Learning to Be Gentle to Ourselves (Bloom in the Desert 6)

by Jan Shrader

I was crushed when I read the letter. The homeowner’s association had the audacity to call them weeds. The first tiny sprouts had promised me red tubular flowers set against deep green foliage. Serendipitously for me, the birds had planted firecracker red penstemons in my front yard.

They would not bloom for two years, but when they did, hummingbirds would be dive-bombing at each other in aerial gymnastics trying to stake out this territory as their personal nectar garden. These drought-tolerant flowers could potentially transform the hot gravel landscape our builder had installed into a lush oasis filled with colorful life. Every time I thought about it, I was delirious with joy.

Then the notice came from the HOA. I had thirty days to pull my weeds. Didn’t they know my little babies were anything but weeds, and how do you challenge a HOA’s decision anyway? Couldn’t they tell from looking at my yard that I was an experienced gardener? What were they thinking demanding I pull up perfectly good flowers that don’t need a drip line to come into full bloom?

It wasn’t long until I had exhausted myself wrestling with the HOA’s implied authority over my landscape. In the past, I would have given up in anger, pulled the sprouts and resigned myself to thinking that I was a fool for buying a home in a subdivision with a HOA. But this time, because of God’s healing, I chose to react very differently. I was beginning to believe that God was on my side. This didn’t mean I knew what the outcome would be with this conflict. I did know that it did not honor God when I gave into thoughts of self-condemnation, like calling myself a fool. I reminded myself that I was now a professional gardener working at a cactus nursery.

Before moving forward, I prayed and surrendered the entire situation to God, and then I asked others to pray for me. I desperately wanted God’s will to be done with this struggle. Feeling spiritually strengthened, I dug out some gardening books full of bright pictures, drove down to the management office of the HOA and inquired about how one would challenge a HOA ruling.

A delightful woman greeted me. She walked me through the process and the paperwork I would need to submit to contest a decision made against my property. She graciously made color copies of the flowers from my gardening books, and with her favor, I won the reversal of the original notice to pull my weeds, praise God. I was able to move in faith without knowing how God was going to resolve my issue. As we’ve read and reread Isaiah 35, we’ve seen that this is a passage we read by faith when we need to break free from fear and find assurance that God is going to win.

Isaiah 35 is a picture of the end of the story. It is a snapshot of what is going to happen when the children of God are revealed and nature has been freed from the curse of decay. It is a poetic description of what it is going to be like when God again keeps a garden.

Look again at Isaiah 35:3-4.

3) Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.
4) Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you. ESV

Once we have been healed in the desert, out of our newfound spiritual health, others will come to peace. Our healing always comes first, though, before we can help others. This doesn’t mean we have to be perfect or have it all together before God can use us. It just means that before we can encourage those who are fearful or anxious, our anxious heart must be put to rest.

With God, our desert experience is never just about what is happening in our lives. He is always working on a larger scale. God allows dry and weary times, so we can learn to trust him. Trying to understand our current circumstances will exhaust us, but trust will keep us close to God. Everything we learn on this parched earth is going to be useful for loving our neighbor. The source of our peace will help another put her fears to rest. Speaking to the fearful is an act of faith. When we want to bloom in the desert, we will see our healing has a higher purpose.

In Mark 12:30-31 we see the response Jesus made to a scribe who asked him to state the greatest commandment.

Jesus answered, “…you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” ESV

Jesus said the most important commandment was to love God with all we have. We go to the desert to learn God loves us. When we believe the truth of 1 John 4:19, loving him back will be our most natural response.

We love him because he first loved us. ESV

We love God because love for God comes first, but there is a second commandment, which is also import for us to obey and it hinges on our ability to love ourselves. If we have no self-love, no self-respect, we will not be able to love our neighbor. Recognizing our need for healing is one of the kindest and most loving understandings we can hold for ourselves. This brings us to a spiritual paradox. We can’t love others if we are constantly unkind to ourselves.

God has called us to a ministry of mercy and reconciliation. Without our struggle and subsequent rest in God, we are useless to speak peace to others. Our ministry is born out of our past spiritual conflicts. It is through these conflicts that we learn how to comfort those who are suffering from the same fears we have experienced.

People who are anxious, need to know that God will act in justice concerning their wounding. They need to gently be told the truth when they have been tempted to believe God is not being good to them. The great and mighty God is holy and incapable of committing any sin. He will come and save us if we call his name. The story of our dry personal struggles can bless in a mighty way those trapped by fear and deliver them from their anxious ways.

Take a moment to consider what loving yourself might look like practically.

1) Make a list of the activities that refresh and restore you. Maybe your list would include going on a walk or getting enough sleep. Maybe it would involve taking the time to see a friend or setting aside the money to date your spouse. After you have compiled your list, choose at least one activity and enjoy it today.

2) In the next seven days, look for a way to love your neighbor as yourself. For example, would your neighbor like to go on a walk with you or share the produce from your garden? Find a way to express love to your neighbor in a practical way and record what you did and the impact on you and your relationship with that neighbor.

3) How can you grow to honor God with your self-talk?

While I was working on this lesson, I developed the stomach flu and I had a new opportunity to practice healthy self-care. I wanted to get off the couch and go write, but I felt miserable. Finally, I felt God say to me, “Jan why don’t you practice being kind to yourself and let yourself rest?” After that message, I knew God was calling me to rest. I had to practice self-kindness before I could write or speak on the subject.

Before we go to the next lesson read Isaiah 35 using a new or different translation.

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