Another passage from Jeremiah this morning (can you guess where my Bible study currently is?), this time from chapter 31. A simple, but profound statement:
The people who survived the wars have found favor in the desert. Israel went to find its rest. v.2
It's not the kind of statement I think much of historical Israel would have appreciated. A people who wandered the desert for 40 years with nothing more than a promise to hold onto would not exactly relish the idea of going back to the desert. For anything. Not even for favor.
Favor is a strange word to use here. I haven't taken Hebrew yet, so I'm not sure the original word and how it might translate. Some versions say "grace." Some say "blessings." I think it's more closely related to the second part of this passage, more closely related to "rest." I might use a word like "comfort" or "peace." Not the peace that comes out of the freedom from war, but a peace that comes out of just having space to breathe again.
That's just speaking from personal experience.
Because I understand this passage. I've lived it. Often. Without really understanding that this is what was going on.
Sometimes, we have to fight. We have to fight battles we don't necessarily want to fight. We have to fight battles that, except in a fallen world, we shouldn't have to fight. We spend our days, sometimes days on end, fighting with everything we've got, just to keep our heads above water. Life comes at us from all directions. Trouble comes our way even from within ourselves. Life can get messy; it's a fight.
When all that's done, when one more season of fighting passes, I'm one of those people who just sort of crumbles in exhaustion and prefers to be left alone for awhile. I don't have the energy left to deal with myself, let alone to deal with you. (Sorry. It's true.) There are exceptions to every rule, but after the war, I am a person who yearns for the desert.
I yearn for the open spaces and the barren landscape. I desire to be surrounded by nothingness. Not because it is a stark contrast to the fighting, but because it is only in the open space that I can give myself enough space to get my bearings back. It's the place where the horizon stretches so far in every direction, unhindered, uninterrupted by life as we know it. It's empty, and it lets me touch my emptiness. It is wide, and it invites me to touch my depths.
The desert is the place where I have the space to start breathing again. But it's more than that.
It's the place where I rely on something outside of myself again. It's where I come back to the God of provision, among many other things. It's where I find grace, yes, in a God who has given me what I do not deserve. I reflect on the strength God has given me, whatever measure of victory I have found, the close calls where I nearly escaped - all graces.
It's where I find blessings, yes, in a God who restores my heart. A God who has given me a space such as the desert for just such a time as this. A place to get away. A place to find my rest - a blessing if there was one.
It's where I find comfort, too. There's no fighting in the desert. There are no wars. There is weariness and fatigue and question, but there is no war, no danger. It's a place of tremendous comfort because in the desert, in the vastness, in the emptiness, I know that for a time, I will not have to fight again. I may struggle - we all struggle - but I do not have to fight.
It is a place where I find favor, although I still don't know that I like that word in this context. In the shadow of war, I do not go seeking favor; like Israel, I go seeking rest. And I am never disappointed in the desert.
So what's the point? The point is this: For those of you fighting wars this morning, it's okay if you want to get away for awhile. When you make it through (and you will make it through), it's okay to seek the desert. To seek refuge. To be alone for awhile. To spend some time in a place of grace, blessing, comfort...and rest. We're made this way.
It's counterintuitive to a people who feel like we spend most of our lives wandering anyway, but there is peace in the desert. In the wake of the war, it is our refuge.