The dust began to swarm around my ankles as I raked dead leaves and pine needles into a pile. One wouldn’t think August to be a month of making mounds of folliage in the yard, but the excessively dry California summer never gave our tree the opportunity to remain fully green. The size of the leaves never reached their full potential, and the yellowing of their spring green happened far earlier than in the years past.
I suppose the gigantic pine tree next door suffered the same amount of abuse from the sweltering heat—at least, that is what one would assume with but a quick glance of our backyard. The covering from the needles so thick, it looked as if they were woven into a down comforter, assigned to keep the ground underneath warm for the winter.
So I raked. I combed the needles and leaves and undercovered nothing but dry dust underneath. No sign of spouts. No inkling of green. The needle blanket protected nothing but barren, dry land which once was plush grass.
Yet there I stood, laboring and getting dirty over a ground that had no sign of life.
I thought to myself how ironic it seemed, to be doing such careful grooming only to expose the barren land that lay dormant underneath. Surely the yard looked better with at least something on the ground, but with the needles and leaves collected, the nakedness of our backyard waste place brought with it a sort of hopelessness—as if perhaps there may never be healthy, green blades of grass breaking forth from the earth ever again.
Finishing the chore, I looked back at the piles I had shaped and marveled at the amount of dead waste there really was. I had no idea it would amount to so much. And isn’t that also true of the debris we carry in our hearts—not knowing the depth and the breadth of their load until we labor to rake back the layers?
When was the last time you lost hope over a barren waste place? How many times have you labored over a relationship only to discover years of hurts hidden under piles of anger? How often have you sat on a cold bathroom floor, loathing your attempts at change because they only serve to expose your weakness and flaws?
Our ability to find hope in the waste place should not be dependent upon what we see or feel, but rather on what we know to be true of our relationship with God.
Dear sister, what do you know about your Father in heaven? What have the Scriptures told you of the One who was, and is, and is to come? If you are struggling for hope in the waste place you’ve found yourself in, may I suggest what could very well be the most pressing matter the Lord is calling your attention to? Are you hopeless because you can’t fix your problem through your own willpower, or are you hopeless because you think God is unconcerned and content to leave you in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water?
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation… Psalm 62:5
We must not let ourselves wander over to the latter…for the cross and empty tomb prove those notions to be utterly false. God did not send his one and only Son, Christ Jesus, because he found himself to be unconcerned about such a thing as our desperation. If our hearts are uncertain in the character of God, our faith in him to carry us across the desert plains will be shaky as well. When the still of the barren waste place has quieted the song of salvation in our souls, the single best thing we can do is take the opportunity to know him more—to reach for the Word and pray for eyes to see him as he has revealed himself to be through the Scriptures. We mustn’t make assumptions about our relationship with him based merely upon what others have said, nor upon what we have supposed in our minds his character to be. We must take the bible in hand, our Christ at his word, and our thoughts to the throne of grace for mercy and truth.
What does the Word tell you, sister?
For the LORD comforts Zion; he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the LORD; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song. Isaiah 51:3
What would it look like to know that in all our struggles for change, we had a loving Father there laboring to haul away the load? Isaiah 51:3 gives a promise of change for the heart in the wilderness—the heart without a mirage of hope on the horizon. It is the Lord himself who will provide the comfort to the weary worker, the Lord who will turn the dry desert land to a garden cultivated by his own hand. As he tends to those places, raking up the needles and fallen leaves, what first appears as lifeless dirt soon turns into fertile ground.
Still, it’s a dirty, messy process to uncover desert places in our hearts. Just as the end result of my raking produced more mounds of dead leaves and needles than expected, so too the pruning and grooming of the Holy Spirit often finds an excess of unresolved issues, idols, and sins that we must confront in order to properly prepare our souls for a ripe and fruitful harvest.
Don’t be afraid to see the piles of debris, and don’t delay to participate in the labor it takes to haul the dead weight away.
Joy. Gladness. Thanksgiving. Song. Did you see these words in Isaiah 51:3? They are the beautiful promises of an intimate and wise husbandman who is carefully clearing your barren fields. Your Father does not promise keep you from the wilderness, but he does promise to transform it into lush meadows filled with his glorious presence. This hope, these promises, the presence of the Lord of the universe—these are the things that press us deep into faith as we inwardly hunger for righteousness and change. These are the things that give us the desire to survey the dusty, needle-covered fields of our hearts, and the courage to pick up a rake.
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. Habakkuk 3:17–18