I started a fascinating book last night, the account of a man and his brand new wife who attempted to cross the great Sahara desert on camels...in the 1980s. The story of the desert, its extreme heat and lack of water, the long, long distance traveling through such unfriendly terrain, parallels the story of their relationship. Both journeys began in great hope, extraordinary dreams, but very quickly the reality of the hardships made them question each other, their choices, life itself. In some ways, you'd think, it would be a painful book to read, and so it is in places. These two people, both very stubborn, speak whatever is on their minds, which means sometimes they play--as Beve calls it--dirty pool, hitting the other exactly where it hurts.
However, it really does intrigue me, this reading of the desert as a picture of marriage. Though I haven't experienced the 3500 mile desolate landscape of the Sahara in my marriage, I know of others who have. Dear people who have lived months and years in a dearth of water, grasping for an oasis where there are nothing but mirages. Time after time, they lean over to drink and come up with their faces full of sand. It hurts deeply--even from the outside--that this should be so for people whom I know and love. Yet, it is also true that anyone who pledges their life to another will, at one time or another, one way or another, meet the swirling sands and energy-depleting heat of a desert. I wish I could say that this isn't so, but I've lived long enough to see it, to live it, and yes, even to trust it.
These are the facts of life, that it isn't fair, doesn't always run smoothly, and the process of becoming is also a journey through unknown lands, some of which are replete with water and food, and the deep shade of plenty, and other times which are dry and barren and empty of all but the smallest hope of survival. Yes, marriage can be like this, but, of course, so can being single. Or parenting, or wanting to parent and being unable to. In fact, life without Christ certainly resembles a desert but so does life with Him.
So this book makes me lean in to listen to what the Sahara might teach me. What are the lessons of the desert that God intends? Can I see beauty in the bleakness, look for hope among the sands? Can I see the same specks of life in the crevasses of such terrain, the moments when a brief but heavy rain soaks the ground and almost before my eyes, green sprouts appear where days before there was only undulating sameness?
This is on my heart today because in a few days, my closest friend is returning to the edge of the Sahara, to a small village where people eke out their lives backed up to the sands. She goes because she is in relationship with the women of this village, because she has a heart for their simple lives as women, their difficult lives in the midst of drought, their hungry lives in the midst of famine. She goes as the heavy rain and the small sprigs of grass rising among the sands. I think this is always what ministry is at its best. Even when we are in the great Sahara in our own lives, God calls us to be rain in someone else's. Sometimes the best (though not necessarily the quickest) way out of the desert is to lighten the load, to give water to someone else. We do not always minister out of plenty--a lesson I must learn again and again. To give living water, the Bread of Life, to draw another to the banqueting table is not dependent on our internal condition, but on the One who is always bread, always water, always holding out His hand to bring life where there was no life.
So I pray for my friend, K, that she will bring water and bread to that lovely village in the Sahara. That she will see these words take hold:
"He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
He seats them with princes, with the princes of His peole.
He settles the childless woman in her home as a happy mother of children." Psalm 113:7-9