When God Meets Us in the Wilderness: A Wild in the Hollow Guest Post from Micha Boyett
Last weekend at Allume, I was asked to speak over lunch, which is basically the worst time to ask people to pay attention to you. I expected clinking glass, acceptable side talk, and full mouths, but this isn’t what I got. I spoke on Desire because the word itself touches on the things that consume and control us. It’s such a powerful word that I figured people might trade lunch conversations in exchange for what to do with their desires. “Your desire always points to the kingdom you serve,” I said with full authority, but here I am a few days later, even after writing about desire in my book, and I can’t stop wondering all the ways I continue to trade in the good things of God to desire painless circumstances. My friend Micha Boyett has written for us today in the Wild in the Hollow Guest Post Series, and it is an honor indeed. When we found out her newest son Ace would have Down Syndrome, all my prayers contained a stab of pain, but they ended in a smile, in a full assurance that the power of God would rest on her family. I see it now, God’s goodness, and you’d never deny it by laying eyes on that AceFace! Micha writes with beauty and authority here and in her book, Found. Please welcome and honor her here.
“There is a biblical case for wanting, and wanting well . . . Although easily corrupted, desire is good, right and necessary. It is a force of movement in our lives, a means of transportation. It can be the very thing that motivates us to change and that carries us to God. Growing into maturity doesn’t mean abandoning our desires, but growing in our discernment of them. We are granted the courage to want, but we are also granted the understanding that getting our heart’s desire, when idolatrous, can be our greatest tragedy.” -Jen Pollock Michel (Teach Us To Want)
I sit on my couch and gaze into the room full of people I hardly know. It’s our second week of the new small group we’re hosting for our church. We’re spread out on couches and dining room chairs facing one another—single folks, couples without kids, and families—all of us hoping to find connection and community. The big kids are downstairs watching a movie, while another mom chases her 18-month-old down the hallway. My six-month-old, Ace, sits in my lap while I lead us in prayer and help my husband direct discussion. We’re discussing last week’s sermon on Moses and the wilderness: how God met him in the dangerous, dark place. How God meets us there too. A woman arrives late with her baby asleep against her chest. This is her first time with us. She’s new to the city. When she finds a seat in the living room, she tells us her baby’s age and I feel the old sting of envy in my chest. Her baby is bigger than my little guy and stronger. And he’s two months younger. This sort of thing shouldn’t be a shock for me. Ace has Down syndrome. He has low muscle tone that makes hitting typical milestones much harder for him. He looks smaller, has a more challenging time sitting up. He’s in physical therapy and doing so well. And still. Every time I’m confronted with a child his age or younger, I ache. I want him to be the one who is strongest. I want to go a day without being reminded that his life will be harder. I want loving him to hurt less. I want God to meet me in the comfortable place.
What are the lies we hear from the world? The lies our desires tell us? My husband asks this, and I look away from the strong, four-month-old baby in his mother’s lap.
That pain is to be avoided at all costs, I say.
There are parts of me that only want comfort, ease. I want a life of surface-level pleasure. I want my kids to be healthy and happy and get good grades and score winning soccer goals.
What is false desire and what is true desire? There are big longings in me: I want to win the hardest worker awards and be a perfect mom and be the person everybody loves, and never feel overwhelmed, or afraid.
But those longings for ease and a life where I’m not afraid? They are the shallow side of my story. They are desires that only scratch the surface of who God longs for me to be. My most real desires are the result of God’s grace in my life.
To get to my truest desires I have to be courageous enough to dive into the darkness, through the pain, and find myself on the other side in the bright sun, in the place where my false desires are exposed for what they are: fear, selfishness, comfort at the cost of others.
Rich, miraculous love exists on the other side of pain.
And to get there, I must first walk boldly into the wilderness, where God met Moses in a burning bush, where the people of God wandered for forty years, where Jesus fasted and was tempted. The wilderness is the space between the promises and the promised land. The wilderness is the pain between our shallow desires and our deeper, more real desires. We move from loving our own comfort to loving the things God loves.
Jen Pollock Michel says that we must be given the courage to want. The courage to step out into the prickly path between the shallow and the deep, to push through briars and blinding branches: through and out into the gleaming sunlight on the other side of the trees.
I haven’t suffered much in my life. The truth is that my life has been relatively simple. My older kids are strong and healthy and I never feared for their development. I’m used to having it together: as a mom, as a woman, even as a Christian. And this journey I’m on with Ace—it is opening me up to those parts of me that don’t have it together. The parts of me that need to learn humility, and patience, and grace.
Desire is a tricky thing, but it is not an evil thing. What matters is what our desire points to. I want to live a deeper, richer life than ease. I want to choose to dive in the wild space between comfort and love. I want to walk bold into the wilderness because God is there waiting to guide me into the sunshine on the other side, where my truest, most real desire waits.
Micha (pronounced “MY-cah”) Boyett is a writer, blogger, and sometimes poet. A former youth minister, she’s passionate about monasticism and ancient Christian spiritual practices and how they inform the contemporary life of faith. She is the author of Found: A Story Questions, Grace, and Everyday Prayer. Boyett and her husband live in San Francisco with their three boys. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook, and find her blog at michaboyett.com.