Summary: Life never seems to be easy, there are always times that are harder than others. Today we examine what those “wilderness” times look like
In the summer of 1989 all across London England signs on billboards and bus shelters began to appear like this (This poster can be seen and used as a slide here: http://www.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/exhibits/Posters/04item08.html ) asking the question “Can anyone make sense of ot?” for many weeks it got people talking what are those signs about, what does it mean. And then over night another sign appeared like this (This poster can be seen and used as a slide here: http://www.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/exhibits/Posters/04item09.html ) with the tag line, “come and hear one man who can make some sense of it.” It was an advertizing campaign for a Billy Graham mission that was coming to the city.
What I find curious is that while all of us have life and live life, for many life is punctuated with times of profound confusion. In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell references a study done by the people who created Sesame Street in which children were observed as they watched the show to see when they turned their heads and lost interest. The study showed children lost interest in the show, not when there wasn’t something exciting happening on screen, or there were boring characters, but when they didn’t understand what was happening. In other words, if they did not understand the story, even if it were a mini story of bringing two halves of a word together, they lost interest and started playing with toys.
Producers tried to remedy the lack of interest by ratcheting up conflict, but this didn’t work. Conflict without a story is still confusing. Interesting characters without a story are confusing as well. The producers at Sesame Street worked hard, then, to make every scene, every segment a very clear story, and because of their work they retain the average child’s engagement an unheard of 80% of the time they are watching the show.
I wonder if we don’t all do the same thing, not with television, but in life. We try to figure out what’s going on but when we can’t, that is when we check out. We distract ourselves. Or, worse, we ratchet up the conflict or numb ourselves with entertainment, because it’s hard to live a life that doesn’t seem to make sense. And while there are so called experts, life coaches and specialists, even they don’t seem to have figured it out.
I don’t know if you saw the March issue of Maclean’s Magazine, but its cover story is about the life experts that Oprah Winfrey has had on her show giving advice. It say, “Oprah’s bad advice: a surprising number of her self-help gurus are now admitting they are total screw-ups.” The article goes on to tell how:
• A spiritual life counselor’s own life spiraled out of control when her life imploded with a marriage that broke up and has her filing for bankruptcy after squandering millions of dollars.
• Another expert who advocates for a simply life, has been outed for her extravagant life style after frittering away her wealth on excessive lavishness, including 9 assistants to help her manage her posh New York real estate, as well as a chapel in England where Sir Isaac Newton once attended.
• Another, a former emotional eater can’t figure out why she now overspends
• A popular marriage counselor now reveals she has been married four times and that even though publicly she claimed she was in a long and happy marriage, she was actually with a man who made her miserable and according to her book, she only has sex with three times in 13 years.
So if we can’t figure it out, and the experts don’t seem to get it right, where do we turn when we can’t make sense of life? Now I’m not at all suggesting that life is always confusing. Sometimes everything seems to go well, we find ourselves in a sustainable rhythm, things work the way they are supposed to, bills are paid on time, we see results from our efforts, our health is on track, we have joy in our routines. Sometimes life is good, there is nothing to interpret, but then there are those other times.
You know the times I mean don’t you? Times when your health takes a turn, when your finances get hit, when your position is eliminated, when your kids no longer need you and you wonder what your purpose is; those times when you feel as if you are wandering.
The Bible tells about the Nation of Israel experiencing a time of wandering. They had escaped the bondage of slavery in Egypt and had crossed the Red Sea into the Sinai wilderness on their way to the Promised Land, but they weren’t there yet. In fact they would wander in that wilderness for 40 years.