Have you ever had a lot of bad luck? Those times when you get to thinking, “why me?” or when you seem to be having one of those weeks when nothing seems to be going right? We have them frequently in life. I remembering feeling this way several times in my life. But no more so than when I was in my first year of seminary. That was a rough year. I had befriended a young woman who was constantly getting herself into trouble and needed some serious help keeping herself on her medications. And every time she was in trouble, it seemed as if the dean of student life wanted me there because she “listened” to me.
I was also terribly home sick and lived in a building where the woman I shared a bathroom with bullied me for even making a peep in my room after 7:30PM. I was working my tail off day and night to keep up with the reading, the research, the memorization and the paper writing. I was planning a trip to participate in a mission experience in Mexico and I spoke no Spanish. And to top it all off, I had this increasing amount of pain in the left side of my stomach.
Well I went to Mexico, and while there I got lost in the Mexico City airport and I managed to contract a parasite from the food we were eating. I was sick for two more weeks after coming back before seeing a doctor. But the experience worsened the already existing problems with my stomach. Eventually, I had to go into the doctor to get medications for a stomach ulcer. In those months, I was angry and felt as if I was wandering around in a wilderness. I couldn’t make sense out of what was happening to me. And I couldn’t stop asking myself “Why is this happening to me?” I was only 23 years old. I wasn’t supposed to be dealing with these issues at my age.
It seemed that at every turn there was another challenge popping up in my path. I prayed harder than ever, trying for the life of me, to figure out what God was trying to communicate to me in these experiences. I felt alone and I felt abandoned by God in my struggles. But you know, I was lucky because I had a group of friends on campus who took me under their wing. They invited me into their home and taught me how to do the one thing I had never really learned how to do and that was to relax. They became my confidents. I could share my struggles with them and they being older than myself gave me their council, their advice. And they did much more than tell me to suck it up and move on, which was how I handled struggles in the past.
They helped me get involved with the on-campus prayer group, student lead worship, the campus choir, and other clubs that allowed for me to learn how to take difficult life experiences and learn to thrive with them and not to just survive through them. I learned from my struggles that I could relax without being lazy. That in fact time away, helped with the pain in my stomach and helped my mind to be able to handle more with my classes. I was able to grow through my struggles. And the joy those friends shared with me became my source of hope that helped me to trust in the ultimate plans of the Lord for my life.
I was wandering in the wilderness seemingly lost and God reached out and found me, taught me, directed me, spoke to me even when I couldn’t hear him speaking. I learned about myself and I learned about how God works in those times when temptations to stray from his path arise, when we question his motives and plans. I learned to walk with faith just as we all have to learn to do in our own lives. When we are in despair, feeling abandoned, feeling lost, whether it is from the loss of a loved one, struggles within our relationships, changing roles within our families, or the lose or change in our own abilities, we are being reminded that God is there. We are being encouraged to take those experiences and learn from them, learning to thrive with them seeing the hope of the Holy being offered to each of us.
In the book of Genesis, Abram struggled as the leader of a small tribe with no heir to inherit from him. He and Sarai struggled through a dark period that looked grim as they didn’t have children. They would have no one to care for them in their old age and no one to carry on their family name. But then Abram runs into some angels in disguise and gets that reminder that though all seems hopeless to him now that God was going to bless him. There was still a glimmer of hope even though they struggled to see it in those moments. The Lord always finds a way to let us know that his hope for a better future bring us through all of our troubles.
This scene with Abram is important for our understanding of how the Holy interacts with us all. Because we all need to hear these words from God, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” So if you struggle with changes in your worlds, in your life experiences; if life seems to have left you wondering where is God, or why me, remember that the Lord your God is your shield and there is hope for tomorrow that our reward shall be great. As we walk through this second week of Lent, remember that the temptation to turn from the Lord is great when we suffer, when we struggle, when we mourn, when we lack understanding. But we are being reminded that there is hope in the wilderness. There is a great future for all of us if only we trust where God leads us in these confusing times. Trust in the Lord, our God, and he will help each of us make sense out of our experiences, to learn from them, and he will teach us how to find peace in the little moments of life. So look towards God in prayer, in your scriptures and in your interactions with one another and see the hope that still lives there.
 Genesis 15: 1, NRSV.
(Based on Genesis 15: 1-12, 17-18)