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Disappointed in the Desert

It’s still black outside when something awakens me. I look at the clock — 5 a.m. Frustration rises at the invasion of my sleep and my time. I sense a stirring in my heart – a beckoning. I know that beckoning. That still small voice. I also know the feeling of resistance that rises every time I hear it. How often do I settle for the temporary when the eternal is laid out before me?

Come out to the desert with me. I feel God whisper. Come and watch the sunrise with me. I want to show you something.

Uggh. What I really want to do is sink back into my cozy bed and sleep for another four hours. God’s timing is always so inconvenient, isn't it? Abundant life always comes at a cost. I squeeze my eyes shut. Maybe I can force myself back to sleep, ignore the invitation — pretend I didn’t hear. But to no avail. I know I can either lie in bed awake for the next four hours or heed the call tugging at my heart.

I grab a sweatshirt and some shoes, tiptoe out the door, trudge to the car, and head east towards the desert. Hope surges in my heart. I have something prepared for you. I hear him say.

I bet this is going to be the most beautiful sunrise ever. Excitement brews like coffee, my tired eyes growing stronger with the promise of what's to come. I can see the silhouettes of the mountains set against the star-lit sky. I join the other early risers on the road, their lights marching like ants into the morning. The houses become scarcer. The cacti become denser. As asphalt morphs into sand, the faintest hint of light teases from beneath the horizon. Creation is pregnant with anticipation, ready to burst into a new day. I pull over, facing the direction where the light seems the brightest. And I wait, eyes fixed on the horizon, awaiting the moment when the blaze of glory will erupt behind the mountain in front of me.

The past few months have been a hard, long season for our family. The last year has felt like an endless night, and I long to behold a new day. Show me yourself, God! I've cried these words more times than I can count. I know he's answered. I'm just not always looking. But now I am. I’m ready to see — prepared to gorge myself on a feast for the eyes.

Tendrils of lights crawl across the sky, and the shadows begin to take shape. The cacti stand like soldiers, waiting for their commander’s orders. The stars blink, their night watch about to end. I wait for the pinks, oranges, and reds to splash across the canvas before me, eager to watch the Artist’s display.

But there is no color. Not a hint of pink. Not a suggestion of orange. Not even a trace of red.

I push aside my disappointment. That’s okay, I bet once the sun reaches the peak of the mountain, it will make up for the lack of color.

I notice that all around me, the day has already arrived. The mountains are no longer silhouettes, but towers of rock, already ablaze with light. The desert no longer holds the mystery of night, but the drab of the day. My heart sinks, and I realize I picked the wrong spot. While I sat there, anticipating the splendor, the sun had already risen behind the mound of rocks in front of me. The glory was spent. The moment was gone. I missed it.

I blink away the tears. You woke me up for this?

And it reminds me of so many other areas of my life.

I’m showing up, God! But it feels like you’re not. I thought you wanted to show me something, God. I thought you had something prepared for me.

I do. But it wasn’t something I was going to do for you. It was something I wanted to do with you. I wanted to watch the sunrise with you.

And it hits me. I was so focused on what I thought God should be doing that I missed what he was doing. He didn’t call me out to the desert to give me the best sunrise ever. He called me out the desert to give me himself.

I look around at the desert once more, now illuminated in the brilliance of the morning. The cacti raise their arms to the heavens, their very existence a hallelujah to the Creator. The bushes rustle in the breeze, dancing to the morning’s song. A hummingbird lands on a bush in front of me. It stops, preens its feathers in a lazy, have-nowhere-to-be, manner. Hopping along the branch, it turns its head toward the sky, offering a silent praise to the Giver. It bows before the sun-drenched flowers draped across the bush, their nectar providing a breakfast fit for a king. How often does a hummingbird sit still long enough to watch? They are always on the move. Always moving to the next thing, their wings little motors of flurry. But not this one. There it sits, basking in the warmth of the sun, drinking slowly from the life-giving flower. And by simply being alive, it radiates all the reds, oranges, and pinks of the greatest sunrise. As I watch this tiny bird, void of grandeur and majesty, I catch a glimpse of my Father’s heart for me.

Just be with me. Just let me hold you and love you awhile. You’ve been tired. It’s okay to stop and drink for a bit, bask in the warmth of the Son.

And I cry for a different reason now.

Something miraculous happens when we let go of our our frenzied, self-absorbed demands of God. When we surrender our expectations of what we think God should be doing and behold, with eyes wide open, what He is doing. When we sit still, ears pressed against the Father’s chest, and hear the beat of his heart. A heart that beats with wild, steady, fervent love for you, and for me.

I hear the birds calling to each other, and their songs echo the song in my heart. A song of the resurrected life. A song of surrender — where I’m not expecting anything from God, but simply being still with God.

The disciple John called himself the disciple Jesus loved. This claim seems arrogant at first glance. Jesus loves everyone, right? How dare a person claim to be the one Jesus loves? How could John have such confidence in this truth? We catch a glimpse of his relationship with Jesus in the upper room, during the last supper. In the book of John, we find John leaning against Jesus’ chest. So close, he can hear his heart beating. This is the same John who weeks before was asking Jesus who was greater, him or his brother. Now, he’s just still. He’s just listening. Darkness loomed. Despair waited just around the corner. Yet, here in the stillness he listens. He listens to the heartbeat of Jesus. And what he would see in the coming hours would show him the cry of his Abba’s heart. The coming hours, when darkness hung so heavy, the sun could not bear its weight, the heart of Jesus beat with love so deep, it conquered the darkness. It beats so outlandishly with love, it conquered John’s doubts. John heard the same heart beating that would pour out love from the blood that dripped from his Savior’s hands and feet. The heart of Jesus beats still today. His heart beats with a never ceasing, never failing love for you and for me too. But we must be still long enough to hear it. As the darkness looms, as our failures crouch, as the circumstances of life rob us of our joy and peace, the heart of Jesus beats with the steady rhythm of the deepest love. And you don’t have to do a single thing.

Jesus came to invade our darkness. He came to invade our hopelessness. He came to invade our plans, our dreams, and our days. He came to invade our hearts. And maybe, if we’re still long enough, we will actually know him. Not the God we’ve conjured up in our heads. Not the God we think he should be. Not the God we expect to find. No, we will know him as He is. And we’ll hear the beat of his heart — that wild, steady, fervent beat of a love so deep and so true — breaking forth into a new day.

For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun!

Do you not see it?

I will make a pathway through the wilderness.

I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.

Isaiah 43:19

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