Love Finds Us
Lent is a time when we talk often about “wilderness experiences”—about times when things are hard, when God seems absent, when we seem disoriented or stressed or lonely or bored or anxious or whatever. “The wilderness” becomes a kind of placeholder for an experience or set of experiences that happen to us. A season we must endure or grow through, a challenge we must rise to, a test we must pass, a necessary part of the journey of faith.
I think this is mostly an appropriate way to use wilderness language. Mostly. I sometimes wonder if is really appropriate to compare a light helping of trendy postmodern doubting to the Israelites’ tramping around in a Middle Eastern desert for four decades or if it is really legitimate to liken the ordinary trials and tribulations of human life that we all experience—vocational uncertainty, sickness of loved ones, periods of loneliness or depression, ordinary death and loss—to facing down the devil coasting on the fumes of forty days of hunger, exhaustion, and isolation. Our experiences seem somehow less wilderness-y than the biblical accounts from which the term is derived.
But mostly I think I can be convinced that it’s not altogether illegitimate to speak of the dry and barren periods in our own experience as “wilderness” times.
But what about when we are wilderness-y people? What about times when the term “wilderness” describes not a set of experiences that we encounter and must navigate out there, but a disposition or way of being in here that we project onto the world around us? What about times when we are rocky and craggy people, times when those around us are left choking on the dust that we kick up as we grumble and complain our way through the desert? What about when we are the sorts of people who are a barren wasteland to all around us?
What about times when we, ourselves, are the wilderness that others must stumble through?
I can only speak from my own experience, but I have often found that it is when I have been (or am in the middle of being) a wildnerness-y kind of person that I am most astonished and grateful for the appearance of love. An undeserved kindness. An affirming or encouraging word, even when I’ve done little to deserve either. Coffee and conversation with a friend who knows all about my ugly wilderness-y-ness and chooses not to let me drown in (or get away with) my own selfishness and stupidity. A hug. A smile. Something, anything that says, “Enough. Let’s try walking differently now.”
However, whatever, whenever… Love stubbornly comes trickling in, determined to muck things up. Little rivulets of unmerited grace begin to carve their paths and leave their marks on the dry and dusty places, the tramped down places, the difficult and obstinate places. And gradually the landscape is reconfigured, the dust begins to settle, and little shoots of life begin to appear. Gradually our course is rerouted and we take stumbling halting steps from being something like a wilderness to becoming something like a garden to those around us. That’s what love can do within us, despite us, and for us.
Which, I suppose, should not be much of a surprise. It should not exactly come as news to anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the gospel of Jesus Christ that love is, in the end, the way through the wilderness, the way the wilderness is overcome. For it was—and has always been!—love that drives God himself into the wild places where his children seem to be drawn. It—has always been!—love that finds us and love that begins to mend us.
So we have known and believe the love that God has for us.
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us.
1 John 4:16-19