The Lenten Journey: Good Friday Lessons from the Wilderness

I was at an event for work a few weeks back with a co-worker named Cary. We were assigned to man a booth together and although I had met Cary before I didn’t know him well. After a few hours of sitting together, we learned a lot about each other and we learned that we had a lot in common. In fact, he finished the same doctoral program I’m currently in at George Fox Seminary a few years back. He did his dissertation on pastoral burnout – something that is all too common among the clergy. He shared his personal story about why this topic was so important to him and as he shared I felt like he gave me permission, to be honest with him about where I currently find myself.

Oregon trees
Photo Credit: GFES via Flickr

I told him that I feel a bit lost; I shared that I’ve been in a season of transition for the past year and haven’t felt like I’ve been able to gain traction and a clear vision for my future. As someone who has always been confident about what I desire for my future, this is a new and disorienting space.

In sharing this with Cary, I dropped my pretense. The disease called “pretense” is a common ailment that keeps us from being honest about ourselves. The best way to inoculate ourselves from pretense is vulnerability. “Vulnerable” is derived from Latin word “wound”; to be vulnerable is share our woundedness. I decided to share my wounds with Cary.

After sharing, he looked at me with a deep sense of compassion in his eyes and told me that it sounded like I was in a wilderness season of life. The label of “wilderness” was exactly the word I needed to hear; it perfectly described my situation and gave me an adjective to describe this season of life.

Then he looked at me and said, “I know you don’t want to hear this, but I can’t give you directions to get out of the wilderness – there is no formula.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

He said, “It wouldn’t truly be the wilderness if there was a path out.”

“What do you suggest I do then?” I asked.

“Instead of fighting your limitations, learn to accept them. Learn to live the best you can right where you are and one day, like Moses (who also lived in the wilderness), you will stumble upon a burning bush that will change your life.”

It’s only once we truly accept our limitations that they can become gifts which provide for our future. The alcoholic who attends an AA meeting starts by saying, “My name is _________ and I’m an alcoholic.” That very confession helps gives them the power to stay sober.

Today is Good Friday; the day we remember Jesus’ death on a cross. It is the day when God became most human; it is the day when God died. Nailed to a cross it was the day when God became the most vulnerable and showed the world his woundedness. Jesus faced the wilderness of death; the ultimate wilderness we must all face.

When it seemed that Moses was relegated to die being nothing more than a shepherd, a bush began to burn.

When it seemed like Jesus’ body was to lie and rot like every other body, the grave began to tremble.

When it seems like we can’t go through the wilderness any longer, God provides manna for our hungry souls.

Although I still find myself in the wilderness,

I’m learning to be present and make the most of each day,

I’m learning to drop my pretense and be vulnerable,

And I’m learning to pick up manna, my daily bread, and rejoice in my humanity, knowing that one day I’ll stumble upon a burning bush and a trembling grave.

Thank you, Cary, for being provision for me in the wilderness.

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