Memories of science class came to mind as I prayed with Sunday’s first reading from Exodus. I remember using a balance scale and learning to weigh different objects; placing a rock on one side and carefully adding small weights to the other in order to find the balance point and calculate the item’s weight correctly. Odds were that I’d add too much and find, instead, a tipping point; causing the scale to clank and me to recalculate my strategy.
In Exodus 17: 3-7 the Israelites, having fled slavery and captivity in Egypt, are in the desert. They complain to Moses about thirst and longing for water. The Israelites have encountered their tipping point. They feel out of balance. Their complaints clanked across the dry earth.
In the desert of Scottsdale, Arizona, by Sister Amy Taylor
The people are safe from their captors yet, desperate for water, ache to go back. Forgotten are the heavy hardships of their lives in captivity. I imagine their minds clamored for the mundane and whatever small amount of comfort and control routine afforded in their lives. Constantly facing the unknown has made them weary.
It is difficult to have nothing to show for your efforts. Thrust is grueling in the desert. With every rocky, sandy step forward your foot feels like it will never come to rest.
This Scripture passage highlights the transitional energy of discerning religious life. It leads each person down a new path, leaving behind their own Egypt experiences. Grace shines light and awareness of the new freedoms gained by exiting Egypt. Often, as from the Israelites, complaints arise. I remember a few that escaped me in my initial discernment: “I feel like I don’t fit in with my friends like I used to … If my family is asking me questions that I don’t know how to answer for myself, how can I respond?” I felt too, at the same time, like I didn’t yet fully belong with the religious community I was discerning with. The relationship was just too new to calculate the gravity that was building.
Another great question that surfaced for me was “God, why have You called me to discern? … My life before this invitation was so much easier.” But if I was really honest I knew in my heart that I was carrying the internal tension of the almost, but not yet. The transformation of my life and relationships was already in process. It just took a few more months to see the results. I needed the time in the desert to learn the lesson of depending on God. Even to complain. It is only years later that I’m thankful for each of my desert experiences. As in most cases, time helps with perspective.
In discernment, we thirst for God to provide the cool waters of continual reassurance and direction. God hears our grumblings and often provides consolation. We are given the waters of friendship, understanding and companionship with others on the journey. Whether or not we understand these gifts as points of oasis is another story.
What is the "water" you thirst for in discernment?
How do your complaints shine light on the longings in your heart?