Jesus returned from the Jordan River full of the Holy Spirit, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. There he was tempted for forty days by the devil. – Luke 4:1-2
Wilderness journeys …
That’s what Lent is all about. It’s a time of year paralleling those 40 days of Jesus’ in the desert – 40 days of searching, 40 days of self-examination and reflection, 40 days of turning and returning to God.
Have you ever seen a picture of the wilderness that Jesus wandered through? It’s not like the wilderness that we have up here in the northern part of the world – trees and soft grass or pine needles underfoot, bushes with berries or mushrooms or other possibly edible things, shade and brooks babbling here and there with their refreshing water, an abundance of shelter possibilities.
That was not the wilderness that Jesus wandered through. Jesus’ wilderness was barren and dry. Jesus’ wilderness was rocky and desolate – littered with only a few scraggly bushes, some tough and bristly desert grass, and very, very little water.
It wasn’t a pretty place.
It wasn’t a safe place.
It wasn’t an easy place.
It wasn’t an enjoyable place.
For Jesus, this wilderness wandering was no vacation. The difficulty of his journey over those 40 days is meant to inspire repentance and contrition in our own Lenten journeys. That’s why many people give up things in which they normally find great enjoyment during Lent – chocolate, social media, meat, etc. This sacrifice makes them a little less comfortable, a little less easy … a little more challenged, a little more aware of struggle and discomfort.
But Lenten sacrifices are not the only wildernesses we find ourselves in, are they?
Grief can be a wilderness far vaster than any other.
It isn’t a pretty place.
It isn’t a safe place.
It isn’t an easy place.
It isn’t an enjoyable place.
It is the place in which I recently found myself over Christmas and through January – grieving the loss of not one but two children for which I had so desperately wished and prayed and hoped and dreamed. It was my 40 days of wilderness – ugly, insecure, difficult, and horrible. And that rocky, desolate path of grieving was just as real as the carpet and concrete beneath my own feet.
When we are grieving, very often we need people to walk alongside us. We are desperate for compassion – for a kind word, a gesture that reminds us in the midst of our sorrow that we are not alone. As Jesus wandered the wilderness for those 40 days, there were no other people with him … but God remained by his side. God was with him as he faced his temptations – as he literally faced off with Satan. And in the face of those battles, God strengthened him. God held him up, encouraged him, and protected him.
In the midst of our own grief, we can feel like we are facing off against our own demons – inner, outer, or somewhere in between. But like Jesus, we are not alone. God walks with us. God blazes a path before us in the darkness. God shelters us when no other shelter can be found and nourishes our spirits when the food and the water are scarce. God reaches out a hand to us, very often in the form of the people who love us and hold us dear, to remind us that even in the ugliest, more insecure, hardest, and more horrific places, we are beloved children.
Thanks be to God.