40 years is a long time – a lifetime in some cases. I can’t imagine spending mine wandering a desert even if it was with all my closest neighbors and relatives. To be constantly on the way, not knowing when you’ll get there, or even how to get there, trying to keep all these rules that the guy in charge gives you, wondering where the God who split the Red Sea to let you get out from under Pharaoh’s thumb went, this is a trying thing.
Even just this one year of hoping for change, for rest, for reaching the plateau of some sort of stability in life and being continually disappointed, has been harrowing.
It’s required a kind of perseverance. Not the kind where you grit your teeth and keep pushing through the pain, using every bit of your strength til exhaustion and reward meets you. But the kind where you choose to keep getting out of bed every morning when there is nothing to look forward to and you have precious little to do that makes you feel like you have a purpose and meaning to your life.
It’s a perseverance in hoping that someday God will lead you into the promised, to trusting in His slow work, that even though it didn’t work out this time just like all the other times before, someday, someday it will. It’s continuing to take the risk when you know there’s a very good likelihood that you will come crashing back down to earth again.
For Israel it was a vigilance in their behavior. They had to watch their trust to make sure it was not in themselves, but in their God, to deliver them out of their exile. It would be so, well, easy, to take the easy road. Why do the work when you could get there without all the discomfort? Why follow a God whose requests seem so off-base and difficult to follow when you could create your own god who could be appeased with simple offerings?
How long would you be willing to hold out for God to move in your life before you take charge? One year? 40? This has been the question stretching me thin as of late.
In bible study this semester we’ve been reading the Book of Judith. Judith is a widow who single-handedly saves the Israelites from imminent doom from King Nebuchadnezzar’s army. They had been surrounded and cut off from food and water supplies. When all the leaders of the city are freaking out about being starved to death and contemplating surrendering and becoming slaves to the king, Judith keeps her head. (I know; I’m so punny. — Read the book and you’ll understand.)
People are passing out in the street and a few of the old have already died from starvation, but Judith doesn’t break a sweat. –She’s got this not eating thing down already because she’s been fasting every day of her life (except ma,ybe like, two days each month) since her husband died. (Oy! Again with fasting, you say? Don’t knock it until you’ve seriously tried it, says me.)
Fasting brings wisdom. It allows for simplicity in life and a resulting clarity. God recognizes our sacrifices and gives us abundantly more graces in return for it. Judith is known for being a devout and wise woman and demonstrates this calm-mindedness and trust in God when she reproves the elders of the city (and who is she to be reprimanding them? Just a widow.) for giving up hope so easily.
They were scared of pain and suffering –didn’t want to see their children waste away when they had the means, dishonorable though they were, of procuring food for them (by surrendering). They would rather live as slaves (when they had just come out of slavery during the dispersion) than die of hunger.
But Judith has already known how to live with pain –living on after the death of her husband- and learned the value of suffering –making it a daily part of her spiritual growth. She doesn’t let the instinctive grab at comfort cloud her judgment. She knows without a doubt that God is on their side and won’t leave them hanging. Surrender is not an option.
“We haven’t messed up recently with God, guys,” she says (in so many words). “If we’re living in right relationship with Him, like we have been, than He’s for us and nothing will be able to stop Him. Trust that.”
And thankfully, now that we’re living post-New Covenant, even if we mess up, God is still for us. All the way. We just have to trust that.
But we can’t do it by ourselves. (Otherwise I would have been down and out a long time ago.)
If we’re ever going to make it through to the promises of God, we’re going to need some (ok, A LOT) of encouragement along the way.
An antiphon in the liturgy of the hours that I always need to hear when it comes up is, “Encourage each other daily while it is still today.” I can’t tell you how much I’ve relied on friends to give me hope. Just having someone to talk to that will understand that this isn’t about a job search or finding out what career path my life should take helps tremendously.
Especially being surrounded by the Wash U culture for the past four years where success is a way of life and having life mapped out in the neat 5-year package is a must, taking time to totally disregard my possible career path feels completely irresponsible. Every concerned look from the well-meaning spectator in my life is an arrow in my heart. Every time. A good chunk of the reason why I haven’t been around the CSC all that much this year is because to many people, it looks like my life has spiraled out of control since the internship ended. (Though I certainly don’t think so. I know it’s headed somewhere even if I can’t see where yet. God can and that’s what matters. But answering all the questions again and again about what I’m doing with my life has gotten old.) I was a responsible intern, someone who had it all together most of the time, and now I couldn’t even find a job? What happened?
This experience has been a big lesson in humility. –In being ok with looking like I don’t have it all together when I’ve prided myself on being responsible. It has been tough to be ok with being at rest (not actively pursuing work) and to feel comfortable with telling people I’m not searching for how to ‘get my life back on track’ and find a job/career path. Yes, it’s important to find work that gives life, but God’s placed more importance on working on other things in my life right now. And to have other people (just even one or two) accept that has been such a relief.
But that’s not the only encouragement I’ve needed. I’ve relied on God in a big way. Like manna in the desert, His word has been just enough for today to get me through til tomorrow. Every little bit of shade and breath of wind is needed to keep me running in this race. Audrey Assad sings, “My faith is not a fire, as much as it’s a glow; a little burning ember in my weary soul. And it’s not too much. It’s just enough to get me home, because your love moves slow.”
God gives us the faith we need. And though sometimes we’d wish He’d be a little less economical with it, often times what we need is not an overabundance of faith, but rather a smidgen less than what we think we can survive on so that the pressure put on it will strengthen it into a larger muscle (not without some discomfort in the process).
When you’re wandering in the desert, relying on God for life, your belt gets cinched a little tighter, muscles harden. Life is a little leaner and the basics of what keeps you going come to the forefront. …And you get sand in places you never thought possible. But what can you do? You’re lost in the middle of a desert. And you’re not in charge. Better to just accept it with the hope that someday (hopefully soon) a shower will be in your future.