Sunday, February 19, 2012

Uncharted Territory

I have to say that the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness could not have come at a better time for me for I have found myself in ‘uncharted territory’ these days.
The call came at a little after 6 am last Thursday morning.  My 81 year old mother who has always been self-sufficient was calling to say she could hardly move.  I hung up the phone and drove the half an hour to her home where we managed, somehow, to get her out the door and into my car and to the hospital emergency room.
Four hours later they had admitted her for ‘intractable back pain.’  Further tests showed that she had experienced a huge flare up of her rheumatoid arthritis.  From the moment we hit the door of the emergency room and throughout her stay in the hospital, those who cared for her were paying attention to her pain, doing what they could to make her comfortable.  Indeed, modern medicine surely can be a marvelous thing for within 24 hours they were able to bring the inflammation down and things were looking better.
And yet, with all those gifts so apparent, still, I knew right away that I was in a place I had never been before….as she certainly was.  I knew it in an undeniable way that first afternoon as I made my way down the hospital corridor and met her doctor who told me then and there, ‘You know she’s not going to be able to go directly home.’  Yes, of course, that had occurred to me already but I hadn’t had the courage to fully articulate the thought quite yet.
The next morning as she slept soundly I sat in the recliner next to her bed and simply wept.  I am not unacquainted with grief, certainly, but this piece of the journey is one I have not traveled before.  I had not known this particular wilderness yet.  And I marveled at all the times I have stood with families who were negotiating this very same tough terrain.  I imagine I was kind in those times.  Still, I also know I had no idea of what they were going through… couldn’t begin to comprehend the fear and pain and sense of loss that so marks hours like those.  Indeed, I know some things now I could not have possibly known before.
And so it was that in the next couple of days we made arrangements for what is turning out to be a short stay in a rehab center.   She is making the adjustment well, is blessed with a room-mate who is simply delightful and is fortunate to be in a place where they are doing all they can to be attentive to her needs and where they are working with her to get her back on her feet again.  Even more, she is, we are, blessed by a larger community of people who are dropping in and making phone calls and remembering her in wonderful and meaningful ways.  We, like Jesus, have known ‘angels waiting on her’, on all of us.
I have to say I’ve always rather liked this shorter version of the temptation of Jesus we hear in Mark’s Gospel this week.  It’s hard, of course, to read it and not overlay the details offered in the other Gospels.  Still, perhaps because it offers fewer specifics, I find it easier to imagine how this particular account could be any one of ours.
For though it’s hard to think of it, I can see how the Spirit could ‘drive us’ to those tough places.  To be sure, most of us don’t choose to go to those places all on our own.  For that matter, it seems it’s only when we are tested that we are strengthened for all that life leads us into.  And while I believe that these times aren’t meant as punishment, they do still come to all of us and they can be, often are, experiences which deepen our faith, our resilience, our hope.  Why wouldn’t the Spirit drive us there if such times can bring such gifts to us?
As for Satan's temptations and wild beasts?  Indeed, they make themselves known in all kinds of places and ways … certainly ones I have experienced myself in these last days.  In grief and fear and despair to be sure… the kind that tears away at your hope and sense of well-being.  In temptations to not look to or rely on the gifts of God which are, in fact, always ours for the receiving. 
And as for angels, well, I’ve already mentioned some of those --- those marvelous people of God --- some we’ve known for a lifetime and others, strangers only a few days ago, who have made themselves known in tender acts of kindness.
Indeed, the story of Jesus in the wilderness could not have come at a better time for me for through this familiar story I am again reminded that every time I am driven into the wilderness, Jesus has already been there.  There is strength in that for me and I have seen what that can mean in this hour.  In much the same way, although the territory may be uncharted for us, a whole host of others have literally taken this path before us… social workers and nurses and even those in the business office who are helping us sort out those necessary details.  And, of course, so many others whose families have taken this journey before who in their wisdom and love are especially attentive to those of us for whom this is yet ‘uncharted territory.’
The story of Jesus in the wilderness could not have come at a better time for me.  How about you?
  • How do you understand the Spirit driving Jesus or any one of us into the wilderness?
  • When have you spent time in the wilderness?  How did you experience wild beasts and angels?  How did you emerge from that time?
  • Why is it that we always begin the season of Lent with this story?  How do you see it tying into the whole Lenten Journey?


  1. Living in a fairly wealthy country, for me it is easy to think I am doing it on my own. I've never experienced not knowing whether or not I will eat. Wilderness experiences help me to remember how much I really do need God. When I am turned towards God, the Spirit just goes to work. Oh, that I could stay focused on Jesus throughout my day! Thanks for sharing your story.

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  3. It is true that the 'myth' of self-sufficiency is hard to get beyond... I really do know what you mean. Somehow it's the 'wilderness times' I'm driven into which deepen my understanding of where and how God works. Such times are seldom easy, but they often bring amazing gifts.

  4. Your mom shared this site with me, and I am delighted she did so!