Into the Wilderness

March 28, 2017 at 9:02 am

wildernessOne of my fondest memories is a journey my wife and I took together just weeks after our wedding, backpacking across the Presidential Range in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. On the morning of our second day we woke early and stepped out from under our tarp to meet a morning breaking over Mt. Washington. The sky was on fire with streaks of red and orange. The day was silent, and so were we as we sat on an outcropping of granite to take in the majesty of wilderness that seemed to stretch for miles.

It is a memory I return to often, a stone of memorial that brings me back again and again to the vastness of God’s creation and the innate desire built into every one of us to be found in wild places. In our increasingly distracted world I find myself returning to the mountains in my mind more often. 

The memory has surfaced with greater frequency lately for another reason as well, because for much of the last year I have been traveling a far different kind of wilderness. A wilderness without silence or serenity, absent still mornings or sunrises over rocky peaks. A wilderness of the soul.

In this season of Lent I have allowed myself greater freedom to meditate on the bareness the last year has brought, when our family traveled further east to enroll our oldest son in a school that is able to support his learning differences. I am in a new home, a new neighborhood, searching for a new community and a new sense of stability.

While I often reflect on the wilderness as a place of restoration and renewal, the Bible consistently calls it the place of bareness and isolation. Unless you were John the Baptist, no one called the wilderness home. Which makes the forty days Jesus spent there alone all the more powerful. Especially in light of the fact that we are told that he was sent there by his Father. Luke tells us “And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil” (Lk 4:1-2). 

And he was led by the Spirit. 

Jesus was brought to the wilderness where he was alone and hungry for over a month while he battled an onslaught of Satan’s temptations. In these past eight months I have come to sense something of Jesus’ trial. But while Jesus’ test proved his perfection, my own journey has revealed my utter inadequacy, my frailty, and my weakness. The devil is having a much easier time with me. My only solace is the reality that God does not send us into the wilderness forever. We emerge, at some point, as men and women who have been tried and tested. I have come to believe that we remain in the wilderness until we have learned the lessons necessary to our journey of faith – even if I am proving to be a poor student.

I imagine what held Jesus together during the dark evenings of silence in the desert was the constant refrain of his father’s voice spoken to him before he was whisked away into isolation, “You are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased” (Lk. 3:22).  Many days I feel like neither a beloved son, nor well pleasing. Having confronted every temptation common to man (Heb. 4:15), I trust Jesus wrestled with these same lies, but many days I simply get pinned on my back again.

But this is the essence of Lent, a season of preparation for death and crucifixion. Forty days of being led by the Spirit into the wilderness where we are tempted by the devil. Forty days of hunger and loneliness, forty days of remembering, against all evidence to the contrary, that we are beloved sons and daughters with whom God is well pleased. 

And at the end, resurrection. A constant reminder that we are not yet what we will become (1 Jn. 3:2), that transformation has come, and is coming. The sunset is rising in the distance and will eventually cast a long awaited light over the darkness.  While we wait in the stillness of the night, we are not alone for the Spirit has sent us with the words of the Father to whisper to us through the darkness. “You are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased.”