“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil.” (Matthew 4:1 NIV)
I just finished reading a book called The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It is totally brilliant, and I recommend reading it. I am sure I didn’t get all the messages the author was intending to share with his audience, but those I did understand have been both like puzzle pieces fitting things together and on a broader scale, lens through which to see things in a more wholesome way. Without going into too much detail and giving the story away, a shepherd boy is seeking out a treasure in the Egyptian pyramids due to a reoccurring dream he has had about it. His path to get there ends up being quite a bit different than he had envisioned. Along the way, he meets many obstacles tempting him to give up. He also meets many people spurring him on in his pursuit. He travels many weeks through the desert, being assaulted by doubts of whether this pursuit is worthwhile and concerns of danger from the war that is going on in the region. Not knowing how exactly he is going to make it to the Egyptian pyramids, he pays attention to signs and messages from the universe and the voice in his heart. The character called the Alchemist helps the boy and gives him wisdom and encouragement. A theme throughout the story tells of the idea that the universe conspires to help those who go after their “Personal Legend.” Though they may not always look like help, the events and occurrences on the path of pursuing a dream are always purposeful. The boy is told that most people are fearful of pursuing their dreams, for good reason. It is often not easy and requires much courage and perseverance of one’s self. There are mental and emotional tortures of being in situations that test the very core of your being and what you hold dear.
Oscar Wilde says, “to live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people just exist.”
Robert Frost in his poem, The Road Not Taken, captures this idea in a different way saying, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I- I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
I couldn’t help but compare the shepherd boy’s pursuit of his Personal Legend in The Alchemist to my pursuit of professional soccer. I don’t know that it is really about the object of the pursuit at all. I love the game of soccer and God has given me the ability to play, like many other athletes. It has always been a dream and deep-rooted desire of mine to play professionally. However, the treasure lies not so much in the achievement of this but the pursuit itself. There is a certain level of courage and determination it takes to step onto the road to your desires and dreams. Then along the way, there are higher and higher levels of courage and determination to stay on it. C.S. Lewis says that often the reward for obedience in a task God has given you is another, possibly greater task. In the Psalms, David is repeatedly saying. “take courage; be strong and let your heart take courage; wait longingly for the Lord.” Even Jesus tells His apostles before He sends them out to all of Israel that the road will be hard, and they will be “sheep among wolves.” They will be put before governors and kings, but He tells them not to worry about what they will say, that they will know at the time (Matthew 10:16-20). All this uncertainty and discomfort is enough for any reasonable person to opt out of pursuing something the people around them might deem crazy or impracticable. But isn’t this exactly what Jesus asks of us if we want to truly follow Him? He says leave everything, “let the dead bury the dead.” The pursuit of a dream and desire God had put on your heart is essentially the pursuit of Himself. His will is love and mercy itself; in other words, Himself. Thus, any true pursuit of a dream is a pursuit of a treasure in heaven. I think what I have realized is this treasure is already inside all of us, but it is one thing to know this as head knowledge and quite another to experience it.
I am sure there are manifold messages to receive from the time Jesus spent in the wilderness. Each time you read something in Scripture it can speak to you in a different way. This time when I read that passage, I understood it in the context of the shepherd boy’s time in the desert. There is not much to do, so one has no other choice really than to just be, to listen in the silence to one’s heart, to be one with the rhythm of creation. In the absence of comforts and distractions, there would seem to be many internal conversations and battles. In the expanse of the sky, one probably ponders his smallness and purpose in relation to the universe. Jesus was a man, and His time in the wilderness comes before His ministry begins. This time of trial and understanding was also preparation for what was to come. The same was the case for the shepherd boy on his pursuit of his dream, Personal Legend, and treasure. I think there is a time for all of us to be in the wilderness or desert to dig deeper into ourselves and find that the treasure we seek is actually already within us.
But it is not fulfilling to just know this. Jesus says follow, “come to Me.”
It might seem crazy to say that being at home and pursuing professional soccer has been like being in the desert or wilderness. As much as it is possible, I don’t take it for granted that I have a house to stay in without paying rent, food in the fridge without paying for groceries, and other luxuries available to me without doing anything for them. I can’t say I am always as mindful and grateful of all this as I should be. However, I can say this time the Lord has afforded me on this part of the road has led me to deeper contemplation within myself in specific areas of my identity. The challenges and stretching have come from just being in the silence and listening to the voices in my heart. I can say that this place I had previously associated with mostly sorrow and emptiness is being redeemed. It turns out that home is the desert and the wilderness because there is less of everything else and more of God within me.