My Wilderness Season… in the Israeli Desert

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Never in a million years did I think I would end up here. In a little city, located in the heart of the Israeli desert.

Rewind to 6 months ago we had planned a visit to see family back in Canada.

Shortly after we landed, airports quickly began shutting down in the midst of the pandemic and we ended up getting ‘stuck’ in Canada for the next 5 months.

After months of ‘off and on lockdown’ we were at the end of our rope and missed home. I began praying even harder that if it’s God’s will that we return to Israel, He would open the door.

That very week we got a message from a friend who let us know her spacious, 4 bedroom house is sitting empty if we would like to rent it out for a great price.

I was immediately overjoyed and relieved we had found a landing place to come back to and quarantine in.

“Wait, where did she say her house is?” I asked. “hmm…” my mom said scrolling through her phone. “ah, here it is, apparently it’s in the South.”

“As in the Negev?!” I asked. The look on her face confirmed the statement.

We were going to be moving to the desert. Not just any desert, but the Israeli desert.

I secretly hoped that after quarantine we would possibly find a place closer to Jerusalem, the area I grew up in. We checked out an apartment in the area and were disappointed and how tiny, expensive and chaotic everything was… although we shouldn’t have been surprised as those are the main characteristics of Jerusalem.

It seemed as though, for some reason, God had led us to the Negev and closed the door in Jerusalem.

So the wilderness it was. In a way I was returning to my roots since our family had lived in the Negev when I was a little girl.

In fact, my younger brother, Avi-ad was born in Be’er Sheva.

I find it interesting that God chose to lead His people through the wilderness. The Holy Spirit even led Yeshua into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil! (Matthew 4:1) 

Sometimes this contradicts with our hopeful theology that ‘as long as you follow God, everything will go your way! You’ll be blessed, happy, healthy and abundant!”

I do believe that God wants to bless us and He’s always faithful to take care of us but that doesn’t mean that He won’t lead us into places that challenge our character and test our faith.

It’s easy to have a good attitude when things are going our way and we have everything we want. The real test happens when we are under pressure, tired, and waiting for God to work.

Of course, God wants us to lead a happy, blessed life. The end goal for the Israelites was not to stay in the wilderness forever but it was a temporary transition on the way to the Promised Land.

God has a good future in store for us but there may be times we have to go through wilderness seasons and endure difficulties.

It wasn’t too long ago I found myself in a wilderness season. I had been working in the media department of a well-known ministry and living in a beautiful apartment near the beach in central Israel.

Shortly after I joined the ministry staff I began experiencing back and hip pain that worsened with each passing week. It reached the point I wasn’t able to ride my bike to work, go grocery shopping, or even sit at my desk.

After a lot of prayer and counsel, I felt I had to resign from my job and focus on healing from whatever was causing this pain.

I wish I could say it got better after a few weeks of rest but it didn’t. It got worse.

After spending a large chunk of savings on doctors & specialists still, no one could seem to correctly diagnose the problem.

I was told to wait for a year until I could get booked for an MRI and take painkillers.

God doesn’t allow us to go through painful seasons of life because He’s cruel and wants to see us suffer. I’m sure it hurts God’s heart even more than it hurts us when we’re enduring pain.

I remember how challenging it was to watch my mom go through two hip replacement surgeries and deal with the aftermath of pain during her healing process.

Even though it was difficult to watch her suffer, I knew that in the long run, it would be worth it when she would be able to walk again, pain-free.

God doesn’t like to see us in pain either but sometimes He knows it can be a necessary part of our journey in reaching His Promises.

“Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” (Deuteronomy 8:2)

God chose to lead the children of Israel through the wilderness to humble & test them, to see what’s in their hearts.

As we read through the story of the Exodus we find out the Israelites had deep-rooted fear, idolatry, greed, and rebellion in their hearts.

From complaining to building a golden calf, to attempting to overthrow Moses’ leadership; the Israelites failed on every front.

