Love in the wilderness

“From Mount Hor the Israelites set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.” Numbers 21: 4-9

 

Oh boy! It’s Scripture readings like this that make me wonder what it would be like to hear this lesson without a bit of context. If this is all you heard, no wonder the Bible can seem ancient and irrelevant! And despite the horror of biting snakes, there is such good news in here for us!

As you may know, forty years of wandering in the wilderness was full of challenges for the Hebrew people. They had endured great hardship and received many blessings – liberation from slavery and oppression, leadership from Moses, the presence of God guiding them by day, manna to sustain their bodies, separation from their homeland, loss of their homes, lack of food they once enjoyed, and deep uncertainty about the future. How natural to grumble against God and Moses!

 

 

Having hard feelings like frustration, impatience, and anger is very human and are not problems in-and-of-themselves. Issues arise when we make decisions to act out of these emotions, when we get so fixated on the sources of anger and frustration that we lose track of all the blessings in our lives and poison ourselves.  Personally, I have felt “bitten by the snakes” of frustration, anger, and impatience on many occasions in my life. Times of transition can vividly feel like times of wandering in the wilderness. Even though the Holy One is constantly with us, nourishment is provided, and guidance is ever-present, the toll of uncertainty can get the best of us. No wonder the Egyptians wanted to go back to Egypt.

The Good News for us is that when we are bitten by the snakes of our difficult emotions, God is right there to use those moments of hardship as the source of our healing. In the gospel reading this week we hear the famous and oft-quoted line “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16) So if you are feeling impatient, uneasy, frustrated or other hard emotions, I invite you to let those emotions be the pathway to deeper connections to God, your wise self, and each other.

 

 

Let me give you an example.  My younger brother died by suicide a few months ago, and our family is deeply grieving. As we live with so many questions in this time of transition from “life with Travis” to “life without Travis,” even small decisions can feel overwhelming. Recently, I had to call the customer service agent at an airline. Normally, I may have been a little irked by their response, but I found myself in disproportionally irritated by my lack of control over the situation. While it’s never fun to talk with an airline, the depth of my aggravation was rooted in my grief. Thankfully, the Spirit helped me to hold my tongue until the call was over … at which time I burst into tears.

If I had lashed out at the customer service agent and then righteously nursed my frustration with the airline, this anger would have consumed me. By recognizing that the power of the emotion had much deeper roots in feeling out of control after Travis’ death, I was able to turn to God in prayer and seek support from my husband, my friends, and my therapist. My frustration with an airline became a gift and a source of healing as I allowed it to turn me to God and to people who were willing to support me in my grief.

If you are faced with uncertainties in your personal lives, may the Spirit rush to transform any difficult emotions into sources of healing. And if you ever need to talk, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I’d love to listen.

Abundant blessings,

Libby

(this post was originally written as part of my interim work at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church)