In late 1996 I met the woman of my dreams. I was 19 years old and hopelessly in love. On our second date I told her “you’re everything I’ve ever wanted in a wife.” Six months later she left me to attend school in England for a year. Honestly, it was one of the worst years of my life. But I learned an invaluable lesson, “if you love someone, set them free.” Looking back, I realize I wasn’t ready for love, not even close. It took a year apart from her to prepare me for a lifetime with her by my side. I’m grateful for that year. It helped shape me into the rad husband I am today. At least, that’s what my wife says!
Life’s journeys are full of misdirection. You think you’ve found the girl of your dreams, but the minute you find her, you have to let her go. The career opportunity of a lifetime falls into your lap, but right at the last minute, another applicant is chosen ahead of you. You make the grades, test well, turn your applications in on time, but receive no offers for college; it’s community college for you. In the moment, it’s hard not to treat these disappointments as setbacks. What we want is right there in front of us, but for whatever reason, it remains elusive.
For four hundred years the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt hoping for God to deliver them and lead them into the Promised Land. Finally, their prayers are answered. God shows up by sending Moses to punish Egypt for their cruelty and deliver the slaves out of Egypt. At long last, they make their escape from slavery in Egypt. But notice what happens next…
17 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” 18 So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea.
It may not sound like much at first glance, but notice what God does. He deliberately leads his people off course. It’s worse than that; he takes them in the opposite direction. Canaan was an 11 day journey from Egypt, but the Israelites would wander 40 years in the wilderness before ever stepping foot in the Promised Land. Why would God take them on this route? Wouldn’t it have been better to take them on the more direct route? His intentions are outlined for us in the verses above. If the Israelites face adversity, God reasoned, they are likely to lose heart and return to slavery in Egypt. The Israelites are skittish. They have been beaten, kicked around, treated as less than for so long they are incapable of trust. In short, they are not ready. It would only take a slight thirst, or hunger pangs for them to desire a return to Egypt, how would they respond when facing the threat of battle with the Philistines? God decides to test, try, and refine them in the wilderness until they are fully prepared to step into their destiny.
This is a classic misdirection story. Sometimes moving forward requires two steps back, or to go up you must first move down. Jesus said give if you want to receive; lose your life if you want to find it. It flies in the face of the immediate gratification culture that rules the day, but wisdom and experience show these principles to be true.
Let’s be honest, sometimes a setback is just a setback. However, we must always be prepared for another explanation. Your journey to the Promised Land might take you through the wilderness. And when you find yourself there, embrace it; it may be the only pathway to get from here to there.