For forty years the Israelites wandered the desert. The Book of Exodus tells us the Israelites had been in bondage in Egypt for hundreds of years when Moses led them out of Egypt to cross the desert on the way to the Promised Land. God even parted the Red Sea to make their journey easier. The walk across the desert should have taken about a month, not forty years.
I’ve been thinking about the time that the Israelites spent in the desert, comparing it in a sense to the time most of us are spending confined to our homes because of the Covid pandemic. Perhaps we need to learn something in this time when life as we knew it has come to a screeching halt. We are in a virtual desert. Although I am looking out at a large body of water, it is a desert in terms of human contact and earthly distractions. I live alone, in relative solitude with no cable television and no companions. I have a refrigerator, running water, and air conditioning (thank you, Lord!). I’ve been complaining of course, especially since there is no end in sight. But complaining and kicking the baseboards has no useful value. Can I begin to see it differently? Can this time become something positive rather than a huge, frightening nuisance?
God kept the Israelites in the desert for forty years instead of weeks. Obviously, they weren’t learning what He wanted them to learn. Moses never got to the Promised Land; he died in the desert. Jesus retreated to the desert to be alone and pray—the desert provided Him a chance to communicate with His heavenly Father. Early Christians—the Desert Fathers and Mothers—removed themselves to the desert in Egypt to live monastic lives in order to grow closer to God. I didn’t choose this time in “the desert” but I can try to overcome the loneliness and frustration and use it as a time to grow.
So I’m trying to accept this time, this vast desert of uncertainty, as a time to grow closer to Him. Something I read today struck me as way to approach this—to paraphrase, I read that even in misery, wanting to love Him is a sign of His presence.* Think about that . . .
*Reading Thomas Merton’s Thoughts in Solitude