Barren, Graves into Gardens by Elevation Worship, A Fragrant Offering by Rita Springer

Every gardener knows
that under the cloak of winter lies a miracle…
a seed waiting to sprout,
a bulb opening to the light,
a bud straining to unfurl.
And the anticipation nurtures our dream.
~Barbara Winkler~

I look out the picture window in the wee hours of dawn, and the contrast of blueberry hues against shadowed treeline and snow-crested fields feels…well, barren.

I’ve been here before:  the landscape of barrenness lying all around me, encircled by fertile fields of others when my own lay fallow. No one asks for barrenness. We all want to feel like we matter; that what we do is fruitful and has investment value. I didn’t experience as many lonely years of “baby barrenness” as some I know, but I had enough to taste the bitterness and feel the acute pain of it. It was also keenly felt with our failed adoption. Passages like the lament in Jeremiah 3:19 only served to press on the grieve: “I [longed] to treat you as my own children. I wanted nothing more than to give you this beautiful land, the finest possession in the world. I looked forward to you calling me ‘Father,’and I wanted you to never turn from me.” Alas, all our efforts—emotionally, financially, physically—toward this major transition ended up blank. It was an unanswered telegram, an emptiness with no closure. It felt Barren.

You can certainly try to keep your chin up, stay focused on ‘God’s timeline” and the learning that is wrought in you as you silently grieve. Happy for others, crying inside. 

There is no support group for barrenness. You suffer in anonymity. 

But does being barren mean I can’t be fruitful? Under the barren landscape, what looks to be bleak, lifeless, and unseen, there is always potential.

With eloquent script, Alicia Britte Chloe offers morsels of hope for those of us who have felt stuck in the soul’s landscape of winter in Anonymous:

“Winter’s reduction is coming, but that does not halt the dance…And in their emptiness, trees grace the winter with silent elegance…In winter, are the trees bare? Yes. In winter, are the trees barren? No. Life still is…Seasonally, we too are stripped of visible fruit. Our giftings are hidden; our abilities are underestimated. When previous successes fade and current efforts falter, we can easily mistake our fruitlessness for failure. But such is the rhythm of spiritual life:  new growth, fruitfulness, transition, rest…Abundance may make us feel more productive, but perhaps emptiness has greater power to strengthen our souls. In spiritual winters, our fullness is thinned so that…we can focus upon our character…we are left with nothing to stare at except for our foundation” (Chole, p.1-3).

How can feeling empty strengthen my soul? How can loss fill me up? How can God use barrenness? How can I rebuild with seemingly no resources?

The answer lies in fixing our faces toward the One who turns mourning to dancing, gives beauty for ashes, and turns shame into glory. It doesn’t take place overnight, just as seasons don’t spring forth flowers the day after a thaw. It is a picture rather like a Pit of despair that one can keep falling into. First, we add tools to our arsenal to help us fill up the Pit. Over time, we discover that we can walk over the Pit on level ground. We no longer stumble into it; in fact, we only vaguely recall the distress that Pit used to cause, and the investment of time it would require of us to climb out. We are stronger now. We have moved on into new seasons. We can embrace the winter reductions with something more like grace, with more humility and humor, and with the knowledge that it is a forever season. Truly, we can no longer even find the Pit, because it remains an unmarked grave, covered over with new grass and flowers that we gather, the fragrance of which becomes a “fragrant offering,” the sacrifice of which perhaps only God truly knows the cost of.

“A holy dissatisfaction possessed my soul…
God used my spiritual barrenness
to ignite a passion in me for the impossible.
God shaped me through hunger.”
The Essential Guide to Healing, Bill Johnson, p. 44

“Walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Ephesians 5:2 NIV

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