Streams in the Wasteland

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Sometimes I catch myself looking at an old picture of my mother holding me as a baby. A proud, happy smile spreads across her face as she holds me tightly on her hip. I look content, as if I know I am happy and comfortable in my mother’s arms. Looking at this picture, I get the impression that we loved being with each other, that we might have been inseparable.

The reality in this picture is so distant from the relationship with my mother that I find myself in today. Too much stands in the way between us. Too many hurtful words, too many broken promises, too many lines that I have drawn in the sand. The result is a functional estrangement. Instead of an inseparable embrace, I maintain a learned avoidance.

I have spent twenty-one years in this pattern: avoid, neglect, ignore. I have been doing this so long and my mindset is so fixed, I can see no other reality for our relationship. Being estranged from my mother has become normal.

New thing

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:19).

Israel understood about estrangement. The nation had once been a kingdom with her own land, her own systems, her own freedom. But when Isaiah makes this statement, it is now a nation characterized by emptiness, corruption, infertility, bondage, and death. This is a nation estranged from her kingdom — a nation in exile. Into this hopeless reality, God promises reconciliation: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine” (v. 1).

God calls out to His people, imploring them to forget the former things, forget all the things in the way between Him and His people. All those things — the past, the actions, the words, the lost moments, the fights, the neglect, the pain — become a barrier that appears impossible to break down. Estrangement is the only reality that can be perceived. Into this fixed mindset God proclaims, “See, I am doing a new thing!”

God is good at making inconceivable realities conceivable. The Scriptures reveal a God who pulls a cosmos out of chaos, who pulls a nation of slaves into freedom. He even makes Himself, the Word who was at the beginning, conceivable by becoming the Word made flesh: Jesus Christ. “See, I am doing a new thing!” For God to step into this world as flesh is something inconceivable, yet we proclaim this as a reality. God became incarnate.

As God incarnate, Jesus is the real manifestation of God’s desire to reconcile with humanity. Jesus is the ministry of reconciliation. Jesus is the new thing springing forth that was once inconceivable. Jesus is the way in the wilderness, the stream in the wasteland.

Through Jesus, God is showing us that any kind reconciliation requires that new things spring forth from realities that seem to us too impossible to ever change. To reconcile, or be reconciled, requires us to become something new.

Living full

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17).

For twenty-one of my thirty-nine years, I have justified my actions toward my mother by believing that I am protecting my family and me from inexorable pain if I choose to allow her into our lives. I struggle to love her. I have let myself believe that my capacity to love her, and the capacity for God to create a new relationship between us, is limited. Simply put, I have allowed sin to rule this part of my life. By placing and reinforcing limits on God’s ability to help me love, forgive, imagine, and act on a different way of living, I have committed to live with my life-limiting weaknesses.

Because I have come to see sin as a misplaced belief in my limits, I am coming to understand that choosing estrangement is my struggle with faith. Do I believe that God became incarnate? Do I believe that God resurrected Christ from the grave? Do I believe that the Holy Spirit can lead me to become someone new who can see a way to love?

If my sin is believing in my limits, then the way forward is choosing to believe that God can, and is, making me new. I may not be able to conceive of the new person I will become, or conceive of a new relationship or of the new ways of living that I must learn. But if I believe that God became incarnate, that He raised Jesus from death, and that His Spirit is with me, then I will choose freedom from my life-limiting weaknesses. I will choose to live as Christ intended, to my fullest.

This might be why Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” When we choose to walk in His way, to faithfully head into the wasteland knowing that in the journey we will find streams, we become new creations by the same power that resurrected Jesus from a grave.

Transformation

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2).

To believe that God can, and is, making me new, I have to be willing to walk.

This act of becoming something new plunges us into mystery. It is a process that requires an openness to new ways of living. Our broken relationships, when reconciled, will be different. We will not be the people we are right now, reinforcing this brokenness, when we are reinforcing reconciliation. In Christ, we become something new every time we faithfully move toward Him, with Him, in His way.

This moving toward Christ looks like Paul’s exhortation to “be transformed by the renewing” of our minds. In my broken relationship with my mother, I cannot see the new thing — the stream in the wasteland. Despite this, God proclaims it is already here. My new self, the self that can love and live in a new relationship, is already springing forth. If I choose to think like this, then my actions and attitudes will align to that belief.

If I choose to renew my mind by turning toward the truth that God can, and is, making all things new, then I will see myself committing to new attitudes and actions toward my mother. With this mindset that sees my capacity to love as unlimited, in light of Christ’s unconditional love, then I can see my new attitudes toward her: longsuffering, patience, kindness. My actions will follow. Instead of avoidance, I will engage in — even initiate — our conversations by picking up the phone or responding to her texts. Instead of being quick to anger, I will consider her perspective, her reasons, words, and actions, and cultivate a humble posture toward her. Instead of neglect, I will invite her into my life to celebrate with my family. Instead of accommodating my self-interest by seeking to avoid what I call pain, I will constantly remind myself to commit to actions that will grow our relationship.

This relationship will look different from the one that I see in the picture. The one that I miss. Maybe we will never be like that again: content, comfortable, inseparable. But I am starting to see that we could make something new.

Looking for streams

What are the places in our lives that seem impossible to renew? What relationships seem irreconcilable? What wastelands need streams?

Because God became incarnate, because He resurrected Jesus from the grave, because His Spirit is with us, He can lead us to become a new people who follow Jesus’ way of living. We can reconcile with others, despite seemingly impossible barriers. We can never stop looking for the new thing, for the way in our wilderness, for the streams in our wastelands.

May you know that Jesus is the new thing that God has done. May you know that God is making you new as you walk toward Him, with Him. May the Holy Spirit guide you as you become something new.

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Michael R. Flores, his wife, Victoria, and three children - Kennedy, Ezra, and Maria - live in San Antonio, TX, and love to spend time in nature. As for work, Michael is passionate about ensuring that educational systems are equitable for all students, and that these systems function to empower individuals and communities to effect positive change. He loves conversation, so if you ever want to dialogue, he encourages you to find ways to get in contact. The Flores family fellowships with the Church of God (Seventh Day) community at Willard Street.