Hagar fled from Sarai when her mistress’s treatment was too hard to bear. David and his servants fled Jerusalem after Absalom stole the people’s hearts. Elijah fled from Jezebel with her threats ringing in his ears. And I have tried to flee from the enemies lodging in my mind. Sometimes the wilderness is the only road forward when there are enemies in your land.
There are many kinds of enemies. But there is no enemy as persistent as the enemies of Fear and Condemnation. Fear never knows where to look; when I look over my shoulder I am haunted by the past. If I look down, I see the dust under my feet, and if I look forward it is with the dread that I may never live anywhere else. Condemnation pommels me with the conviction that there is something fundamentally wrong with me, I will never get it right, I am dangerous–not only to myself, but to those I I want so much to love. Better to live in the desert than hurt and be hurt again.
While this particular desert moment is not a place of healing what causes the fear and condemnation, it is a place of comfort. God finds broken people fleeing, and gives them gifts to keep them going. The angel of the Lord found Hagar by a spring of water in the wilderness. He comforts her with a promise and sends her home, but not before she names him “the God of seeing” (Genesis 16). Elijah got as far as a broom tree, where he gave up and fell asleep. He awoke more than once to an angel with a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water for the parched prophet.
I escaped to a hermitage in the wilderness of western Illinois (Snow can most certainly be a kind of desert). And while I did not yet escape my insidious enemies, my heart was eased as I watched the morning star rise one day, and was deeply comforted by the truth that he who knows the stars by name also knew mine.
I peered into the unfathomable eyes of a deer only a winter windowpane away. She was the minister of extraordinary peace to me in that moment. I named the myriad of cardinal couples and blue jays that rested on the white snow of the evergreen just feet from my tiny cottage.
I ought not be surprised at heaven-sent comfort in these times of extreme anxiety and fear. The same Jesus that now stands at the Father’s right hand, interceding for me, has been in his own wilderness places- more than once. And the angels were present to comfort him in Gethesame just as they were in the forty days after his baptism. He who once suffered the greatest anxiety sympathizes with our weakness and vulnerability in the face of our enemies.
Be comforted, oh my soul. You are known by the God who sees.