Growth from the Desert

In 2006 there was a study that showed the link between the Amazon rainforest and the Sahara desert. Evidently, the Amazon rainforest is not self-sustainable. It’s one of the richest ecosystems in the world, yet doesn’t natively contain enough minerals and nutrients it needs to thrive. These nutrients come from one of the most unlikely of places: The Bodele’ depression; a small dried up lake in the African Sahara.

The Bodele depression, about a third the size of Florida (roughly .05 percent the size of the Amazon) provides over half of the needed minerals and nutrients for the Amazon rainforest. Yes, that’s right: A patch of desert in Africa makes the Amazon, the Amazon. The nutrients in the Sahara that feed the Amazon rainforest don’t get transported overnight. It takes time. If this desert land did not exist, nor would the Amazon. It takes a suspension of disbelief to wrap your brain around this concept. The dusty, sandy, and arid land of the Sahara helps to create the habitat for one of the most rich and abundant natural habitats on earth. Metaphorically, this wonder of the natural world offers some wisdom for us.

Here’s a challenge about life and marriage: Couples don’t naturally grow together because everything in life is grand, wonderful, and dreamy. We, and relationships, grow because of adversity from a foreign land. This “foreign land” is your partner for life. They come from a strange, perhaps even hostile, environment. It’s normal to them, but different, adverse, to you. Paradoxically, this “otherness” of your partner is what brings you together in the first place.

This coming together of two different regions usually creates lots of growth and movement. We begin relationships in earnest, with excitement about the other person. We spend time with them, think about them when apart, create photo books, write letters, and lots of other romantically inclined actions. These are all what communicate love to the other person, and what knits hearts together. However, what provides nutrients to relationships in the early days often becomes laborious work in the long haul

A wife might say, I used to love his spontaneity and lack of planning, it was exciting and new. But now I’m really tired and exhausted from having no plan for our life.”

I’ve often heard husbands say that they fell in love with her self-reliance and independence, but over time they have come to resent her not having a place for him in her life. These parts we dislike about our spouse usually began as welcomed nutrients to the relationship but over time the focus is lost and what was once loved, is not resented.

Enter the Amazon/Sahara analogy. The fruits of love came from the acceptance and blessing of dusty, sandy, hot winds coming from across the seas. In the beginning, the experience of the other was new, fresh, and intoxicating. But as time goes on, the sand starts getting in your eyes and hair, it chaffs your legs when the wind blows hard, and ruins any food left uncovered. It’s difficult to accept these distant winds as blessings when they rub you raw.

Here’s the dilemma: Without the desert being the desert, the rainforest cannot be the rainforest. If given the choice, most of us would choose to spend the rest of our life in the Amazon as opposed to the Sahara. The essence of self love is the view that others are threatening to our happiness, not the source of it. A relationship cannot be the relationship without two people coming together from distant and different lands. Much like the personal growth that occurs from prolonged time in the desert, so too is the growth for a relationship. If we do not embrace discomfort, we will not flourish.

(This post was originally published as part of my writings for Start Marriage Right)

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