Pain has a way of magnifying what’s in our hearts and bring our pride crashing to the ground. When I began struggling with losing the ability to work & function normally, I had to face the reality that I’m not invincible. I am a fragile human being with limitations and weaknesses. It helped me realize even more that the only way I can do anything is by the grace of God.

LEARNING HUMILITY

When flying to Canada I couldn’t walk the full distance across the airport in time to make our connecting flights with the amount of pain I was in so I had to have wheelchair assistance.

I was used to my mom receiving extra care before her hip replacement surgeries but this time the roles were reversed.

I could feel people’s questions through their stares as I got pushed in the chair through the airport. “Why is a young girl like that in a wheelchair? What happened to her?”

I could feel tears pricking my eyes as I blinked them back and pulled my hat further down in embarrassment.

I had always been an active dancer, so to not have the ability to move freely was heart-breaking. I felt pathetic and useless. Life started to feel meaningless.

If I couldn’t even get out of bed and walk how was I supposed to make a difference in anyone else’s life? And if I couldn’t do that… what was the point of existing?

I know a lot of those who have struggled with physical illness have felt this way and even those confined to extended periods of lockdown and isolation can relate.

My wilderness season of combating chronic pain was very humbling. It made me take a step back and realize I’m not in control.

Yet, I had a decision to make. Was I going to feel sorry for myself and drown my pain with Netflix and pizza? Well, maybe sometimes. But I was determined to grow through this difficulty and not allow distractions and temptations to consume me.

Instead of becoming bitter and angry at God for letting me walk through this pain, I have to choose to trust in His promises, because I knew that was the only way I would come out better on the other side.

Maybe you’re facing some circumstances in your life that doesn’t feel fair.

I want to encourage you to press into God. Our circumstances may not be permanent but our response to the place we’re in can alter the entire direction of our lives.

“Then Moses said ‘Eat that today, for today is a Sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will be none.” (Exodus 16:25-26)

There are many lessons God teaches us in the Wilderness. One of them is REST.

God literally provided bread (mana) from heaven for the children of Israel and yet somehow they couldn’t find room in their hearts to trust that it would last through the Sabbath day and went out to gather despite Moses’s clear instructions not to.

The Israelites had to undergo an immense shift from being slaves, forced to endure grueling labor in Egypt to suddenly being free and commanded to keep a day of rest.

It must have been a difficult adjustment going from working all day to sitting idle, scattered among tents in the middle of the wilderness.

I went through a similar experience.

LEARNING TO REST

Over the years God had continuously provided opportunities to work within my passions which are media, ministry & music.

I loved throwing myself into my job and going above and beyond to produce the best results I could. I liked working hard and it wasn’t unusual for me to stay up editing late into the night.

However when I began struggling with physical pain, I had to seek God if He wanted me to continue to pursue opportunities to work or if He had something else in mind.

God began speaking to me about taking a sabbatical year. Not a week off, a year.

It seemed like every other person I met confided in me that they were taking a year sabbatical and how much of a blessing it’s been in their lives.

I internally wrestled with this, not wanting to let go of the work I had yet knowing that if God was calling me to do something I should be listening.

As I was praying about it one day God led me to a passage in the bible that talks about Israel keeping the Shmita year.

Shmita is a commandment God gave that still stands to this day. Every seven years Israel is commanded to let the Land rest. We are not allowed to plant, harvest or sell any fruits or vegetables grown in the fields. This is scientifically proven to cultivate more nutritionally dense soil and produce even better fruit over time.

I knew God was calling me to set aside this time to rest and this was going to be my own personal ‘shmita year.’

Israelis have been known to try and find a loophole to everything and some have even gone as far as to cover their tractors with a tarp when harvesting on a shmita year, as if God can’t see what’s underneath.

When we stay busy with distractions and chock full agendas it doesn’t leave too much room for self-reflection and time spent with God.

God may have seasons He calls us away to focus on Him and put our busy schedules aside. Instead of viewing it as a ‘waste of time’ we need to see it as a valuable investment.

