We have a lot of our Christian vocabulary invested in the idea of wandering. The Israelites did it in the wilderness. Paul did it in blindness. The sheep in Jesus' stories have done it. We all, like sheep, have gone astray and wandered. Wandering is the idea that for, at least a time, we are lost and taking small, unsure, but hopefully faithful steps toward finding our way back.
Not all of faith, though, at least to me, is so simplified as lost and found. It's not easy as wandering or following. It's not so clear-cut as desert or discipleship. And I've started wondering, for all of our wandering, what better are we?
Wandering does a man a lot of good, in a certain season. It gives him the space to ask the hard questions, to settle into not knowing the answers for awhile, to keep exploring. It teaches him what he can rely on, and what he can't. How far he can make it on his own and at what point he needs to ask for help to go a little further. It gives him the opportunity to practice those small, unsure, but faithful steps and to see what faith really looks like in a place where faith is all he has. The wilderness demands discipline or a man will be lost forever. He finds his way through it, and he comes out with strength.
I am all for strength. Don't get me wrong. I just think that discipline and strength - the fruit of the wilderness - oversimplifies what faith is. It understates the incredible nature of relationship between man and God. God's intention for man was never that man would believe in Him more fully, but always that he would love God more deeply.
I have a piece of driftwood in my basement, and another on my fireplace. (Not in my fireplace. Perish the thought!) Both pieces were picked up at my grandma's house in Tennessee, right on the shores of a large lake. Grandma's property backs up to a bit of a cove, so she gets most of the trash...and a good bit of driftwood. If you've been reading very long, you know that I enjoy working with natural woods. I've cut down large chunks of my own tree to build things here and there. But there is nothing I could do to a piece of wood to make it nearly as breathtaking as the stuff I can pull out of grandma's lake.
Something about being in the water for so long. The motion of the waves and the currents washes over the wood until it twists and shapes and smooths it. The first piece came out with this beautiful curve in it, a soft dip that would be perfect for nestling a candle, plus a few tiers of structure down one craggy side. The second had been in the water a good while and came out eaten away, revealing a beautiful braid structure and every nook and cranny of a once-rough surface. The first is a hardy wood; it came out strong and curvy. The second, of a different type - it is a bit fragile coming out of the water. (I already broke a little piece off in the drive back home.) But they both share one characteristic: they are beautiful.
And they got that way by the water.
The wilderness can do a lot of things for us. We certainly are blessed by our wanderings. But there's something, too, to the sea. There's something to those times we are swept away by the water, set afloat in a sea of God's promise, tossed and turned by the currents that flow through our lives. I think we've all had these moments, too, although they are probably fewer and further between. I'm not sure whether they're actually that rare or whether we're just so used to converting them into wilderness experiences, by nature of our vocabulary, but I think of these as the times when God is certainly up to something, when He's doing something new, when He's calling you forward and making things work out, when He's bringing you closer. These are the times when you step into what God is doing, and you're just taken away. Set out to sea, engulfed by Living Water. And the coolest thing happens:
You come out beautiful.
There is a season in life for wandering. There is a season for faith and for discipline. There is a season for strength. But so, too, is there a season for drifting. For throwing yourself into the water, setting yourself free, allowing the water to wash over you. There is a season for beauty.
If we're lucky, we will find a good measure of both seasons in our lives.