And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord.
I am forever trying to find the formula for an unforgettable moment.
Is it the perfectly rare concocted blend of sensory nostalgia, coupled with an encounter with emotionally evocative relatives, combined with a physical reaction to all of the above? Is that what makes a moment unforgettable?
Hard to say. Some moments are unforgettable, just because.
One of those moments was during the fall semester of my sophomore year of college.
My “college experience” was atypical. At 19, I lived in midtown Manhattan and attended an academically rigorous and politically pretentious private Christian liberal arts school called The King’s College. Our campus held classes in the basement of the Empire State Building, our “dorms” were full-fledged New York apartments adjacent to Koreatown, and our “sororities” were “houses”, bearing a striking resemblance to Hogwarts.
It was weird.
It was also lonely. My freshman year had been full of firsts and friends, friends who were Bible-belt rebels. Most flew south after their first year to finish their higher education at state schools closer to home.
Without them, the city felt lonely, particularly at night.
One perfect New York night in my fall semester of sophomore year, I sat in the Starbucks on 34th between 5th and 6th; and I cried. I cried out to God in a new way – in desperation.
“Lord, I need you,” I remember saying to Him as I opened up my Bible to a random passage and read a few verses. I had never felt such longing, such void. My friends were my world – and then, they left. The city, though wondrous, feels forsaken without friends or family in moments of sadness.
In hindsight, I see that I was at a crossroads.
I had a choice. I could choose to fill this spiritual void with the power and presence of the Lord; or I could allow the desires of the flesh and the world to come creeping in, to occupy that space.
I chose the latter.
As a curious 19-year-old with a fake Jersey ID working as a maitre’d at a popular restaurant staffed by alcoholics in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s, I was bombarded with endless opportunities to let the darkness occupy my space. I let it in; and I let it create a taste for death. This taste led to full on feasts of debauchery, disappointment, and delinquency – otherwise known as academic probation.
Now, on the heels of my 27th birthday, I can look back and praise God for His protection, provision, and peace. I know that I know that He knows everything I did in those years; and that every single thought and deed has been smothered in the blood of Jesus. I stand, not condemned, but celebrated, because I wear the righteous robes of Christ.
But what if I could go back to that moment? What if, in that moment of longing, instead of giving up and letting the world fill my cup, I instead chose to relentlessly sit at the feet of Jesus and beg for a crumb to fall from the table?
Would that have worked?
Would I have been satisfied?
I’m not sure.
Recently, reading through Hosea, the Lord showed me something.
When the Lord told Israel that He was going to fill their void for love and belonging through betrothal, He wasn’t speaking to a singular person. Though we love to read the Bible as God speaking directly to us as individuals, the entire book is directed to an entire nation. When He says, “I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord,” He’s talking to an entire people group.
But what’s peculiar about this people group is their location. A few verses up, God lays out His plan for winning back his lover:
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her.
And there I will give her her vineyards
and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.”
If Israel runs from the wilderness, they run from the place where God can mold her valleys into doors of hope.
I was so afraid of that wilderness.
I was so afraid of how long it would take for God to fill that void that I rushed to fill it immediately with whatever was right in front of me.
But if I had stayed in that place, if I had stayed in that wilderness for longer than a weekend, I would have found that though I may feel lonely, I am not alone. I would have encountered the many others who are too aliens in their own land. Through His sovereign spirit, I would have stumbled upon the nation of Israel – the people of God who are today, sons and daughters of faith, all walking in the wilderness together.
And loneliness would no longer define my association with the Father.
Are you afraid of the loneliness that comes from following God?
Newsflash: God wants to be faithful to you. He wants to be all you need. But if you isolate yourself from the nation of God’s beloved, you cannot expect to be wrapped up in the betrothal of His faithfulness. In order to be betrothed to the Lord, we must be in covenant with the people of the Lord.
Don’t be afraid of the wilderness. It is in the darkest moments when His light shines most brightly.
And when you see in His light, it’s unforgettable.