Into the Desert

It was a busy Thursday morning. One sister was having a Spanish lesson, four sisters were in meetings with young mothers and everyone else was outside unloading a large donation. The phone was ringing off the hook and as I struggled to keep up, I received a call from a young woman “looking for housing”.  As the conversation progressed I realized quickly that she was not just “looking for housing”; Rachel was pregnant and very vulnerable. In fact, she was calling from inside an abortion clinic.

We went back and forth, and eventually by God’s grace Rachel agreed to come in to see us. She said, “Ok, I’m walking out right now.”  As she said those words, it struck me that she was walking out of more than just the clinic. Rachel was walking out of her ordered, familiar life and entering unknown territory. Inside the clinic, she felt like she was in control. She would be making a choice that she believed would preserve and strengthen her independence. By walking out of the clinic, Rachel followed God’s grace into the “desert,” to a place of vulnerability where she could encounter Him.

St. John Paul II during Lent 1993 wrote, “The history of salvation has given the desert a profound religious meaning. Under the leadership of Moses and later, enlightened by other Prophets, the Chosen People were able, amid privations and sufferings, to experience God’s faithful presence and his mercy…. It was also in the desert that John the Baptist preached, and the crowds came to him in order to receive in the waters of the Jordan the baptism of repentance. The desert was the place for a conversion aimed at welcoming the One who comes to triumph over sorrow and death which are the wages of sin. Jesus, the Messiah of the poor whom he fills with good things (cf. Lk 1:53), began His mission by becoming like those who are hungry and thirsty in the desert.”

This Lent we enter again into the desert.  Many things come to mind when we consider this desert: barrenness, dryness, and vulnerability to the elements.  It is a place of extremes: extreme heat, extreme cold, extreme wind, extreme thirst. We can’t survive alone in a desert; the desert is a place we come to know our need. After walking out of the abortion clinic, Rachel came to recognize her need: her vulnerability, her need for support. This same disposition of neediness, reliance, or dependence is exactly where we encounter Jesus.  He goes with us into the desert.  He goes before us into the desert and waits for us.  He desires that we place all of our needs on Him.  He desires that we depend totally on Him.

Fr. Julian Carron of Communion and Liberation says, “The law of life is this dependence on the Father who shapes our life in every instant, who is the continuous source of our existence…dependence on God is what makes me myself.”  He goes on, “For the context we are in, the idea that I should become more myself in dependence on God is the last thing that comes to mind; but it is on this that the Lord is challenging us, and He challenges us by making it happen.”  By making what happen?  By making total dependence on Him happen, whatever it takes.  He makes us realize by experience this truth that “dependence on God” is what allows me to “become more myself.”

Lent is a time that “He challenges us by making it happen.”  We must ask ourselves: Where is the Lord asking me to step into the desert?  What do I fear the most about this desert?  Am I crossing the desert alone or with the Lord?

Eternal Father, thank you for this time in the desert.  Give me the light and grace to see my overly self-reliant tendencies and give me the courage to depend on you alone.  I ask for the strength to fight the temptation to flee the desert, this place of weakness and vulnerability and trust that my passage through the desert will set me free in a new way.  Free to know and trust your love and your plan for my life.