nothing is living and fruitful in my heart or in my relationships. It is a place where I could wither up and die.
But you know what? The desert wasn't an accidental detour. God brings us into those places, for barrenness doesn't hide much. We are vulnerable and transparent - whether we want to be or not - and He can do a great work in our heart if we choose to remain open instead of withering and dying. In Hosea, He says He will "lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her there. I will return her vineyards to her and transform the Valley of Trouble into gateway of hope." (2:14-15)
So as I'm faced with these ugly nooks and crannies of my life, I can rest in the understanding that God didn't bring me to this desert to expose my nakedness and make me feel ashamed. He brings me here to prune and shape and grow… to bring about life and new vineyards… to transform barrenness and fear into a gateway of new life and hope.
Though it may be hard to see at first, beautiful things do sometimes grow in barren deserts.