Is the Shortest Path the Best One? {Book Club}

A word to the wise, when you do something in the throws of grief and time crunch, trust that it was enough for that moment and do not re-visit it.

In getting ready to write this post, I pulled up what I had written last week for our chapter on Pelicans in  Consider the Birds: A Provocative Guide to Birds of the Bible by Debbie Blue. Now I am a bit mortified at how scattered and, um, not-so-good it was. While I know these posts aren’t going down in the annals of literature, I’d also rather they not go down in flames!

Ah, the irony that this week’s bird, the quail, invites us to explore the dance between desire and slavery. If you’ve looked at the Bible study that Emily wrote (you can get it here), you know she started with a quote from Brene’ Brown: “The opposite of scarcity is not abundance; the opposite of scarcity is simply enough.”

As I typed my first line, what did I say? Trust that it was enough. The word “enough” triggered Emily’s reminder as the Israelites were coming out of slavery and a scarcity mindset. “God was teaching them that He was enough. He provided manna and quail. He didn’t give them storehouses. He gave them enough for one day. It was good, a delicacy even, but it was something to be given in small portions every day.”

Blue writes:

They [the Israelites] are freed from slavery in Egypt, but they barely even celebrate before they begin to get hungry and thirsty. Bodily need is not something that is on the sidelines of these narratives. It is their throats and their stomachs that keep reminding them of their need for God in the desert. Their hunger is a risk they acquired when they were set free. Will God feed and care for them now? Was it God’s love that lead them to freedom and wandering, or is it that God hates them and brought them out to the desert to die? They struggle repeatedly with this insecurity. . . Should they really be following God in the desert, or are they fools to do so? It’s a legitimate question. I’ve asked it myself many occasions.

Me too.

The line “their hunger is a risk they acquired when they were set free” has stuck with me since I read this chapter two days ago (on my uneventful flight back home, thank you God). I don’t believe God wants us to be afraid of our desires, but this line reminds me that he also doesn’t intend for us to be naive either.

As you think about your desires—for marriage, for your marriage, for children, for your children, for your finances, for a friendship, or to be seen differently within your organization, for language ability, or health, or meaningful work, or a visa—what is the risk that comes with it?

The risk is real but because the desire touches the deep, deep of who we are, we can downplay the importance to ourselves OR we can down play the risks involved. How often have you gotten what you thought you wanted, only to have a profound sense of disappointment? I get why the Israelites may have wondered if God was going to provide for them in the desert or if he set them up to die.

In the desert though, how easy it is to “remember wrong—and be deluded.” For years, my fellow teammates and co-workers and I would fantasize about how efficient and customer service oriented America—our home country—is. Some truth to this? Yes. Some major “remembering wrong” to this? Double yes.

Blue also cuts right to the heart with: “We sometimes believe the shortest path is the best one, but maybe (God knows) there is a need to wander. There is unmapped territory that needs to be explored—desires to be let go of, renounced, or transformed. God’s seduction is not a crass come-on, nor is it smooth. The path to intimacy may be long and complicated.”

Where are you wandering these days? How might God be transforming you in the wandering? Note, I didn’t ask if you like wandering, chances are you don’t. Several years ago my sister and I were hiking with her four daughters. We were familiar with the trail, but not overly so. When Elizabeth and I should have gone left (with, it turns out we learned later, the majority of the people we didn’t see), we went right. It was clear we were on a path, but not the path. The girls, and one in particular who is rather concerned with being lost, kept asking, “Are we on the right trail? Are we lost??? Would you tell us if we were?!?”

Elizabeth and I knew the general direction of where we had come from and were not worried, so we kept emphatically saying, “We are not lost! We know where we are, but maybe not exactly where we are. We are fine.” Want to know how to take the fun out of hiking? Be asked repeatedly if you are lost. We are not lost. We are wandering. Are you really going to miss the lovely scenery and company and day because we are not exactly where we thought we were?