Even Yeshua set time aside to seek God and left the crowds demanding His attention.

Yeshua also kept the Sabbath day. In fact He never really seemed in a hurry to get anywhere. It never says anywhere in scripture that He was flustered and rushed, running from one place to the next.

Yeshua knew something we all need to learn and that is to walk in the pace of grace.

The slower seasons of life are just as important as the busy ones because before God can do valuable things through us, He has to do good works in us.

LEARNING TO WAIT

I was three weeks away from my long-awaited MRI to diagnose the cause of my ongoing health issues when I was called to complete my tzav rishon at the recruitment office in Jerusalem.

For those of you who are familiar with the tzvav rishon testing process, it can be an extremely long day. With medical & physiological tests as well as personal interviews it can seem like a never-ending process.

I glanced around the room of tired, nervous 16-year-olds waiting for their name to be called.

“That’s the hardest part, it’s exhausting.” One of the nearby soldiers said to me.

“What is?” I asked.

He glanced down at his watch and replied “the waiting.”

Sometimes it’s not even the tests we go through while walking in the wilderness that’s the hardest part… it’s the time that drags out endlessly as we wait for change.

A lot of 2020 has been a waiting game. Waiting for quarantine to end, waiting for the borders to open to other countries, waiting for restrictions to lift, waiting for the business to pick up & congregations to start meeting again.
At least when we’re going through tests it feels like we’re moving forward and making some kind of progress. It’s the time we spend waiting in a dusty, empty wasteland of nothingness that we can begin to lose hope, and that is the most dangerous place to be.

“I am the man who has seen affliction… He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship. He has walled me in so I cannot escape; he has weighed me down with chains. Even when I call out or cry for help, he shuts out my prayer… I have been deprived of peace… I remember my affliction and my wandering… I well remember them and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him. The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him.” (Lamentations 3)

So many characters in the bible as well as people in the world right now are feeling weary while waiting for change. It can be easy to become consumed with the hardships we’re facing and become frustrated while waiting in the wilderness.

This is when God calls us to stay rooted in His unfailing love for us and trust that His faithfulness will never let us down.

It can be easy to accept God’s love for us when everything is going well and we have everything we want. It is a lot harder to rejoice in God’s love when we’re suffering, lacking things and our prayers go unanswered.

LEARNING TO TRUST

I have nieces and nephews that often come to visit and love when I bake cookies for them to speedily devour on sight. They came bustling through the door and shrieked with delight when they saw a fresh batch of chocolate chip cookies on the table.

Photos above: Nieces and Nephews visiting

I’m sure that in that moment they felt loved and it was a joy to see them enjoy what I made.

Fast forward to midnight that same day and I find one of them digging through our cupboards to find our jar of Nutella.

He held it up with hopeful eyes and asked “where’s your bread?”

I just shook my head and laughed “Sorry, but you are not making a chocolate sandwich at midnight right now, go to bed buddy.”

He scowled and tromped away back to his room.

It wasn’t that I loved them any less in that moment, in fact it’s because I love them that I set healthy boundaries for them and withhold good things from them because it’s not always the appropriate time for them to receive what they ask for.

In the same way God wants us to know that His love for us doesn’t change. Even when we’re waiting to see His promises and feel ourselves growing tired in the process, He is faithful, even in our wilderness season.

I may not understand why I’ve had to go through nearly a year of pain, sleepless nights, doctor’s appointments, physiotherapy, and miss so many seemingly good opportunities.

Yet I keep hearing God reassure me that He is working all things together for my good.

I may not understand the purpose of my pain but I have to trust that God is in control and His love for me will never let me down.

If we can move forward through life believing that God has a purpose for every season of our life, no matter how seemingly insignificant or aimless, we can hold fast to hope that will keep us taking one step at a time towards a better future.

This article originally appeared on Liat’s blog, October 29, 2020, and reposted with permission.