Tired in the wilderness

back to normal covid19 distancing elijah faith past struggle temptations wilderness May 13, 2020

At first, the children of Israel were ready for the challenge.

We'll flee from Pharaoh, dashing away from our homes (such as they were) before he changes his mind. And when he does decide to come after us, we'll try to outrace the chariots. It's a fools'a plan, but what else can we do? When they get stuck in the mud, our legs that trembled with fear start dancing with joy. We breathe deep the air of freedom and the promise of tomorrow. 

Until tomorrow seems too much like yesterday, all sand and steps and no way to know how far we've come and how far we have to go. Until tomorrow looks like yesterday, and we start to question the whole enterprise.

All of a sudden, Egypt doesn't look so bad. At least we knew. Maybe what they asked us to do was impossible, but at least we knew where we were and how things worked and what our place was in the midst of them. Even if it wasn't that much of a place.

I've been thinking about those wandering children of Israel lately. We've all found ourselves in a kind of wilderness. For some it's meant change but of a not-so-bad sort. For some people it's meant change of a catastrophic sort. 

We're all wandering in the wilderness, with no real way to know how far we've come and how far we have to go. Life in the wilderness is uncomfortable and hard and we are often not our best selves.

The children of Israel decided to hedge their bets and make a golden calf to worship in case this other God wasn't quite up to the task. (In their words when Moses came down from the mountain and confronted them, "We threw our gold into the fire and this calf just jumped out.") More than that, they made a plan to give up all of this foolishness and go back to Egypt. Surely Pharaoh would take them back, give them their old jobs back, give them their old slavery back. At least then they'd know what tomorrow and the next day were going to bring.

They wanted to get back to normal.

As do we. Normal is that place back there when life operated the way we expected it to work. Even if it wasn't great for some folks, it was what we knew. We want to go back to how things were.

Except, it never really works that way. Time in the wilderness is what the social scientists call a disruptive event.

When we've spent time in the desert we may try to go back to being who we were before all of this happened, but it's always an incomplete journey. The wilderness leaves its mark, and no matter how much we try to cover it up or wash it away, our soul remembers. We may bury it deep, but our soul remembers.

Wilderness invites us to imagine a new future. Yet visions for the new bring with them grief for the old. We can't just pretend this never happened, or that it's quite over and done with now. We can't go back to Egypt and pick up where we left off. We can't go back to normal because normal is no longer behind us. It's out there somewhere. which is great, except we still don't know how far we've come or how long it will be.

So we keep walking, one foot in front of the other, one day after the other. In this wilderness we come face to face with that which we usually hide in our distractions.

We see more clearly how very small we can be. We realize how guarded our hearts have been or how miserly our measure of mercy has been. We see how carelessly we tossed away the ordinary days, not seeing the gold that was in hidden in them all along. We realize that we can be more loving, more true, more real than we have been. Our lives may find a different path in the wilderness.

There's none of this that's easy. It's hard living life off the GPS grid. It's hard being present with ourselves. It's hard not to see the road behind us with rose glasses, seeing only what was easy and not that which was not - and is not- right.

If you're a bit worn out, that comes with the territory.  The angels brought takeout to Jesus when he was in the wilderness. And when Elijah was at his wit's end in the wilderness and feeling isolated and alone down to his bones, the angels stopped by and suggested that he might want to eat a bite and take a nap. 

Let yourself do the same.

Then get up again, for even here, even now God continues to work. Not inflicting plagues upon us to prove a point, but to stand with us in the midst of them.To cradle grieving hearts and weary souls. To give us a helping of hope and courage for the living of these days and the building of a world beyond them.