This Wednesday we began the season of Lent. It is a time when the Christian Church reflects on the experience of Christ’s Forty days in the Desert, which for us will end with the Passion and the death and eventually the resurrection of our Lord. But first we must each have our own desert experience.
The analogy of the desert can bring out many different images for us, especially in these days. Just a cursory review of the daily news from the Middle East focuses our attention on the daily violence and cruelty of the demonic forces in that region, so populated by deserts. The solitude of the desert and its barrenness strike many of us here in the west as a very inhospitable place. But despite all of this, Christ does, by His own example, beckon us to overcome our reservations and journey with Him into the desert.
For many of us this season will evoke childhood memories of having to give up something we enjoy; we may remember being asked by our parents to make some sacrifice, to deny ourselves for a time, but with the expectation that we would later enjoy an abundance of whatever little sacrifice we might make. It was good training for us as children, but as adults the lesson must go a little deeper.
As our spiritual life matures we come to understand this season not only as a time of sacrifice but also as a time of growth, a deepening of our relationship with Christ, not just because we agree to follow Him out into the desert of sacrifice, but more importantly because we are also invited into the desert that resides within our own hearts. We must come face to face with the question of whether God is really at the center of our lives or whether we are dependent on some other form of consolation from this material world. (the very thing that hopefully we are willing to give up).
What Christ is really asking of us through these little sacrifices is whether God is enough for us. “Are the consolations of God too small for you? Even the word spoken gently to you?” (Job 15:11) What the desert experience of this season really reveals is the all-too often barrenness of our interior lives. Is Christ really the source of our strength, or are we actually more dependent on something else. Are we willing to face this barrenness of our own interior desert and rely only Christ as our consolation? This barrenness can be experienced as nothing more than day-to-day life. Every day we face some challenge, some struggle, especially as we get older and come to understand how fleeting are the exterior comforts of all those things we strove so earnestly for when we were young. In those moments are we really willing to abandon our reliance on some temporal and material consolation and accept Christ’s promise:
“That he would grant (us), according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man.” (Ephesians 3:16)
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