Day 21 – Gentleness Amidst the Harsh
Wilderness seasons are harsh … a dry and weary land that can leave us feeling beat up, bruised, and thirsty. The wilderness can lead us to wonder if anyone cares. It may seem easy to stay on the path when there is a cool breeze and green grass next to us on the path along a beautiful ocean. However, when we feel like we are the only ones who are continuing on the path in the wilderness season, the solitariness of it all can really take a toll. Then, the despair may feel a bit thicker when we see others experience a depth of pain that comes from the consequences of their sin.
After the incident with the sexualized worship in Moab, significant consequences came to those who engaged in this sin. We read: “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Take all the chiefs of the people and hang them in the sun before the LORD, that the fierce anger of the LORD may turn away from Israel.’ And Moses said to the judges of Israel, ‘Each of you kill those of his men who have yoked themselves to Baal of Peor.’” (Numbers 25:4–5) The harshness of this consequence baffles the mind. There is a gravity and sadness as we consider it. It can feel like there is no hope in the dusty, death-filled landscape of the wilderness.
Our longings for love and comfort are exposed even more in these days. In the wilderness, we desire so desperately to hear that it is going to be ok. And not just a glib pat on the shoulder but a gritty kind of presence that is with us in it. The kind of presence that speaks tenderly with tears in the eyes and pain in the voice. We want to know that we are not alone. We need to know that we are cared for. Is it worth it? Is this going somewhere?
As we allow ourselves to be present to the quietness of desolation, we may hear the quiet words “I will never leave you or forsake you.” These words bounce around our soul and we may begin to notice some hope bubble to the surface. In this space, we start to become aware that the wilderness is not a problem to solve or an environment to master and control. In the releasing, we begin to see that there are streams of water imperceptible to the human eye … streams of life and hope and joy and peace.
God employs such imagery through the prophet Isaiah: “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing … for waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.” (35:1-2, 6-7) Seeing this truth of what God does in the desert breathes freedom into our spirit. Instead of the wilderness being another prison, our imagination is enlivened to see that the desert is a space where God redeems and transforms and heals. As we begin to see, we begin to live. We begin to lose a preoccupation with self and with producing our own sense of comfort. We taste the “glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21) The apostle Paul speaks of this freedom in the context of suffering and he also puts it in terms of the “groaning in the pains of childbirth.” (8:22) Indeed, there is a great hope in the days of pregnancy, even in the pain, because of what is coming. But what if the pregnant woman didn’t know she was pregnant? It would seem to be pain for no reason.
Michael Card, in his song In the Wilderness, sings: “Groaning and growing, amidst the desert days, the windy winter wilderness, can blow the self away.” In the wilderness, the birthing process is marked by subtraction as the false self is shed. The pain of the pregnant wilderness is not something to numb but an invitation to hope and anticipation. It is in these moments that the tenderness of God’s love becomes quite real. One of the elements of an intimate relationship that emerge during the birthing process is the ritual of naming. A name is selected that represents hopes and desires. God does the same with us. In Revelation 2:12-17, we find a letter written to a church that was dealing the same things as the people of Israel in Numbers 25. (note the references to Balak and Balaam as in Numbers 24). God shares that He gives to those who overcome (i.e., stay on the path) “a white stone with a new name written on it.” (Rev 2:17)
Spend a few moments with the One who will never leave you or forsake you. Pray a simple prayer: Lord, what is Your name for me? Listen and receive what the Lord has for you in this season.
Questions for reflection: what is the name on that white stone? What does that name communicate to you? How does it enliven hope?
Prayer: Lord, here I am, dry and thirsty – desiring You more than anything else, trusting that You are with me and at work in me. Give me eyes to see what You see, and ears to hear what You hear that I might perceive that stream in the wilderness. Amen.