Turns out, yes, yes, the girls were willing to miss the scenery, company, and day because wandering in the mountains is riskier than hiking on a path. Two years have passed and if there is even a hint of wandering, they turn to us with wide eyes and ask, “Are we lost again?” and we all know exactly which time “again” refers to.

Where might God have you wandering these days? How well do you do with wandering?

I love how Blue ends this chapter, “I don’t think the story of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, learning to know God—is merely an item of biblical history. These are stories that help us understand what our lives are like with God. We still wander, we doubt, we wonder if it has been foolish to follow God, because we often find ourselves in the desert. The quail in the Bible are both a sign of God’s extravagant care and a sign that the Israelites’ desires need transforming. We are not exempt from the desert wanderings—but how else would we be transformed?”

Ah, how indeed? See you in the comments, my friends.

Amy

P.S. Next bird? The vulture.

23 Comments

  1. Emily Smith October 3, 2016

    Enough…that word has come up over and over again for me in the last several months. In the middle of my wandering and uncertainty, He is enough. I loved having the reminder come again today.
    In the wandering and the season of everything being unsettled, He is enough and He wants good things for us. He is not a source that is going to run out or dry up or decide He’s helped enough. We don’t need to get as much as we can out of God before he goes away. That brings up panic and anxiety and feelings of not enough.
    Instead, God has an infinite storehouse, and he desires us to come to him and be satisfied. Because He will always be enough.

    1. Amy Young October 6, 2016

      What struck me (and I love as I read this) is the reality that God has an infinite storehouse . . . we do not have to have huge storehouses because God will provide for us. Sometimes I get it backwards and think that I NEED a huge storehouse. Instead, what I need is to lean more into trust :). Anyone else hate actual trust falls with actual, live people? So easy to write, “all I need to do is blah, blah”, harder to live :). Thanks Emily!

  2. M'Lynn October 4, 2016

    “While I know these posts aren’t going down in the annals of literature, I’d also rather they not go down in flames!” Thank you for this. I am actively relating.

    One of my favorite quotes from the chapter: “Desire is huge and complicated. We long and we lack and our longing and lacking make us create beautiful paintings and poetry. It draws us to one another.” (location 625 for Kindle kindred…) This quote makes me think of Velvet Ashes 🙂

    And to sort of answer your question I’d rather avoid…I’m wandering into that same great unknown of where the leading question leads: “Was it God’s love that lead them to freedom and wandering, or is it that God hates them and brought them out to the desert to die?” I like maps. I do not like wandering! But I do know God loves me and does not bring me to the desert to die!!

    1. Amy Young October 8, 2016

      M’Lynn, I replied to your comment yesterday, but it clearly is not here :). Can I just fudge a bit and say it was the most brilliant reply I’ve ever written? Ha! I love the quote you pulled out and it DOES make me think of VA. I’d love to hear more about your wandering, but I also get this is a public space :).

      1. M'Lynn October 10, 2016

        More about my wandering…It’s hard to sum it up at this point but I can try. I’m wandering into freedom from “shoulding” on myself. I’m wandering into exploring God’s unconditional love and goodness. I’m wandering away from bullying myself into submission in the the face of anxiety and going towards peace instead.

        1. Emily Smith October 10, 2016

          M’Lynn, these are the moments where the world feels too big. I so wish we could all really come into the same room and talk face to face. Your season of wandering sounds similar to mine…and yet so uniquely yours. Wandering into God’s love and finding peace…that is where I’ve been. As I’ve been reading the comments to the book club over these last weeks, it makes me long to meet so many of you in person and hear your stories more fully than these comments can allow.

          1. M'Lynn October 11, 2016

            I hear you, Emily! Any chance you’ll be flying through ICN soon? Ha. But joking aside, it would be such a faith-building and encouraging thing to get to sit face to face and dig much deeper than these comments allow!

