"Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil" (Matthew 4:1)
If you have your "Lent in a Bag," take out the bag of sand and pour it in a plate or in your hand. Or just look at the picture of sand at the top of this page.
Remember the texture of sand, how it is often used to remove the dead skin from our bodies. Remember how sand in a wet bathing suit can irritate our skin. Or, remember walking in sand on a beach, the effort it takes, or how hot it can be on the soles of our feet. What else does sand remind you of?
Read the scripture above from Matthew.
A few years ago, Forrest and I visited the Grand Canyon. On our way back to Las Vegas to drop the rental car off, we took a wrong turn. We ended up deep in the Mohave Desert. As far as we could see was wilderness. Tough desert shrubs and rocky terrain dotted the landscape for as far as we could see. We were the only car to be seen. A slight panic settled in. What if the car broke down? What if we got stuck? Unexperienced city dwellers, how could we describe any landmarks to pinpoint our location? Eventually we found a check point in California and got put on the right direction. It was an unnerving and humbling experience. We were stripped briefly of all the things that ground us and support us. Gas stations. Coffee shops. Street lights and signs. We felt alone. When we let go of the anxiety we felt the peace and beauty of nature overtake us.
If the desert is unnerving for us, imagine what it must have been like for Jesus. Stripped of all human comforts, of a safe and secure environment, Jesus was left to his own defenses, dependent entirely on God. He faced all sorts of temptations, to ease his discomfort, to satiate his hunger, to reclaim a sense of power and control over his environment. With no distractions around him, Jesus had only God to turn to. By coming through the wilderness, like the people of Israel, Jesus came to know himself more deeply, more intimately as God's beloved son, whose destiny was to come into the wilderness of our lives, where we feel empty, alone, frightened, disoriented, surrounded by hunger and temptation.
In Lent, we consciously place ourselves in a "wilderness-like" situation to draw ourselves closer to God. Some of us give up sweets, caffeinated drinks, that familiar Starbucks or Dunkin', or that daily class of wine. Perhaps we chose to clear out our closet or pantry and give away our excess. Maybe we deliberately seek to compliment or show affection to others around us. I know some brave souls that keep the TV and social media turned off and sit in the stillness of silence, so they can more clearly hear God's voice.
Week one of Lent asks us to find our wilderness place, the place where we take the routines away and allow ourselves to be spiritually uncomfortable, and in that discomfort, hear the voice of God speaking to us tenderly, drawing us in closer so we can be renewed.