Hosea 2:14-20; 6:1-3
14 “Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the wilderness
and speak tenderly to her.
15 There I will give her back her vineyards,
and will make the Valley of Achor[b] a door of hope.
There she will respond[c] as in the days of her youth,
as in the day she came up out of Egypt.
16 “In that day,” declares the Lord,
“you will call me ‘my husband’;
you will no longer call me ‘my master.[d]’
17 I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips;
no longer will their names be invoked.
18 In that day I will make a covenant for them
with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
and the creatures that move along the ground.
Bow and sword and battle
I will abolish from the land,
so that all may lie down in safety.
19 I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in[e] righteousness and justice,
in[f] love and compassion.
20 I will betroth you in[g] faithfulness,
and you will acknowledge the Lord.
1 “Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces
but he will heal us;
he has injured us
but he will bind up our wounds.
2 After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will restore us,
that we may live in his presence.
3 Let us acknowledge the Lord;
let us press on to acknowledge him.
As surely as the sun rises,
he will appear;
he will come to us like the winter rains,
like the spring rains that water the earth.”
One of my favorite songs–it used to be the ringtone on my sleek little mid-aughts Nokia–is Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart. The song has the distinction of being incredibly danceable while also being incredibly sad. It tells the story of a romance gone wrong and the havoc it wreaks. The song is about the tearing, but it never covers the rebuilding.
Two days and four years ago I moved to DC to build a new life. And it was thoroughly unoriginal: find a job that matters, doing work that matters, and advance a righteous cause or idea. My identity since college had been almost entirely tied up with my idealistic career aspirations and so many of my life choices were sacrificed to this end. I desperately wanted to love and to be loved, but because of my obsessive workaholism, relationships were primarily transactional or utilitarian. I’d see people as commodities to obtain and if they didn’t give me what I wanted, I was free to walk away. Or in many cases, because I also struggle with perfectionism, I would stay far longer than I should have because I didn’t want yet another failed relationship. Love–of my own desires and dreams–was tearing me apart.
If you’ve been around churches long enough, you may have heard the story of of Eustace Scrubb in C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. In the story, Eustace puts on an enchanted bracelet which turns him into a dragon. He keeps trying to remove his scales, but because of his natural desire toward self-preservation, he never cuts deep enough to remove them. He finally allows Aslan, the lion and true King of Narnia, to use his sharp claws to dig deep enough to remove the scales. It’s painful but the end result is that Eustace returns to his human form.
My idea of a fresh start in DC revolved around me being exactly the same person I was in New York City, only with new people and in a different setting. God’s idea was much more similar to the plan that’s laid out in Hosea: he essentially brought me down here to “kill” me. During the first 12 of my 18 months of unemployment (and consequent material poverty), I would frequently rail against God for what felt like constant death. God was tearing me apart. But only so that I could be rebuilt.
It was an interesting “coincidence” that a few months later, the Bible study group I was a part of began to read Hosea.
Hosea, a prophet, is told to marry “a promiscuous woman,” which he does because, well, God told him to. Then they have children whose names are rebukes from God to Israel. Hosea keeps taking her back despite her constant infidelity. It’s a book that reminds me that God is infinitely more mysterious and interesting than I typically imagine.
As we read the book, it began to dawn on me, in that sweaty DC summer of 2012, that perhaps I was the unfaithful wife in this story and God was my faithful husband. For years I had been content to comfort myself with, and trust in, my work. When I wasn’t doing that, I was content to comfort myself with, and trust in, my friendships and relationships. I loved those things more than God. But rather than giving me the life I’d hoped to have, they were destroying the one I already had. I had a pile of hospital bills (and several pairs of hospital socks) to show for my workaholism. And I had what felt like a body trail a mile long of people I had used, manipulated, or just dropped when relationships became too real. On the surface I had it all together. But once I started to peel away those scales, I was a dragon, through and through.
Since I didn’t have a job, I had a lot of free time for silent contemplation of God. And the more aware I became of God’s presence, the more I began to realize how present God had been with me. Even when I was doing things I shouldn’t have done. Especially when. And rather than withholding his presence or love or grace from me, he kept trying to get my attention, which finally resulted in this inexplicable urge to move from New York City to Washington DC, jobless and alone.
And then the tearing began.
Every rejection from a job for which I was qualified ripped apart my ego and reliance on my work as the center of my life. I became a person. I had other things to talk about besides my job.
Every romantic disappointment ripped apart the illusions I had about relationships and left me free to be loved by God instead. I could love others, not because they were giving me what I wanted, but because God loved me and I wanted to obey him. I didn’t want there to be anything that could separate us.
God’s love was tearing me apart. Not because it was abusive or bad, but because God loved me too much to let me stay the same. Because God didn’t just cut out my scales–through Christ, on the cross, he put them on himself. Though it hurt to see myself as I really was (it still does) God loved me into that new life.
Every week as I took the Lord’s Supper at church I was reminded that Jesus was broken. For me. For the false lovers, the idols, the sins I thought I needed more than him. Every week I was reminded that the relationship between Father and Son was torn apart. For me, so that I would never experience another day away from God’s love.
“Sinners, whose love can ne’er forget the wormwood and the gall, go spread your trophies at His feet, and crown Him Lord of all.” (All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name)
Listen: This song by Katie Herzig is not a worship song in the slightest. But it’s one that I would listen to repeatedly while going on long walks all over DC when I didn’t have anything else to do and God was so present to me in it. This line in particular brought me so much comfort: Every war was another seed that could feed every soul in need/Oh I’m worn by the war in me.
Pray: This prayer comes from St. Augustine of Hippo’s Confessions:
For Your mercies’ sake, O Lord my God, tell me what You are to me. Say to my soul: “I am your salvation.” So speak that I may hear, O Lord; my heart is listening; open it that it may hear You, and say to my soul: “I am your salvation.” After hearing this word, may I come in haste to take hold of you. Hide not Your face from me. Let me see Your face even if I die, lest I die with longing to see it. The house of my soul is too small to receive You; let it be enlarged by You. It is all in ruins; do You repair it. There are thing in it, I confess and I know, that must offend Your sight. But who shall cleanse it? Or to what others besides You shall I cry out? From my secret sins cleanse me, O Lord, and from those of others spare your servant. Amen.