So, Lent. If you’ve watched the movie 40 Days and 40 Nights…and I’m not necessarily recommending it…then you know as much as I do about Lent. Josh Hartnett’s character says that Lent reflects the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting and praying in the desert.
That’s it. That’s all I know about Lent.
But there are other things I know about deserts. The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years before entering the promised land. They needed to. They weren’t ready for the promised land. They had lived in slavery for 400 years, in the godless nation of Egypt. They knew about God, the “God of their forefathers, of Abraham and Isaac,” but they didn’t know God. They needed to learn to have a relationship with God, and to trust Him with their needs.
The Israelites went through a desert that lasted an entire generation. We go through deserts in our lives as well–in a metaphoric sense, that is. The pastor at my church gave a really great message on this topic last Sunday. He gave examples of deserts like parenting a teenager…that period of time when the sweet little child is gone, but the reasonable adult hasn’t shown up yet. Or being out of work, trying to hold on financially and waiting on an unknown future. Or a tough period in a marriage. Or going through a health crisis. The “in between” times can be fertile ground for nothing but complaint and emotional meltdown, or they can be fertile ground for transformation, for growth, for seeing God’s provision, for growing in trust.
It really was a great message. To watch or listen, click here, then click on the watch or listen button under “The Land Between.”
For me personally, I have not parented a teenager. I have not experienced unemployment. I have not gone through a difficult marriage or a health crisis, praise God. There are a lot of people who have had a lot of deserts drier than mine, no question. But the life that I am given to live is mine, and my recent desert was this: the school year of 2009-2010.
I don’t think we need to revisit the details.
In a nutshell, I was, for no singular crisis or reason, miserable and self-destructive.
The saddest part, in hindsight, was that I don’t feel I allowed transformation. I had asked God, shortly before that year started, to draw me closer to Him. So I think He sent me this experience to teach me to run to Him for comfort and strength, but I didn’t. I ran to self-destruction and self-pity. Complaint and emotional meltdown.
You know, the longer the hindsight, the easier it is to see patterns and reasons. I now see that I was also approaching the breaking point of trying to live as a follower of Jesus while maintaining my previous religious patterns. This is probably a topic for another time, and certainly not a commentary about what I think other people should do. As I said, the only life I have is mine. But imagine something akin to being in the closet about your sexual orientation. A shadow of the difficulty of that particular experience, in our world, I am sure. But think about this… I happen to be straight. What if I lived in a world where many people thought it wasn’t okay that I, as a woman, am attracted to men? God made me this way; I have been straight since being marinated in a certain cocktail of hormones shortly after conception, according to current medical theories. If I lived my life pretending to like women, or worse, trying to like women, imagine the tension that would be building, the explosive breaking point, and the freedom that I would feel when I finally admitted, to myself and the world around me, that I like men? Sweet freedom! Blessed truth! Priceless authenticity! Nothing would be changed. I would be the same person God created before I revealed who that was. I would simply now be living, rather than hiding and wishing.
On a much, much, much less difficult level, I was hiding and wishing. I had been following Jesus for about six years at that point. Six years! Not the same as being gay or straight for a lifetime, but still, six years is a long time! I had this crazy idea that I could follow Jesus without following him anyplace. I could sort of keep it a secret, and go about my old habits and traditions. I convinced myself I wasn’t really lying to anyone, but I was lying to everyone, especially myself. And all the while, Jesus was inhabiting me, changing me from the inside, and I was resisting where He was leading.
In late 2010, I found a community of like-minded believers, people just trying to follow Jesus without the distraction of religion, trying to love their neighbors the way Jesus does. People who are like me. Sweet freedom! Blessed truth! Priceless authenticity! I don’t hide anything, or wish anything was different about who I am. I am not a bad Christian wishing I was a good Christian. I am a human being, holding onto Jesus for dear life, and I don’t want to live any other way!
More about deserts tomorrow…