Reflections on Wilderness This Lenten Season

BY AUDREY HUANG

This piece is part of syndicated series in collaboration with Yale Logos for Lent 2021. You can read the original piece at https://www.yalelogos.com/home/reflections-on-wilderness-this-lenten-season.

I first heard about the season of Lent my freshman year at Yale. Beloved Jesus lived in the wilderness and was tempted by Satan for 40 days, I heard from the pews. Thus, we mimic His fasting, we ritualize mourning, and we teach our bodies to long for Easter celebration. We learn about wilderness through the pages of a book and spiritual disciplines, like children rehearsing escape plans during school fire drills. My 19-year-old self probably nodded along and committed to some kind of personal decluttering of my heart to make room for the death of Messiah. 

This Lenten season has been teaching me a different kind of wilderness: one that feels nothing like a drill. This season continues to be peppered with nights of desperate pleas to God—I hate my life, why is this happening, where are you God—and is simultaneously clouded by a general numbness that tells me to block out God entirely. I do not need to fast to feel frail. I do not need to artificially induce a posture of anguish. I feel hollow. Death has been etched on my mind—on the news, in the sounds of cries on street corners, within the illegible scratches on my journal—daily. 

I study Luke 4 and wonder at Jesus’ ability to hold fast in the wilderness. The Devil first tempted Jesus to forsake spiritual dependence on God and succumb to fleshly needs, and Jesus is able to declare reliance on the Word without wavering. Through witnessing Jesus’ resistance, we are instructed to put self-fulfillment of basic needs into the hands of a caring God. 

But, even under ordinary circumstances, I struggle to deny myself basic things like food and more sleep: God, how do you expect us to do this now? This season, we’ve been deprived of so many needs, God, that it has been hard to rely on your Word for sustenance. We long for physical proximity to others, for worship in community, for the ability to grieve in body. Some of us can’t breathe because we are choking under racist regimes, and others of us have already bled dry from losing our loved ones to senseless violence. We aren’t coming out of this pandemic with everyone we came into it with. Our body is broken, our wounds need healing, God. We need help. We need rescue.

The Devil again tempts Jesus, now with all the kingdoms of the world: just bow down, worship me, he cries out. Once again, Jesus counters and withholds. But this Lenten season, I have been desperate for distraction, eager to bury myself in mind-numbing work and entertainment and food. I long to depend on anything else that provides relief more readily than a God who seems to be holding back. I don’t even need the kingdoms of the world, I just want to feel no more pain, right now. 

Once more the Devil tempts, and this time it’s a taunting that challenges me even more than the first two. Give up, Jesus; throw yourself down from this cliff. Does God really care about you? Ask Him to act, right now. For the third time, Jesus refuses. And of the three ways that Jesus modeled faithful fleeing from sin, this is the one that I have found hardest this season. In a time where any seeds of hope seem almost instantly washed away by new waves of tragedy, conflict, injustice, and one million consequences of human brokenness, I despair. I find that I can do no more than wake up in the morning before I begin to feel sorrow and distress and mistrust of my God.

Yet, through a season of immense sorrow, I have recently been realizing that even the act of waking up in the morning is resistance. Our feeble human resilience, the little that we can do to keep going, matters. The act of replying to texts, of washing the dishes, of saying something in love, of showing up just one more time. Any number of these things, though pain-ridden, is an act of rebellion against the Enemy who wants us to lose all hope. To give up talking to God. To decide that we are an abandoned people, and to run in the opposite direction. The very act of crying out to God in this season has been my resistance to ultimate despair, the only thing I’ve been able to do. 

This Lenten season, I’ve been learning that our lament is important to God, just as our rejoicing is. During the periods when I am the most numb, I sense His longing to be let into the suffering. I experience Him pushing down our walls. I feel Him surrounding us and holding us in our tears. I hear Him telling us that He’s listening and will keep listening: even if we can do no more than cry out.

God, I don’t know where you are right now.

This Lenten season has been too much.

Jesus, you care about justice, don’t you? 

Jesus, you love your people, don’t you?

Your sheep are lost, without a shepherd. Your beloved needs you now.

Audrey is a senior studying Cognitive Science at Yale.

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