40: in the Wilderness

Lately, my mind has been wandering to the desert experience of the Israelites, the story of God’s people, their search for a land and for an identity in the midst of great turmoil and unknown.  I have found myself resonating with the questions:  Why are we here?  What will happen to us when this is over?  What in the world am I getting myself into?

Many Christians spend a lot of energy pointing on all the mistakes that the Israelites made on the journey–they will look the stories of the people’s doubt and fear as examples of their lack of faith.  They will point to the golden calf and they will proclaim, “Hah!  Those fools had God with them in the wilderness and still they sinned!  No wonder they suffered so!”

But as I find myself in the middle of my own desert wandering, my own peculiar “40” experience, I am inclined to sympathize with that band of courageous and, yes, desperately human people who found themselves in the middle of an unknown land and unsure of what might be before them.

I imagine that, in the beginning, the people of God must have been excited, perhaps even thrilled, by the possibility of what lay before them.  Perhaps they didn’t even really believe that this could be real–was it really the case that their identity as slaves was no more?  Could it be true that Egypt held them captive no more?  Were they really free?  It must have been exhilarating.

But as the days begin to pass, and little seems to be changing, I can imagine how questions might begin to rise up like steam, clouding the future and erasing the certainty that they had once held tight to.  Where were they, anyways?  20 years into the wilderness, and only a pillar of cloud and fire to guide the way might make me downright cranky.  Even knowing that God has promised an end might be of little comfort when you are barely halfway there and most of your life is behind you.

I wonder how many of us find ourselves on a journey and don’t even realize it until the beginning is long over and the end is nowhere in sight?  It certainly didn’t occur to me to think of my 40 as “wilderness” time until almost 10 weeks had passed, and with every sunrise and sunset, I feel myself wrestling with opposing emotions:  frustration and expectancy for what is to come, hope and doubt of how this might change me, how it might already be changing me without my even realizing it.

As I sit and as I write on this, my 19th week of journeying, I can’t help but wonder what lies before me without my even realizing it.  What doubts or fears might arise within me?  What frustrations might I wrestle with in the coming days and weeks?  When it is all over, how might I look back and realize that my life was changed forever by what I am experiencing right now?  I have no pillar to follow, only my own feeble and desperate trust that God is with me in this, guiding me through the unknown towards a land and an identity that God has prepared for me.  May it be so.

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