A time for learningSection 4A, Where's the Faith? Tuesday, April 17th, 2012
Social Chaos: Where's the Faith?
We all have wilderness times in our lives. Jesus’ wilderness time “immediately” followed his baptism and the powerful affirmation of who he was: “You are my Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” The Gospels say that the same Spirit who descended on him at his baptism also drove him out into the bleak, lonely and dry Judean wilderness for forty days of testing and temptation.
Wilderness time is a part of our lives too. We can’t get around it. We can’t live and love without sometimes ending up in the wilderness. What are wilderness times? T.K. Brewster describes wilderness times as those times when we feel we are tested to our limits, and we describe those times in wilderness terms: dry, desolate, lonely, trying, difficult and agonizing. We speak of hunger, thirst and longing in the wilderness.
The first thing to remember about wilderness time is that it’s a time for learning.
One of those email lists making the rounds a few years ago listed significant things children have learned about life. Like:
“You can’t trust dogs to watch your food for you.”
“Don’t sneeze when somebody is cutting your hair.”
“When your mom is mad, don’t let her brush your hair.”
“No matter how hard you try you cannot baptize a cat.”
These are the kinds of accelerated learning experiences we call “learning the hard way.” So it is with the hard time in the wilderness. A lot can be learned in the wilderness, but one lesson stands out. The wilderness can be a time of accelerated learning about priority – what really matters in our lives.
Patrick Morley in his book The Man in the Mirror relates the lack of a clear sense of priority to a trip to the grocery store on an empty stomach without a shopping list. Nearly everything looks delicious and you wander through the aisles without a plan, loading up the shopping cart with goodies. After the shock of the bill at checkout, there is the shock when you arrive home with sacks of snacks and food for only three “real meals!”
Life presents us with options – so many ways to use our resources, time, abilities and influence. Without a clear sense of what is most important, we can spend it all and at the end of the day find that we haven’t taken care of what matters most.
Jesus’ time in the wilderness – coming just before he was to begin his public ministry – was a time for sorting out what mattered most and to get clear about God’s will for his life. The longer accounts in Matthew and Luke tell us that Jesus was tempted by: wealth, fame and power to steer him away from his mission. As we follow Jesus into the wilderness, we can see that our own wilderness time can be an important time of testing our values, looking at what is most important, and making decisions about our life’s priorities.
A few years ago, my mom was in the wilderness, suffering from cancer. During the time of her surgeries and treatments, I was privileged to spend time with her in that wilderness. She showed me without words how her priorities changed. She was present and more and more started to live in the present moment – rather than worrying about the future – of which she had no control.
She said something like, “I’ve learned that what I thought was very important before doesn’t seem very important now, and what I took for granted and thought I could put off for another day has risen to the top of my list of priorities.”
As painful as wilderness experiences are, they can yield more spiritual growth than the good times. They can be times of learning about ourselves, about God, about what is most important and about where life is headed. Without that time of self-examination, taking inventory and learning – whether in the wilderness or not – life can just go along without much thought.
Here are some good wilderness questions: What important relationships and friendships have I been putting off to some future time? What is God calling me to do with my life and with all the resources God has given me? What in my life right now do I take for granted?
A successful business woman visiting the pier of a coastal village noticed a small boat with just one fisherman pulling up to the dock. Inside the small boat were several large yellow fin tuna. She complimented the fisherman on the fish and asked how long it took to catch them. “Only a little while,” the fisherman replied.
“Why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?”
“I have enough to support my family’s needs.”
The business woman then asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”
The fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, and stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my friends. I have a full and busy life.”
The business woman scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats and eventually have a whole fleet of boats. You would cut out the middleman and sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small village and move to Mexico City, then Los Angeles, and eventually New York City where you would run your expanding enterprise.”
The fisherman asked, “But, how long will all this take?”
The MBA replied, “Fifteen to twenty years.”
“But what then?” the fisherman asked.
The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right, you would announce an initial public offering and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich; you would make millions.”
“Millions?” the fisherman asked. “Then what?”
The American said, “Then you would retire and move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, and stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play guitar with your friends.”
What is most important in your life? Where is your life headed? These are good wilderness questions!
Rev. Dan Koeshall is the Senior Pastor at The Metropolitan Community Church (The Met) in San Diego, California, themetchurch.org.
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