I think about the wilderness a lot. The narratives of women in Scripture who find themselves there are my favorites. Hagar, the woman at the well, the woman of Revelation 12, and so many others; these are the texts that speak to me, the companions with whom I dwell in my own deserts. But I’m beginning to wonder: if I were offered even a taste of the Promised Land, would I bite?
How much do I hold on to the struggle and the pain of the desert because it’s what I best know? Is there the possibility that I’m staying out of the rest and beauty and life that God offers me because it’s unknown, because I’d rather be safe in the wilderness than risk to hope in an expansive, luxurious landscape?
After Moses died, God commissioned Joshua to lead the Israelites into the Promised Land. Twice within only the first 18 verses of that story God says to him, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Why was this affirmation needed? After 40 years of desert-wandering, hardship, toil, exhaustion, and disappointment, wouldn’t they have been ready to sprint into the land God had promised? Why the need to tell them to not be afraid, to not be discouraged?
I’m beginning to think I can relate. My own life in the past years, though not all 40 (okay, 47) of them, has been marked by the wilderness, by the desert, by wandering, by toil and exhaustion and disappointment. But the past year or so has increasingly offered me enticing tastes of the promised land – emotionally, vocationally, relationally. And I hold back. I am afraid. Afraid that the rug will get pulled out from under me. Afraid that my hope is foolish. Afraid that the pain of hope-disappointed will be more painful than not hoping at all. Afraid of what it might be like and who I might be if I were to actually dwell in a place of expansive rest and plenty, milk and honey.
Why? Why would I choose the safety (and pain) of the known over the possibility of freedom, breath, and life in the unknown? Why wouldn’t I sprint into that promised land? The simple answer is that the known is always preferred over the unknown; behavioral patterns and emotional responses developed in places of harm, anxiety, or fear, though admittedly painful, are still more comfortable to us than having to risk being open, vulnerable, and, dare I say it, fulfilled or content. Isn’t this crazy?
We have the proclivity to sabotage the very things we most desire. We dare not hope. We dare not let our feet step even tentatively over the line into a promised land for fear that we’ll get burned; that God’s promise to be with us wherever we go is not really true; that we will be disappointed, yet again.
In light of these early-Sunday-morning musings, I’m struck by my post from last night; my random (and admittedly confusing/cryptic) thoughts about faith. Do I really want a re-imagined faith? One that is full of risk and hope? I hate it when this happens, but perhaps I need to re-read my own words:
How might we re-imagine what faith (and faithfulness) looks like? Will we risk? Will we hope? Will we lean into uncertainty as an expression of faith vs. looking for the certain, the safe, the sure? …(I’m) wondering how to re-imagine something I’ve not dared dream…Wondering how to move my overflowing brain of theory, thought, and imagination into praxis, experience, and reality…
Will I step out of wondering, wandering, and the wilderness and into the Promised Land? God, I hope so.
No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to give them. (Joshua 1:5-6)