Grief is something we shrink from. When life is painful, lonely, desperate and God feels absent we scramble to create something happy. We are so desperate to be content, to crawl out of the desolate pit and we will do anything, sometimes we will compromise anything, to do it. I know it because I've lived it. I know it because I'm watching people I love do it. I know it because human history is overflowing with it. And I'm not saying that we shouldn't try to find happiness. I'm not saying we shouldn't try to survive. I'm just saying that maybe we should try to heal first. Maybe there is something profound for us in the dark place. Maybe we will find that the darkness only reveals the blaring brightness of God's face. Maybe.
In The Way of the Heart Henri Nouwen talks about the spiritual desert being the place of the Great Struggle and the Great Encounter. We are going to struggle in that lonely place like we never have before, and we are going to encounter God in a way that would have never been possible without the Struggle.
In Hinds Feet On High Places the girl, Much Afraid, is given two companions for her journey to the High Places - Sorrow and Suffering. The Shepherd tells her that she must hold onto them, let them help her climb and struggle her way forward. At the end of the journey Much Afraid is healed and given the name Grace and Glory. Her companions are also given new names - Peace and Joy. Sorrow and Suffering are our companions for a reason; a reason that doesn't make sense until we cross into a new land, surrender our broken, exhausted bodies to the altar and are drenched in healing waters. When our own names transform we are finally able to see why we had to cling to them.
In our own history, King David spent years as an outlaw. He ran, and hid for his life. He was just this shepherd boy with a great destiny. He knew what God had spoken over his life, but he was living on the run, rejected and afraid. Other outcasts searched him out and pledged their lives to him. His caves and holes in the ground began to teem with other people holding the hands of Sorrow and Suffering. And then comes the day when God's promises to David come to life. He's no longer hiding in the desert, pretending to be crazy to save his own life, battling enemies and wrestling through his feelings of betrayal and brokenness. Now David is the king. He is powerful and secure.
Until the day that everything falls apart. His family falls apart. David returns to those soul rending feelings of betrayal. This time he's running from his son; his kingdom is ripped from his hands. Do you know what he says? We've titled it as Psalm 55, but it was just David's heartbreak spilling out of his mouth.
"I said, "Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest- I would flee far away and stay in the desert."
He would go back; back to the Great Struggle. Back to the Great Encounter. Because that desert is a sweet place. The Struggle seems like it might take us down; we are fighting for our lives. The Encounter reveals something we may have never known otherwise: God is with us and for us. We are never more alive than when we are in the trenches, alone with God.
Pete Greig has it right. If we can find the courage to embrace the desert we might find that we are healed in its heat. Our faith might grow in that desolate place; our depth might increase, creating the kind of strength and humility that blooms in the darkness.
So, today friends, let's just do this: let's embrace whatever companion is given to us. If we face a desert today, let's wrap our arms around it. Courage is just this small, fragile seed at first, but it becomes the kind of tree that roots itself into solid rock and builds its strength from being lashed by storms. Courage is the most fragrant thing that grows in the desert. Courage will keep us alive.
Press on, friends. If you're in the Struggle, the Encounter is coming.