Who Are You In The Wilderness?

When the landscapes we know shift and change, when the things we depend on are suddenly rearranged or missing, how do we make sense of who we are?

Feeling alone in the wilderness

We’re walking to school, taking long leaps over the patches of sidewalk where the ice has finally cracked and melted into streams of water. I hold my youngest’s hand, urging him to move a bit faster. There’s a sharp cry behind me: “MOM!”

I turn to discover my daughter sprawled on the sidewalk, lunch kit and backpack scattered around her. 
Her brow is furrowed, angry eyes glaring at me. 

“I FELL!”

I walk back and help her up.


“I FELL AND YOU DON’T EVEN CARE!”

I fight the corners of my lips that desperately want to curve upwards, pick up her backpack, brush the muck from her lunch kit, and offer her my hand to hold.

She takes it as she mumbles something about how I don’t care about her, and I spend the rest of our walk exaggerating my cautions to her when we come to slippery bits.

By the time we get to school we are both laughing. I kiss her forehead and send her to class with wishes for a good day.

How quick she is to question my care when something goes wrong.

I can’t blame her too much, though, even though I try to do everything I know how to let her know how deeply she is loved.

I can’t blame her because I do the same thing. 

//

Things don’t look the way we think they should.

We don’t have the life we’ve imagined.

Our relationships fall apart.

We lose the ones we love most.

Our dreams are crushed.

And we begin to wonder, doesn’t God care about us?


//

“If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” (Luke 4:3)

The devil tempts Jesus to turn a hard, lifeless rock into nourishing, filling bread. What could be so wrong about that?

Here is the Bread of Life, who will multiply loaves and fishes so that the hungry crowd can eat, and turn water into wine so that wedding guests can enjoy the rest of the celebration. Here is the Bread of Life, tired and hungry.

But isn’t the temptation more complex than a simple miracle? It begins by asking Jesus to question his own identity. “If you are the Son of God…”

It is no accident that this story follows so closely on the heels of Jesus’ baptism where the heavens open and God proclaims “You are my son, whom I love.” 

Now, in the quiet of wilderness, the waters of the Jordan River having long since dried from his skin, Jesus is asked if he knows who he is. And, more than that, he’s asked to choose what it will mean to be God’s son. 

Are you really God’s son? 

What kind of parent would leave their son in the wilderness with nothing but stones?

Are you sure God loves you? 

God doesn’t seem to be providing for your needs. 

You need to take care of yourself because God won’t. 

You need to preserve yourself, to meet your own needs, to make sure, above all else, that you survive, because no one else is going to. 

Jesus responds to this test as he will respond to the next two temptations: by quoting Moses in Deuteronomy. “It is written: One does not live on bread alone” and, of course, the rest of that quote is “but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

Jesus will later teach his followers to pray “give us this day our daily bread.”

A prayer that reminds us that trust in God happens in the small, daily stuff of life.

A prayer that reminds us of our dependence on God.

How easy is it to believe, as soon as things aren’t looking good, as soon as we can only see stones where we long for bread, that God must not love us, that we can’t possibly belong to God, that we must have mis-understood the words about who we are in Christ, or that we are the one person left out of God’s love?

The temptation is to doubt that what God says about us is true. 

//

We have a habit of forgetting who we are, of stitching together fragments and scraps to find a costume we can try on and declare, “This is me,” rather than living boldly in the skin we already have.

(This skin we have is beautiful, by the way, with all of its birthmarks and scars and wrinkles).

We have a habit of forgetting who God is, of ignoring the stories from our past, ignoring the Stories from the Past, of the times when God has shown up, provided, remained faithful, choosing to believe in a stingy judge, rather than a loving parent.

//


Who are we in the wilderness?

The same beloved and beautiful child we were before the wilderness.

Only here, we will discover our strengths and weaknesses, our faith and our doubts, our fears and our courage in more profound ways.

Here we will discover, if we have eyes to see, the mystery of God, the depths of God’s love, the intimacy of wrestling with God in more profound ways.

You are still you in the wilderness.

God is still God.

The temptation is to doubt both are true.