That the Lenten journey starts in the wilderness is no accident. It is as real as anything could ever be. As it was with Jesus, how could it be anything other than that for those of us who are his companions?
I shared in my sermon last Sunday..."If you've known life in the wilderness, you understand. If you haven't yet, I've got some news for you that you may not interpret as good...it's not a matter of if, it's one of when."
If you think that being a Christian exempts you from the perils of life, the pains of relationships, the uncertainty of what your life means and where it's headed, to say nothing of wondering what difference the life you've had thus far has made on anything or anyone--then you're a fool.
None of us is exempt. And we shouldn't be.
As it was with Jesus, so the wilderness is for us; a proving ground.
It's a place where the examination of if what we claim to be true and what of our life's trajectory ultimately matters withstands the temptation to be anything other than what we believed our lives were really about. The wilderness is that place where the adversary (that which is adverse to who God has made us) makes us ponder the "what ifs" of our futures from the standpoint of something that seems authentic, but is not.
My old friend, Ed Kilbourne is want to say..."a temptation is a temptation only if it is something you actually see yourself doing, and doing so gladly...otherwise, it's just a suggestion." And suggestions are just like opinions, which are like, oh, never mind...everybody has one.
Wilderness temptations seduce us to entertain the prospect of living an alternative reality. If our initial stint in the wilderness (Jesus was there forty days before temptations came) has us wrestling with the "whys" of our lives, the real power of temptation is fantasizing in the "what ifs" of what isn't but could be.
And the "what ifs" are not in themselves bad.
Hungry? You've the power to remedy that.
Endangered? You're protected.
Empowered? Think of what could be done if you had the reigns and were in charge.
But to live in any reality but the God reality, even if the product of it could be interpreted as good, creates problems...it is inauthentic.
To make anything other than God the main thing, even if it's a good thing, is the wrong thing to do. Bible language calls that idolatry.
In the proving ground of wilderness wrestlings, we each must determine what the "God reality" is for us to pursue. For Jesus, it was a time to affirm if the witness of the Spirit at his baptism was enough for him to stand upon when forced into the extremes of existence.
The thing about a proving ground is that you can't know the outcome until you've endured it. You hope for an outcome, even project it, but that's just speculation...maybe an educated guess. The "you" you anticipate being can only be born out in the proving ground of the wilderness.
For some it's an affirmation of what's always been.
For others it's declaration of independence from what's been to new doors to walk through.
I'm ever aware that I'm now at the age of many people who are just now answering the call to ministry. From the wilderness proving ground a new chapter, a new door, a new claim to God's reality for them is clarified and they walk through it. It's not a rejection of what was. Rather, it's an affirmation of what is now. In fact, my experience with second career clergy is that the lives they lived previously informs their ministry in powerful ways.
And then there's folks like me...having never done anything other than this. I "answered the call," and started the candidacy process 30 years ago this summer. What does my current wilderness wanderings reveal to me about what I've been, its value and import in God's Realm, and what I shall be over the next 20 years? I haven't the answer to that...yet. But I'm working on it. Or more honestly stated, it's working on me.
If you're in the "proving ground" of the wilderness this Lent, I'm there with you. My hope and prayer for us all is that we claim the holy boldness it's going to take to respond to what we discover about God's reality for us and live it out. Because once we've "come out the wilderness," we're more prepared than ever to be the vessels God calls us to be.