The Lord inhabits humble, barren spaces. His very presence sanctifies them. A shepherd’s pasture becomes a contact point for divine relationship. An earthly womb becomes a dwelling place for the Most High God. My own weary, wandering soul can display splendor, if only I yield to the One who longs to meet me there.
In Luke 1, the angel Gabriel visits Mary to deliver the news that she will be a “house” for God. Mary, a home…a resting place for…God? What awe and wonder!
Mary is told that her cousin Elizabeth, too, has become a dwelling place. She will birth John, the one Jesus called the “greatest of men born of women” (Luke 7:28). These wombs, open and virginal, become dwelling places--temples--for these marked lives.
Centuries before, David cried out to the Lord, grieved that the Lord’s earthly dwelling place was lowly and humble. David lamented that he, an earthly king, dwelt in a palace of cedar while God’s ark lay in a tent.
But the God of the universe is not diminished by humble dwelling places. Through the prophet Nathan, God reminded David that throughout his humble years as a shepherd and man on the run for his life, God was the One who “pursued David in the pasture,” and who “went with David wherever he went, cutting down his enemies before him” (2 Samuel 7:8-9). God met him in his wilderness. God pursues us in barrenness.
As I read the words of Luke 1 this year, the phrase about Elizabeth jarred me. Elizabeth: the “one who was called barren” (Luke 1:36). Imagine if this was the way others described you? The barren one. A label not merely descriptive, but judgmental. I heard echoes of her ache--a cloak of shame, scorn and derision. What had she done? What had she not done, to be barren?
As I read, the Lord whispered to me His intention: her empty womb was not shameful. It was empty and dark and “in wait” for the appointment of God. My God sanctifies barrenness. My God overshadows empty and open places to fill them with life. My God loves empty, “barren” spaces. What is more open to His residence than these?
I recently turned 39; the year ahead begins all the months leading to my 40th year. On one level, the world, my flesh and the accuser tempt me to shame. For a woman aware that she is made for life and partnership (in whatever ways the Lord has chosen), my emptiness can become ‘barrenness’, a slam that magnetizes old lies: You are forsaken. You are not chosen. You are not seen or loved.
But God exhorts me to submit barrenness as a place of expectancy, not shame. What can my God do with an empty place, awaiting His fulfillment? I look to Mary for help. Her fiat: “let it be done” according to God’s will challenges my stronghold of thoughts. Like Mary and Elizabeth, my emptiness can open to Jesus with expectancy. What can’t my God do with my empty place, waiting to be filled?
This Advent, I am thankful for honesty about my emptiness. And a vision for the way that Jesus sees it. I cry out--"God, make me an earthly home for you. Free me from striving for secure dwelling places of my own design. Help me to become a peaceful place where You dwell.”