“Are we there yet?” After the fiftieth repetition of this question, I’d decided not to dignify it with a response. The last time I’d answered, it had been with the retort of “Do you see a ‘Welcome to Hershey’ sign anywhere?” You’d think it would be obvious if we’d arrived at one of the sweetest amusement parks in the world. But the little punks were still at it, apparently deliberately trying to make me blow a fuse. “I’m tired. I’m bored. Are we there yet? I’m thirsty. Are we there yet? How much longer? Are we lost? This is so boring.” And here I’d thought that volunteering to take a bunch of teenagers to an amusement park would be fun.
These kids were all from out of town and had never tasted one of the highlights of life in Pennsylvania. I’d wanted to give them an experience of a lifetime, a completely unparalleled “you’re going to remember this for the rest of your life” kick butt summer experience, but all of a sudden I wanted to throttle them all. No, really. I found myself envisioning just pulling over and doing my best Homer Simpson impersonation, but murder in the backseat of a hot compact car is not really my thing. Lucky for them, I just kept driving. Things would get better when we got to the park.
Little did I know that the same bad attitudes that had soured the two hour drive would manage to sabotage the entire trip. Endless nasally whining about long lines, an oppressively hot sun, and the relentless maniacal flybys of wasps looking for some overpriced lemonade completely overshadowed everything. That day, I realized it sometimes doesn’t matter where you are. If you’re determined to find something to be miserable about, even the allure of chocolate and the most amazing roller coasters won’t be enough to turn your day around.
This morning I realized something else, too. You know how it took a whopping 40 years for the Israelites to enter the Promised Land after God freed them from slavery in Egypt? Well, I suddenly realized that there was a lot more at work here than the Israelites’ stubborn refusal to entire the Promise Land the first time. Of course, that’s not to say that balking at the idea of following God into the land he’s promised wasn’t an epic fail. Sure, there were giants in the land before them, but why should the Israelites care? They had just seen God wipe the floor with Pharaoh, literally. After that, why should a few giants bother them? But lack of faith wasn’t the Israelites’ only problem.
It only now occurs to me that physically entering the Promised Land wouldn’t have done the Israelites one iota of good. These people, who had found nothing but things to complain about in the desert, would have found ways to be miserable no matter where they were, even in a land flowing with milk and honey. I think part of the reason God took them back out into the desert was to teach them how to find joy, hope, and peace.
It was out there in the harshness of the sand that they learned to rejoice that God provided for all their needs. In the relentless heat of the sun, they learned to wonder at the miracles of water and bread delivered to them fresh and cool every morning. In that wasteland devoid of life, they learned to savor the goodness of an awesome God who ensured that their clothes never wore out. Did they also learn to look up from their aching feet to marvel at the color blazing from the setting sun as it reflected off the rippling sand? Did camping every night in that nomad’s existence teach them to drink in the depth and breadth of a limitless sky filled impossibly with stars? Did they find a Promised Land inside themselves before they even set one foot on the dry riverbed of the Jordan?
My life isn’t easy. I’ve had my fair share of deserts. But today I wonder, how often has God wanted to give me something amazing, my own equivalent of adrenaline-pumping roller coasters and giant chocolate bars? How often have his blessings surrounded me, but I missed them because I wouldn’t stop complaining about the summer heat? Today, I think I needed a heart check, and I’m actually grateful to God for those irritating teenagers (well, almost). Today, I want to stop and fully experience all the good things God has given me. I don’t want to miss one amazing experience that he’s planned simply because he loves me.
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