Into the Desert for Lent
Where would you want the love of your life to take you on a romantic getaway? Hawaii? Paris? Camping? Did you ever wonder what God’s idea of a romantic getaway is? One thing is for sure — it is not a cruise. No, God wants to take you to the… desert!
The Hebrew word for desert, midbar, has significance beyond the images of isolation, barrenness and death that we conjure up when we hear it. The root word is dabar, which means word. So, the literal meaning of desert in Hebrew is the place of the word, making the desert a place of encounter, communication, relationship; a place where one hears the voice of God. This sums up the experience of the Israelites in the book of Exodus in company with God — in the desert.
It is in the desert that God “proposes” to the Israelites to take him as their only God after spectacularly freeing them from slavery in Egypt. In Deuteronomy 30:20, God begs the Israelites to choose life and blessing, “that you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life” (emphasis added). The same Hebrew word used in this passage for “cling” appears in Genesis 2:24 to describe marriage. Therefore, God is basically on his knees in front of his people begging them to marry him. The desert is also where God wants to take the Israelites to rekindle the “romance” — “I am going to seduce her and lead her into the desert and speak to her heart… There she will respond as when she was young, as on the day when she came up from Egypt.” (Hosea 2:14)
I remember once, on a plane from Cleveland to Boston, the passenger next to me spilled out his whole life’s story at warp speed. As we were getting ready to land I found out it was because he was scared of flying. “If we go down when we land,” he said to me, “I’m holding onto you.” “What if we go down over the water?” I asked him. “Oh, that’s no problem,” he answered. “I know how to swim.” “In that case,” I told him, “I’m holding onto you.”
That’s the type of clinging that God loves. The “I’m clinging to you because you are the only one who can save me” kind of clinging. And, if you think about it, the desert (as we are used to thinking of it) is the perfect place for that. I don’t know about you, but the first snake I see, I’m clinging to whatever I can get my hands on. There aren’t many distractions in the desert either, so if you want someone’s undivided attention the desert just might top your list of destinations! And if you didn’t prepare yourself ahead of time for having absolutely nothing to sustain you, you’d have to rely completely on your partner for survival, for life itself. Get my drift?
When we look at the desert this way, we can understand why it is God’s romantic getaway of choice, and why Jesus, too, is led into the desert (Luke 4:1-13). There was nothing to distract Jesus from being in perfect union with God and to prepare him for his testing. (It’s pretty obvious that Jesus experienced something other than being tempted.) His very words to the devil tell us that he chose the offer of life and blessing that God presented to the Israelites in the desert — to love the Lord his God, to obey the voice of the Lord his God, and to cling to the Father and to the word that he has heard the Father speak.
What if we made this our Lenten experience? What if we allowed God to take us into the desert to propose to us? If you would like to accompany me into the desert during Lent, here are some questions that I’ll be asking myself. Please join me in reflection and share your responses in the comments section below:
- What “deserted” or “lonely” place can you retreat to on a regular basis where God can have your undivided attention? Are there any emotional deserts in your life where God might be inviting you to let him in?
- What passages of Scripture, or other sacred text, have you felt called to go back to? Have you heard God speaking to you in a way that you need to pay more attention to?
- What things do you cling to when you face limitations, which God might be calling you to give up so that you cling to God instead?
- Is God truly your life, or just another distraction that you allow into your life every once in a while? How would you need to change in order to choose God’s blessing, choose God as your life?