  3. Jenilee October 4, 2016

    This is one of those chapters that need read again and again to fully grasp the full meaning… I’ll be thinking about it for a while. “God doesn’t want us to desire less; God wants us to desire MORE.” and that last sentence about being transformed by wandering in the desert… How very true I am finding this to be in my own heart! Sigh… a sit down, all out discussion on this chapter would be fabulous!

    1. Amy Young October 8, 2016

      I agree Jeniliee! The benefit for me (but I’ll be honest that it doesn’t always feel that way :)), is that I read these chapters ahead of time so I can write the post, I do the Bible Study, I’m also in a CG that talks about them, and then love to read and respond to the comments here. The upside is—in weeks like this—it forces me to sit with and review the ideas. Still, I know there is more to get out of this chapter :)!!!

  4. Jody Collins October 4, 2016

    This chapter was profound for me, Amy. We lived in the Central Valley in California for 18 years and quail scurried about often in the undergrowth of many of our friends’ vineyards and shrubs. They are funny birds and can wander a bit, looking like they’re lost. I think it is such a great parallel for this chapter–I was stunned by Debbie’s words about the need for wandering. That 40 years of figuring out this dance of intimacy with God may be just the beginning of our lives. We are always so concerned with hurry and worry about ‘the shortest path.’ I was encouraged to see this take on the whole idea of wandering–it is a God thing; a good thing.
    So glad you found this book–well done!

    1. Elizabeth October 5, 2016

      I love that image — of the quail wandering about looking like they’re lost. So much like us!

      1. Amy Young October 8, 2016

        Me too! While I think wrestling with questions like “What does God want me to do with X,” the disservice is in thinking there will be definitive answers that don’t involve some wandering too :).

        I’m not sure I’d recognize a quail if I saw one, but it makes me smile to think you would, Jody!

  5. Sarah Hilkemann October 5, 2016

    I haven’t been reading this book along with you all because of traveling…and just life at the moment, but after reading this post, I’m going to get it and start it this week. I have been feeling like I’m in the desert wandering, and probably have more of an attitude of “Did you bring me out here to die” rather than trusting that God is enough. So many amazing challenges and pictures in these quotes from the book and in what you shared, Amy. Thank you.

    1. Amy Young October 8, 2016

      Sarah, no pressure if you don’t get the book, but if you do, I think you would enjoy it.

    2. Emily Smith October 10, 2016

      Sarah, this is not at all a re-entry type book, but somehow in my mind it is. I read it just weeks after returning back to the US…and it was exactly what I needed to read at the time. I know you aren’t in a “permanent” re-settling time, but still there are those elements whenever you return “home”. I would recommend it. And it is so fun having more people who are able to participate on these posts. 🙂

  6. Elizabeth October 5, 2016

    Desire was the subject of the youth retreat we just helped run. We talked about loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind, just like Jesus commanded us. The word for heart means the will PLUS the emotions. Ok. Easy enough to grasp. The mind means thoughts and deep contemplations (this is where awe and wonder would come in). Also easy enough to grasp. But the soul? What does that mean? It means several things — our longings, desires, passions, dreams, the breath, an almost bodily part of us — basically the deepest part of us, deeper than “emotions.” How do we love God with all of that? I think even our “ungodly” desires can point us to God. What is underneath them? Does it point to God? And I think we can pray for God to re-align our thoughts, desires, and emotions with His, and I believe He answers those prayers.

    I loved the discussion on trusting God, that that is really what our wandering is all about, learning to trust. We have to shed our old ideas of who God is and take on a new, loving, trustworthy God. I think all this hungering and thirsting they (and we) are going through, that’s the soul speaking. What do we hunger and thirst for? That’s soul-speak, and God wants the soul to want GOD, and to want more of God. Love the way of framing it so we are not trying to kill our desires, we are trying to feed them — the desire for God, that is.

