Driving across the country, endless expanses of America pass by my window. Farmland. Desert. Lakes. Pastures. A continuity establishes itself in the repetition of land: a mundane movie with no visible plot and scenery with no scene. As a kid, seatbelt strapped, I watched with steady disinterest, my mind calculating the remaining minutes before I could pose the question again, "Are we almost there yet?"
Some destination existed ahead, someplace known as "Grandma's house" or "Colorado". Each exact location remained a mystery to me. I believed Chicago was a country. The rock quarry we drove over was undeniably the Grand Canyon. How disillusioning for me to discover that Arizona was thousands of miles from our drive along the Lake Michigan coastline.
In the Bible, God released the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. He took them to the desert with a destination regarded as "the Promised Land." Initial excitement over freedom quickly turned into doubtful grumbling over delayed arrival. The Israelites measured time in miles of desert walked. They walked for endless time over endless sand.
For forty years they wandered in the desert. They wandered, not because of immense distance, but because of necessary lessons. Historians determined that the Israelites' journey could actually have been completed in two weeks. Two weeks.
Yet they wandered. They walked. If their arrival had come immediately, would they have recognized the extent of the promise? Would they have had the capacity to truly savor the promise of the Promise Land? Could they have learned the desert lessons taught in discomfort while sitting comfortably in a familiar place?
We resist the deserts, too. We choose comfort. We prefer to go to enviable destinations of our choosing only when we gain a clear view of the end. When removed from the imperfect familiar, we idealize in retrospect, craving the places we once lived instead of anticipating the arrival of something better.
We wander in deserts of a less sandy nature. We walk along paths we would not have chosen, suspended in the waiting for fulfillment of a plan and a promise. We are called to wait and we hate waiting. Frustration sets in. We are not where we were, but we are not where we are going. We reside in that uncomfortable place: transition.
Did God forget us, or his timing just different? What must we learn in this expanse of time and vista of sand? When will we understand that while the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, a curved, twisted and winding path causes growth? Something awaits us in this desert, something as elusive as a mirage but as real as the gritty sand under our feet. How good could this place perhaps be?
What are the deserts in your life? The "imperfect familiar?" The Promised Land?
Are you seeking meaning or are you grumbling over circumstance?
What can you learn in these times?
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