God most often speaks to me in images. I love to write, and I have found a profound beauty in sharing this passion with my Maker. While I write on pages, He writes on the facets of time and space, on the tablets of our hearts, and on the expanse of human history. He is the original Author of the metaphor. I think He created it just to have a way to get around the feebleness of our human minds and experiences. It’s His loving way of humbling Himself to our level even as He effortlessly pinpoints His thoughts using the congruency of His own creation.
In 2015, when praying and asking God to show me what season I was in or in what direction I was hiking, He would only ever show me a tree. All year long, it was the same tree. The tree had strong, grounded roots that were digging ever deeper into the soil where it was placed. But, above ground, the tree, though expansive with branches in all directions, was burning. The leaves were smoldering. The trunk was covered in blackened ashes. It was consumed in smoke as it was pruned away.
And that is the most adequate way I can describe how 2015 transpired. It was a pruning year and not comfortable or even enjoyable in various respects. It was a year marked by immense loss, tragic death, betrayal, and disappointment. Rinse and repeat. The aforementioned cutting away of so many relationships, goals, and treasures that had been held close. But, it was also a year of learning (as always, right?) and being positioned for a new season.
At 26-years-old with only four full years of the Father’s work under my belt, I am not the authority on seasons of ministry, but I am learning the unforced rhythms of grace (as The Message translation so aptly puts it in Matthew 11:28-30). I am learning that in order to be poured out as an offering for the Father to the thirsty souls around me, I have to first drink, even if it is from the cup of Jesus’ suffering.
There is this great video by Bethel Music where Melissa Helser is explaining a revelation of the purpose of winter seasons. The Holy Spirit said to her, “Do you feel anxiety in the trees? Do they feel anxious that they’ll never have leaves again and bloom again? I want to teach you something about this. There’s a confidence and a security in My heart. Do not misinterpret this season.”
As cross-cultural workers, there is often such pressure to be productive and to have something to show for what we do. It may be that the pressure comes from supporters, or perhaps, it is merely pressure we put on ourselves. Either way, I personally have lost track of the times that I’ve been asked by visitors and veterans alike the nerve-wracking question of, “What do you do?” And, in my heart, I know that the reality is that I do nothing.
He—who is all-encompassing and beyond my understanding of even perfection—is the One who does it all. I am really only along for the greatest adventure in obedience available to me. But, that mindset of being defined by what we do sends us into analysis. Lists of accomplishments. Job titles. Numbers of converts. Transparently dishing on our finances. All in all, we are trying to show ourselves worthy of being believed in. All of these elements of accountability have their place, but they are not our worth. They shouldn’t even be the reason that we are where we are.
We are here because He invited us to the marriage feast, to be a part of wooing His Bride on other soils.
Just as Hannah had to go through her season of barrenness, of sitting at her Father’s feet, weeping before His throne and insisting on her fruitfulness, there are times in ministry where we are called to be visibly barren. Trees without leaves, without fruit. There are times when we have to write that monthly newsletter, and we feel like we have nothing to justify our existence in a foreign land. But, in the midst of Hannah’s tears in intimacy with her Maker, all of heaven was fighting for her harvest. In the midst of the most painful pruning, when the trees of our hearts do have anxiety and do doubt that spring will come, all of heaven is fighting for our fruitfulness. Seasons of winter we go through are not condemnations or abandonment by our Father. They are really promises and preparation for the work that He’s doing, unbeknownst to us.
At the end of 2015, I was at a loss. I kept turning over the question in my head of, “Well, now what I am supposed to do or be?” I felt like I wasn’t
busy enough to justify my existence in Honduras. (Wasn’t obedience enough to get me here? Shouldn’t it be enough to justify still being here?) One day, I had been asking my Father what 2016 holds and what my one word is for this approaching new start. But He had been silent until He casually interrupted a tirade I was unleashing on my boyfriend, so wanting someone to give me the answers to my crisis of worth. Just be loved, Sarah. Beloved. And, as the tears began to stream down my face, I knew what word, what focus, what purpose He has for me in this upcoming year. I was asking the wrong question. It’s not about what I do. It’s about Whose I am and how much I let Him love me. My fruitfulness or lack thereof never affects His level of love for me.
In this upcoming year, I don’t know what season you’ll find yourself in. But whether in the blooms of spring, the scorched leaves of summer, the transition of autumn, or the barrenness of winter, I encourage you to make your first priority receiving His love. Our first and foremost purpose for being is to be loved. Ministry is only a bi-product, an overflow, of that receiving. Just be loved. It is your highest calling.
Have you gone through seasons that looked barren? How has God used His nature to speak to you about where He is leading you?