Into the Wilderness
"And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness."
February 16, 2018, Words By: Lina Thompson, Image By: Baptism of Jesus-Jesus Mafa
One of my brothers was a college football All-American. He broke and set many conference and national records. He was a Heisman trophy candidate his senior year, and the third pick in the first NFL draft. This was in the late 1970’s—well before social media. But for what it was, there was quite a bit of media attention that surrounded him.
One of the local newspapers wanted to write a story about him and our family. When the article was published, I noticed a quote from my father that I will never forget.
The reporter said, “You must be so proud of your son’s accomplishments, Mr. Thompson.”
And my dad replied, “I am proud of all my children.”
I loved my father for that.
In that moment, in one sentence, my dad did a couple of things. First, he put my brother’s life in context—i.e., he was part of a family which included others. Second, he identified where our value came from—it wasn’t placed on what we did, but rather on who we were. His children. His sons and daughters. We belonged to one another and we belonged to him.
This sense of belonging and identity grounds me. Belonging to a family and a community grounds us. Our identity as those beloved by God grounds us. And we need that grounding desperately because if we are honest with ourselves, our lives are fragile. We are socialized to distance ourselves from pain and suffering. We are fooled into the lie that we can actually mitigate and manage away brokenness and grief. But we cannot.
If Lent does anything, it brings us face to face with our true humanness. To borrow a phrase by Simone Weil: “There are only two things which pierce the human heart. One is beauty, the other is affliction.” I agree. Our human experience is shaped by these two things. Our lives are lived in both of these places—in beauty and in affliction. And sometimes, it’s hard to distinguish between the two.
We may not always know how to enter into this time meaningfully. It’s a problem in a culture that makes a living trying to keep us comfortable and extra busy. We aren’t naturally drawn to solitude and certainly not drawn to suffering.
It’s scary, it’s hard, and it’s lonely. We are invited to enter into this time ready to fast from the attachments that keep us from experiencing life; we are bolstered by the hope of being made more present to God and to one another.
This is unknown territory. It could feel like a “wilderness.” Like a desert.
One thing that’s not surprising: the wilderness desert is a given. Facing the “wild-beasts” that lurk in our hearts is real.
One thing that might be surprising: A big part of our transformation necessarily happens in the wilderness and desert.
The voice from heaven sustains and grounds us while we are there. “You are my son. In you I am well pleased.” Our identity and belonging tethers us to God. May we go freely into this season held firmly by this affirmation.