Things to Know Before Heading into the Wilderness

My husband John had a few new scrapes and bruises when he got home yesterday. He also had a big smile on his face, because he’d spent the morning at an orienteering meet. Orienteering is a sport where a handful of brave participants go out into the wilderness, with only a map and a compass, and try to find a number of small points hidden among the trees. Once they’ve found every point—if they’re skilled enough to do so—they run to the finish line. The person with the fastest time wins.

Keep in mind that, as the crow flies, the whole course might be, say, five miles from hidden point to hidden point. But you can usually plan on running twice that by the time it’s all said and done. This is because we humans, by nature, have to find our way. We don’t have the advantage of seeing the bigger picture, as the proverbial crow can. Factor in challenging terrain, thorns, brush, and woods, and we get lost. We get turned around. We go the wrong way and struggle to find our way back. We stumble along and sometimes, we fall.

Out there in the woods, with the clock ticking, it would be natural to panic in that moment when you realize that you’re hurt or lost. The challenge is to keep your head about you and do what is counterintuitive for most of us: You have to get still. You have to look around. Look at the compass. Look at the map. Get your bearings. Breathe.

Being successful in this endeavor boils down to two things: knowing where you are, and knowing where you need to go.

If you’re considering following Jesus into the wilderness in the upcoming season of Lent, start by knowing, before all else, where you are—who you are. Make no mistake about this one. You are God’s beloved. Contrary to what you might think, you are not a misfit or a mistake. You’re not that person who would be great if not for the addiction, if not for the extra pounds, if not for the failures, the wrong turns, the bad choices, or that burden you keep trying to shake off that won’t quite let you get free…

You don’t have to get everything exactly right before you set out. You only need to know that you are already God’s beloved. And that is enough. That’s the truth of where you are.

Now, think about where you need to go. Set your sights on Easter. Because while Jesus’ original crew had to watch him suffer and die, we will see him suffer and die knowing that he will rise. Knowing that this compass we carry in our souls always unfailingly points to Easter. Points to the rest of the story, where the Alleluias ring out once again. And if you’re quiet, you can hear them, in the distance.

Follow that sound, but know these things about the journey ahead: There will be thorns and hills and valleys and woods. You might get lost. Turned around. You will be marked. You will be changed, because finding your way through the wilderness changes you. That’s the point of Lent, though, isn’t it? To stumble along behind Jesus, to be quiet, to think about what all of this means, to be transformed by it.

If you get turned around, if you get lost, don’t panic. Stop. Breathe. Get your bearings. Find your way back to the course. Know who you are. Know where you’re going. Trust the compass. Trust the map. Trust the one who ran willingly to the wilderness just to clear a path for the likes of you and me—who would stop at nothing to tell you who you are: Brave. Marked. Saved. Forgiven. Redeemed. Chosen.

Beloved.

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