I was reading and re-reading the beginning of Mark lately. Sometimes passages like this, passages that tell of moments and concepts I’m so familiar with are really easy to breeze past. But this week when I read this very small section in Mark, it felt so familiar yet new. I wasn’t ready to move on. There seemed to be realities in my life, things I’ve been learning lately, right there, there in these familiar moments of Christ’s life.
For the first time wondered why these moments happened. Before Jesus even taught, before He faced any moment of ministry, he had a moment of experiencing he was completely loved followed directly by a season of brutal temptation in a desert. Why? Why blessing and then this temptation? Why so early on? Why was he told he was loved when he would’ve known that?
And then this is what struck me. These two very key moments of Jesus’ life happened before he was ready to walk, be with, love, heal and live the redemptive years to come. Maybe, just maybe, that’s the exact same rhythm I’ve been seeing in my life and the whole world around me.
First Jesus, the Son of God, is baptized. Immersed. And when he comes up from being under water God’s Spirit declares him beloved. Wholly, completely, fully loved. Why? Why did Jesus become baptized? Why did he need to hear God tell him he loved him when he probably already knew that?
Then right after this moment Mark goes to say that same Spirit who declared he was loved moves Jesus into the desert where he’s tempted for 40 days. What?! Loved. Then basically sent to a place that feels like abandonment, emptiness, alone, exhausted? It makes no sense.
Our human minds in human relationship would not stand for that – you love me then you leave me? This is a complete contradiction. So again I read. I wondered. There has to be meaning here. This rhythm of things that Christ meaningfully lived through couldn’t be for nothing and simply some familiar passage about what happened only to him way back when.
Maybe this walk Jesus had to take, human God Jesus, was to prepare him for what’s next and reveal to us a trajectory of walking in faith. This act of rising, knowing that he is declared fully and utterly loved happened before he withstood the trial, the temptation, the hardship of the desert. Maybe we needed to know he was deeply beloved before he walked through torment without questioning God’s love so we too can do the same.
More than we probably want to admit, we often walk through hard moments and feel utterly alone. Like God hasn’t heard our prayers, like He’s forgotten about us, like if He loved us this would not be happening right now.
But that can’t be true. If Christ, God’s very own Son, who was even verbally told He was beloved immediately faced hell on earth, then doesn’t that mean we too may face hell on earth and be fully beloved at the same time? I think so.
Thankfully a beautiful book I read recently by Henri Nouwen reminded me just how beloved we are. One striking point he made is that we can take the phrase God spoke over Jesus as our very own.
God creating you as you are, Christ’s Spirit in you, his covering you, his being in you, means this is yours. You’re family, loved, pleasing. That is your truth if you know Christ.
So whatever you’re facing, whatever hard thing is happening in your life or happened in the past… it does not mean God doesn’t love you. Own, know, breathe in deeply that God loves you. Everything. Allow that to help you lean into God in the hardest moments, because you now know He truly loves and cares, instead of leaning away. He can and will help you. He loves you. Trust that in your desert.
But still the question remains, if God truly loves Christ, then why would He send Jesus into this desert to begin with? As with all faith questions, I won’t ever suggest I know. But I think my own life speaks into this, my own hard experiences lived being the very ones to shape me for what’s to come, to produce in me a compassion for all who go through the hard, the scary, the lonely, the desert.
Maybe Jesus needed this season of human pain, in order to fully “get” ours he encountered later. Maybe he needed to go through hell in order to have real compassion for the hurting, the ones who feel abandoned, the ones who question God’s love, the ones who are hungry and thirsty and who don’t know how long they can do this anymore. Maybe this very trial produced the depth of knowing, feeling, empathizing he needed to truly love, truly help, truly see, care and heal deeply all those he touched, taught and prayed for.
Pain, I am learning, can be the necessary path to empathy, courage and trusting God. Pain allows the most powerful two word phrase “me too” to exist. Without my past pain and my coming through with a paradoxically stronger faith and spirit I would doubt God’s ability and love to get me through the present pain, the next pain. We need passages like this.
The next time you struggle in life, try to remind yourself – this is grace. This is producing something good in me. This will one day allow me to care for and relate to others or myself when struggle happens again.
So child of God, join me in this. No matter how you feel, remind yourself that you are loved. Remind yourself that you are not abandoned. Remind yourself that you have the Power you need to get through your deserts.
Later, when someone in a similar desert comes into your life, come around them and whisper “I’m so sorry. I get it. I’ve been there. You’re not alone. Me too.”
God will use this. God will bring you to your most powerful years. Let’s lean into this rhythm in life of being loved, tried and ready for what’s to come.
Extra Musings and Random Thoughts
The book I mention, Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen, is a book I will refer back to for years and years. I encourage anyone who wants to learn more about why someone could believe like Henri in a real, loving God despite all they know, see and think to read this. It’s incredible. For my Brene Brown fans, this I would say is the Christian Contemplative answer to all her work. I love it!
Two weeks ago my favorite podcast, the RELEVANT Podcast, had “Science Mike” on a contributor. I’ve since become a binge listener of the Ask Science Mike podcast. He’s incredible! He’s not only intelligent, it’s his astoundingly compassionate heart, deep contemplative faith, and seeming authenticity that is so striking to me. His theology and way of seeing the world is opening my eyes wider to the beautiful reality of our God. Check him out!
Pic is from the end of my driveway. I have this plant that reaches well over 6′ tall and becomes a hazard when exiting the car or driveway… but it’s just so majestic I have no desire to get rid of it. I love nature and all the little ways my garden and yard surprise me with little things in each season. How is it late Summer already when this beautiful plant is grown?!