2017-11-17 / Chaplain's News

Finding faith in desolate places

Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Joe Hammiel
15th Signal Brigade

As a geographical bachelor, assigned to the 15th Signal Brigade, I will only get to see my family when I take leave; given my current medical constraints, I won’t be doing that very often over the next 12 months.

Needless to say (especially as the holidays approach), I miss my wife: I miss catching the fragrance of her hair when it is being blown by a fall breeze as we take an evening walk together; I miss the sound of laughter from the kids over some shared joke; I miss the aroma of a hot meal waiting for me after a hard day’s work.

I’m describing a snapshot of the intimacy I share with my wife and family – something that has developed over the years (both the easy and challenging ones) we’ve been together.

I know that we’re not separated by half a world and a dozen time zones like we were during the year-long deployments, and I’m not sweltering in a literal desert like I was last year in Kuwait, but I sometimes feel like I’m here in a metaphorical desert place, longing for the days when we can be reunited.

Yet, as strange as it may seem, it is in the desert place where true intimacy with God has a chance to flourish, like a desert wildflower rising from the sands after a spring rain.

The Bible reminds us that it was in the desert place where Moses learned intimacy with the living God – Psalm 103 says that God revealed his ways to Moses, but only his deeds to the people of Israel as they wandered for 40 years in the wilderness.

When Moses first encountered God, he had to ask who he was. He said, “If I go to the people of Israel and tell them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ they will ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?” (Exodus 3:13).

In other words, Moses was asking God, “Who are you?” But after four decades of walking with him in the desert, Moses had the privilege of experiencing and knowing God unlike any other human being before him.

The Bible says that “the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” (Exodus 33:11)

Most likely, your metaphorical desert place doesn’t look like mine. Maybe your desert place looks like chronic health issues that won’t leave you alone for a moment’s peace; or maybe your desert place is a failing marriage; perhaps your desert place is the grief you’re experiencing over someone you loved and lost.

Regardless of the details, common denominators of these desert places are pain, sorrow, loneliness, and grief.

Yet, just like Moses, it is in the context of our desert place experiences that we have the opportunities to cultivate intimacy with the one who loves us most and invites us to really know him.

The question is, do we have eyes to see and ears to hear the invitation?

Often, it comes down to a matter of perspective: will we see only the commonplace or will we see something truly extraordinary in our desert place experiences?

Poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, “Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God, But only he who sees takes off his shoes; The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”

May we have eyes to see the incredible expressions of God’s amazing love for us in our desert places.

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