It’s hard to believe that Memorial Day is already behind us, and that means that Summer is fully upon us. It hasn’t felt much like it lately, but we all know the heat is coming: car interiors that are hotter than the face of the sun, golf cart seats that threaten to instantly melt your skin, baseball games that are less entertaining and more a test of endurance…Summer is coming.
Knowing that something difficult lays ahead produces a unique kind of anxiety for a lot of us. In the same way that I’m already eager to get beyond the dog days of summer (even though they haven’t really begun), many of us approach impending trials or challenges with a strong desire to simply get past it. We know it’s going to be difficult and we just want to get it over with.
But some (arguably crazy) people take a different approach to climbing whatever hill lays in their path. My brother in law is one of them: when he’s hiking and the trail around the next bend becomes steeper, he says ‘great!’ When a task at work is unexpectedly challenging and time consuming, he says ‘fantastic!’ When one of his kids faces some obstacle at school, he says ‘bring it on!’ He’s not crazy, blind or naive about the challenges, he simply chooses to take a different approach to difficult things in life. Rather than seeing them as impediments, he has a unique ability to see the opportunity those obstacles create and how they will ultimately make him and his family stronger. The steeper trail trains his body; the professional challenge increases his capacity; the kids’ obstacles will draw the family closer.
When we approach trials as something to be survived, we miss the extraordinary power that these ‘wildernesses’ make available to us. Scripture is full of stories in which Israel finds itself in a wilderness in which they experience God’s presence in unique ways. We rarely, if ever, hear a story in Scripture about a wilderness journey that isn’t transformative for an individual or the whole nation. Deuteronomy makes God’s purposes explicit: “Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to….”
Perhaps wilderness seasons aren’t meant to be simply survived; maybe difficult challenges, trials and seasons are exactly the spaces in which we could encounter God and be transformed by His provision, guidance and compassion.