Lessons from the desert – Dealing with change

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Working as a freelancer for 15 years and running a company for 6, I’ve certainly known varying levels of uncertainty, and have frequently been dealing with change. However, this current lockdown from COVID-19 has brought things to an extreme level, and one that’s echoed across the world. Not for a long time have we seen a common threat affect communities on such a global scale. I can’t imagine that there’s a single person whose family hasn’t been affected in some respect.

There is one thing that does unite us all – it’s making us all rapidly have to deal with change in some way, shape, or form. Whether that’s homeschooling, remote working, income losses, distant family, etc, we are all having to leave a land that we once relied on, to move towards a temporal new way of being.

For how long this will last, we don’t know, but I do know that as Christians we believe in a God who has shown that time and time again he utilises change to grow his people, and his church.

Lessons from the desert – an introduction

This week I’ve been led afresh to the Israelites, their incredible Exodus from Egypt, and their subsequent journey across the desert. I’m a firm believer that we can learn a phenomenal amount of lessons from the stories of the Old Testament. When we really start to dive into it, the Old Testament is full of real-life stories of people who, being led by God, were asked to deal with astronomical change – some through choice (in the case of the Israelites, they chose to leave Egypt), and some through force (in the case of Daniel).

Given the daily uncertainty that surrounds us at this present moment, the stories of biblical characters dealing with change can give us a huge amount of strength and inspiration.

setting the scene – a people on the move

Where we meet the Israelites for this blog, is in Exodus 15 and the beginning of Exodus 16. They have eventually left Egypt, and have begun their journey to the promised land. They are one month into their journey, and the fatigue has started setting in. The people are tired (who wouldn’t be from walking through a hot desert every day), the water’s in short supply, and they’re hungry. They weren’t dealing with change very well.

They start to reminisce of the good old days in Egypt – they may have been slaves, but they had food. They do what can be so tempting to do when life gets difficult, they see the past through rose-tinted glasses. They also start to complain that ‘maybe it would have been better if the Lord had killed us back in Egypt’ – slightly crazy when just a month before, that had been the very thing that they had been so desperate to escape.

In a nutshell, the people are grumpy. They’re hot, they’re bothered and they’re hangry. I would imagine that they were also scared. They haven’t seen the promised land, and they don’t even know for sure it exists. All they know is the words of their leader, who has told them that God has promised them a land of their own.

By the time we meet the Israelites in the very beginning of chapter 16, they have just witnessed a complete miracle where God has provided fresh water out of the bitter water of Marah (where the water was cleared by Moses throwing a piece of wood in the water), but, it’s not long before the grumblings start to arise again.

How would we react if we were with them?

It can be easy to look back on this story with the wonderful all-seeing eye of the future. We, as people who have the entire story neatly told in a few chapters in the bible, know what the outcome is. We also know clearly Moses’ clear vision. We know very confidently (spoiler alert) that the Israelites were led to the promised land, and that that the promised land did really exist. However, for the Israelites, a month into their journey through the desert, they had no such solid assurance. They knew from Moses that God had promised them a land, but I can imagine that they also may have struggled when the going got tough to believe this. What did it physically look like? How far away was it? If we were with them, would we really have been any better at dealing with change?

It’s worth considering for a moment the synergies between this period of the Israelites journey, and our current lockdown situation. We don’t know how it will end, and the media are full of speculatives ‘might bes’ right now, but no one knows what the land will look like when we are finally out of this. We are living through the kind of stories that will be studied in schools for years to come, but they will all be studying with the benefit of knowing how the story ends. For us currently, we are still very much in the middle.

Choosing to keep going

It can be easy to forget the blessings when we are in the midst of dealing with change. In the case of the Israelites, they were just one month into the journey, and the grumbling kept arising. It can be tempting to hold on to what should have been. It can be tempting to want to just stop where we are and to stop moving.

And yet, if we do choose to grumble, or even stop, it can be so easy to miss the point of difficult seasons. I know from my own life, just how many times God has led us through the difficult times because he wants us to see with fresh eyes the blessings, and to embrace change, and not run away from it. At times it has been incredibly painful, but the progress that’s been made because of it has been significant.

Now, I’m not saying that there aren’t days when dealing with change that are difficult. For every person right now, there are things that life has dealt them that are certainly NOT what they would have chosen, had they been given a choice. BUT, we do have a choice in how we deal with our circumstances. I must confess for my own journey right now, I’m having to work out what pregnancy and childbirth look like in a very different land. However, I’ve also spent years training organisations and individuals into how we could better embrace some of the potential tools and resources that have developed around us. I can see a promised land that I’ve worked so hard to help people see, but that has come at a price of a lot of personal letting go of my own expectations of what that change might look like.

We can either choose to tie ourselves to memories of the past when dealing with change, looking through the rose-tinted glasses of what we did have or, we can choose to see times of change as opportunities. Opportunities to look afresh and routines that we have taken so much for granted, and ask ourselves, is there a better way of living?

Dealing with change

Dealing with change can always be difficult, whether that’s enforced change or change of our own making; and it can be tempting to want to give up and revert back partway through. It seems to me to be similar to the point of packing up a house for moving – the midway point where you’ve worked so hard, and packed a phenomenal amount of boxes, but looking around there’s still so much more to do! This point in the journey is sometimes the hardest (and sadly, ‘this point’ can come more than once as the change progresses). I do however know from my own experience that it’s always worth keeping going, no matter how hard the steps of today may feel.

Just like the Israelites, we will all come out of the COVID-19 period changed in some way, and we have a choice in what we do with that change. We can allow ourselves to see the change as temporary, and hanker back for the land that we left earlier this year, or, we can utilise the change to drive us forward – to see areas that we can improve. To let go of things that just a few months ago may have seemed so important, and also to allow us to see the world and people around us with fresh eyes.

There has been a significant amount of change in our society over the last 20 years, and some churches have adapted as it has happened, and some have held fast to previous traditions and ways of working. It’s time for us to re-assess the landscape, to look again to where God is leading, and to appreciate afresh where he might be leading. What role could he be asking us to play in moving towards a new land?

For a few further thoughts about what the church family could look like after lockdown, please read the recent blog. And if you’re struggling to keep going currently, please read the recent blog taking a few lessons from Joseph.

There will be another lesson from the desert next week.

Pregnancy in lockdown - Anne Buckland

Pregnancy in Lockdown

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