    1. Shelly October 6, 2016

      Elizabeth, I appreciated the exploration into heart, mind and soul, and the idea of feeding our desire FOR God, rather than the oh-so-many-things that aren’t God.

      1. Elizabeth October 6, 2016

        Oh, another thing we talked about was that the soul needs time and SPACE. We can’t over-schedule or over-screen our lives and expect to have any kind of soul-life. We need time to discover those deep desires.

        1. Amy Young October 8, 2016

          Space. Yes. As I’m sitting here reflecting on what the idea of space means to me, what came to mind was the quiet, yet clear way Jesus modeled this by making time alone with God a priority. He didn’t often teaching on — like he did on other topics, instead he modeled it. I need to chew on this more.

  7. Malia October 5, 2016

    Here’s what really got me about desire:
    “When you don’t admit you want things–it runs you. It is only when you can bring together the words “I” and “desire” that what you want become alterable (61). Blue’s example of kids praying for the poor when they really wanted chocolate pudding was funny–then quickly became serious for me. I pray for (good) things while another (distracting) desire lingers, unspoken but very present. Do I want to be transformed? Then I must be honest with myself and say, “I do want [chocolate pudding], Lord. I do, and I need You to help me sort this out.”

    Also, I didn’t remember the Numbers’ account of God giving so much quail that it comes out of their nostrils. Vivid! Powerful! It reminds me of my high school economics teacher who taught us the Law of Diminishing Returns by giving my classmate as much Coke as he wanted. I think he drank 4 cans straight–then ran to the bathroom to vomit it all up. The unhealthy things we crave make us sick. Even sickness then is grace: God allowing us to experience the upchuck of unfulfilling desires and then –once empty– to long to be satisfied in Him.

    1. Amy Young October 8, 2016

      Malia, what I love about this is the freedom from the “shoulds” — “I should want to pray for the poor, but right now what I’m thinking about is this what-appears-to-be-less-holy-but-not-bad thing.” While I totally get the idea of “break my heart for what breaks yours” — I also think that God really is so much bigger and more gracious and FUN than we believe. Yes, he cares passionately about the poor (made that abundantly clear in the Bible) and yes, we probably need reminding :), but also, yes, I think he’s more okay with “chocolate pudding” than we give him credit for . . . after all, he made chocolate pudding!!!

  8. Shelly October 6, 2016

    I also haven’t been reading this book, but I have been wandering close, reading the posts and comments. Amy, you asked: What is the risk that comes with our desire? Pain. Loss. Disappointment. Heartache. I know these are the risks because they have been my experience when desires have not been met as I had hoped, even asked for. But like the Israelites, my desires need to be reshaped into “God’s shape.” (I was telling a teammate this a few weeks ago.) And this, too, is painful and heart-aching. I’m there. Right now. Sifting through the ways that God has dealt with me in 2016, and longing to see rightly His love and affection. I don’t want to wander to the point that I “miss something,” but maybe the message coming through this chapter and the comments is that wandering isn’t going to make me miss something, but give me the opportunity to see something that I might otherwise miss if I weren’t laid out and slowed down right now. And the “something” may need more time to really see it, draw near to it, savor it.

    1. Amy Young October 8, 2016

      Shelly, seasons of loss and sifting are exhausting, aren’t they? And though we know that God can be at work in the midst of them, it can also be confusing why he didn’t head a few off at the pass. You have named risks that I believe others reading this are familiar with as well: “Pain. Loss. Disappointment. Heartache” At times in my own life, I can now look back and see not getting what I desired and being on the path of pain, loss, disappointment, and heartache ended up birthing something good. But certainly not in all instances. AND even in the good (i.e. my current life and work) there can still be loss — going to Mike’s memorial service and being around so many who used to be part of my daily life was bittersweet. I loved seeing them, but it opened a mostly healed wound of not getting to live nearer to them.

      Like you, I hope to pay attention in the wandering, because I know there are gems for me here too, even in the loss. Both can co-exist.

What do you think?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.