“In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him like the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft.”
These are the words of Moses’ great oration in Deuteronomy 32. He is describing the time when the Israelites wandered through the desert wilderness for 40 years after fleeing slavery in Egypt.
The biblical story begins with a description of watery chaos, and the spirit of God hovering over the watery chaos. Jeremiah later connects the watery chaos at the beginning of Genesis with the image of the desert. The Israelites are delivered out of Egypt, wander in the desert for 40 years, and then are led to a “promised land,” that is 70% desert, with limited sections of fertile land.
The rabbis immediately recognized that there had to be a lesson or something to learn from the desert, and from the fact that the “promised land,” was 70% desert. In fact, there are more lessons in the desert than I can remember. I wanted to share one with you today.
In the Bible, the desert is a powerful metaphor for times people are struggling and dealing with pain in life.
If you explore the story of the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years, you’ll find that as they get deeper in the desert and as the suffering increases, the miracles progressively become greater in magnitude and more frequent. By the end there is water coming from the rock, and manna falling from the sky every single day. So the Bible paints a picture that tells us when things get worse, God will show up in greater magnitude and with more frequency.
This biblical image of the desert often reminds me of the “Footprints in the Sand” story by Mary Stevenson, where at some times in the person’s life there is only one set of footprints because things were difficult and God had to carry them.
This doesn’t mean it will get easier or hurt less, it does mean that God will show up and provide for you and take you through the tough times.
The story in the Bible tells us that God brought Israel to the desert to get to know them intimately and see what was in their hearts. It is in the tough times of pain and suffering in the desert that the Israelites relied on him the most. When things are good and comfortable in the promised land they forget about him, and he has to remind them time and time again of how he cared for them in the desert like the apple of his eye.
I’ve recently come to realize the importance of finding God in the desert once again. For me recently things were so good, I was happy and secure, and didn’t seem to have a care in the world. I also found myself relying on God less and less during this time. Then all of a sudden everything changed completely. It was unexpected and out of my control, and it was very painful. I found myself doing everything I could personally to try to fix the situation, which of course made things even worse. And then I realized something. I was a person who probably talked the most about relying on God, and I was also the person who was actually relying on God the least.
It was then I realized that God had brought me back to the desert, and I needed to rely on him and stop trying to take care of things myself. I believe Reinhold Niebuhr said it best: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
One thing this experience has taught me is to rely on God always, in both the deserts and in the promised lands of life. If you’re hurting, suffering, or in pain, you’re in a desert. Maybe you’ve been cheated on or betrayed, or lost a loved one. I don’t know why people suffer and go through pain. I also know that in the desert the miracles increase in magnitude and in frequency, and God will carry you through it. It may not be easier or less painful, but it will get better.
If you’re in the desert right now like me remember that your heart will recover one day. It may not ever be the same again, but God will take you through the desert and bring you out on the other side.