Lessons From the Desert
I dearly wish I could be writing this with my wilderness wandering in the rearview mirror, shrinking and fading from view. I wish I wasn’t smack dab in the middle of the desert without a clue how long I will be here or even a clear path out. Sigh. Perhaps I need to pen these uncomfortable feelings here for someone else who may be wandering around, groping in the dark. Perhaps I need to etch them on the walls of my own heart so that, like the Israelites, I will not forget once my journey has ended and I am once again dwelling in safety.
Nine months ago, we heard God’s calling away from the ministry we had been laboring in for fifteen years. Fifteen years of burrowing roots and forging friendships. Fifteen years of fieldtrips and PTA fundraisers, Sunday School lessons and potluck dinners, baptisms and weddings. Fifteen years anywhere is long enough to feel like home. Nevertheless, the tugging could not go unheeded. We were not meant to stay. But where were we meant to go?
Many times during the past nine months, I’ve felt like Abram and Sarai, sent out from Ur with no destination, GPS, compass, or map. Our decision-making process looks less like, “Lord, I’ll sit here until you tell me where to go,” and more like, “Let’s rattle this doorknob and see if it opens.” So far, no doors have swung open.
I’m desperate to wrap my head around this season of waiting. Surely there must be a reason for our suffering. Maybe if I could figure it out, the trial would come to an end, all the necessary lessons having been learned. Then, I open my Bible and read the faith biographies in Hebrews 11. Person after person wandered this earth, taking the next step, and then the next, without any assurances, without a guaranteed outcome. The writer is twice careful to note that these great men and women died without ever seeing God’s promises fulfilled this side of heaven. And yet, their simple acts of earthly obedience greatly pleased God. In other words, they lived their whole lives in transition, and that’s how they ended up in the Hall of Faith.
If God cares more about my journey of trust than the destination, shouldn’t I be less desperate to get to the other side? Maybe this radical dependence I’m learning in the dark should be a lifestyle, not a fling.
Besides being taken through the school of trust, another gift of this time has been a necessary distilling of my truest needs. It’s embarrassing how many things I thought were needs that now seem silly when faced with actual insecurity. My reaction to the possibility of losing some of these peripheral things reveals the heart strings that were too tightly wound around them. As these ideals of a comfortable life are being demolished, one by one, I am realizing I still have some of the older brother tendencies I thought I’d shed long ago. “Don’t I deserve a secure life, Lord? After all I have sacrificed for you?”
This entitlement is at the core of much of our angst when we get right down to it. We think we can bargain with God for the things we want.
Kate Bowler wrote about her experience of bargaining with God when she was diagnosed with life-threatening cancer in the prime of her life. I was lucky enough to hear her talk about it last month.
“How do you live without quite so many reasons for why bad things happen to good people?”
This question among others swirled in her thoughts for days and weeks after her life was ripped apart. Her conclusion:
“Maybe it would be better to live without so many outrageous certainties.”
We all, like Job, think we can “argue [our] case with the Almighty,” (Job 13:3) when maybe we were meant to live in the Mystery, expecting nothing in return for our feeble attempts at goodness.
Lastly, all this desperate yearning is making me acutely aware that the comforts my heart aches for will never be received, at least not in their purest form, on this earth. A perfect house, a well-paying job, a close community of friends, good health, purposeful endeavors – even if they were all possible in this life, will never fully satiate my heart’s homesickness for eternity.
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
I do not want these lessons to be forgotten if or when I ever reach a more spacious plot. I know my heart, though; prone to amnesia. I’ll most likely need to relive the wilderness wanderings to be reminded anew that I am a “foreigner and stranger on earth.” (Heb. 12:13)
Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash