“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.” (Ps. 51:10)
It is hard to have a “steadfast spirit” in the face of temptations.
Jesus was led, some say even driven into the desert. (Matt. 4:1-11) Why? Was it only so he could be tempted? Or was there some other reason? Did this time in the desert somehow prepare him for the rest of his life? He had already been assured by the father at his baptism the he was indeed the ‘beloved’ son. So why was this time of seclusion so vital to his purpose on earth?
Our temptations may or may not occur when we are in the desert of our lives. There are so many implications about being in the desert. In the desert Jesus was isolated from those he had been keeping company with. I think about how much stronger I am in my faith when I am surrounded by those who are of like thinking. But I must ask myself, is that always the best? This may surprise you, but how can I know for sure if I have a ‘steadfast spirit’ if I am never challenged?
Jesus was led away from others into the desolation of the desert where the devil could occupy his thoughts and entertain him with ‘What ifs’. Oh that brings me to my own struggles with ‘What ifs’. You know you can make yourself a little stressed thinking about the ‘What if’s’. Perhaps this conversion of heart called for during Lent could be about allowing yourself to be free of the ‘what if’ temptations. What if…I had more money, a better spouse, a better job, more free time, or more education? I am sure you can fill in your own personal ‘What if’ statements.
In the desert Jesus could think more clearly even though he was probably struggling inside of his humanity with surrendering to the will of his Father. In his humanness Jesus, like us had free will. The temptations in the desert placed Jesus in a position where he had to choose to use his divine powers for himself or resist and do the will of the Father.
I have often wondered, ‘why 40 days’; other than the obvious parallel to Moses leading the people in the desert for 40 years. I think it takes time to make the adjustment when you go away from all that is familiar. It takes time to realize that you only have your own thoughts to confront and or wrestle with. Maybe when you are all alone in the silence of the desert with fewer distractions you are in a better place for a true conversion of heart. No one is there to get you off track. In the silence of the desert God can be heard more clearly. In the silence of the desert more can be drawn out and treasured from deep within.
Thomas Merton says in Life and Holiness, “[The] ‘upsetting of our inner life is essential to spiritual growth, because without it we remain comfortably at rest in more or less illusory ideas of what spiritual perfection really is.” Merton goes on to say “There is no spiritual life without persistent struggle and interior conflict.” In the desert Jesus experienced this interior conflict. He had to experience what it felt life to be fully human. Jesus’ human experiences give him profound credibility for us. Without these human situations we could easily dismiss what he calls us to be by simply saying…BUT Jesus was Divine
I invite you this week to set aside some ‘desert’ time in your home. Commit to the same time each day in the same ‘sacred’ space to spend time with God. Contemplate the ‘What if’s’ in your life and how you can surrender them to the Lord. Ask for the grace of a ‘renewed steadfast spirit’.
If you can actually get some sand bury your hand in it…lift up your hand and let the sand fall between your fingers. Embrace your prayer time through your senses. Feel the texture of the sand, the coolness of it against your skin.