Earlier this year, I went through a season of insomnia. A chaotic furlough, a new job, and lots of life change brought on anxiety, which bred sleeplessness, which bred more anxiety, until I was a mess.
I lay awake many nights and begged God, “You know I need to sleep. You know I can’t function without it. I believe you want me to be productive. So why won’t you help me sleep?”
And the Word of God spoke to me through Deuteronomy 6:
Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.
There I was, wandering in the desert, feeling desperate, crushed, and abandoned by God. Until I remembered that the desert is the very best place for God to meet me.
He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna….to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
God caused you to hunger. Just like sleep, bread is necessary for life itself, yet God wanted his people to remember that their very existence depended on God and his Word.
Thousands of years later, our Savior voluntarily went into the desert, and learned for himself that man does not live by bread alone. And not long after that, he stood tall and declared himself to be our Bread of Life, sent down from Heaven.
Unlike many in the world, I’ve had the incredible privilege of never needing to worry about my daily bread. Perhaps that’s why God allowed me to be deprived of my daily sleep. And there are a myriad of other ways we can be sent into the desert involuntarily—cancer, hurricane, betrayal.
As insomnia helped me to understand the value of the desert, I realized that choosing missions is one of the ways we voluntarily choose the desert.
In choosing missions, we leave behind our support structures: family, church, friends.
Choosing missions means learning new ways of survival: how to communicate, how to care for our children, how to provide for our basic needs. Most of the time, we give up many of the comforts of home, whether it be as simple as McDonald’s Playland or as complex as feeling understood by the people around us.
Missions sometimes means we find ourselves in a spiritual wasteland: a city where we are one of only handful of believers. Where the oppression, whether seen or unseen, lies heavy on our shoulders.
Choosing missions means choosing the life of a stranger, an outsider. We are often misunderstood. We often feel alone, and as time goes by, we often feel disconnected in our “home” countries as well. Like it did for our Savior, the desert brings on temptation strong and thick. But unlike our Savior, we often cave to it.
So why, why, why do we choose this life? Why on earth would we choose this desert?
Because man does not live by bread alone, or cream cheese, or even Starbucks. Man does not live by running water, or air conditioning, or indoor heating. He is not sustained by paved roads, or fast internet, or stylish clothes. He even does not live by English education for his kids, by real turkey on Thanksgiving or by cold Christmases and the smell of pine trees.
We live by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.
This desert will humble us, and test us, and we will see within our hearts whether we are truly keeping his commands. But the hunger and the thirst we experience in our chosen wilderness will enable us to have a greater, fuller understanding of our true Bread of Life. Our manna from Heaven. The gift of his presence, the knowledge of his suffering, the tremendous depth of grace—all of these things are worth more than anything the world has to offer. More than home. More than sleep. More than bread.
Just as he promised, God fed me with himself during that season of insomnia. And I was reminded: The knowledge of God’s presence is more important to him than my productivity, than my comfort, than my health. How often has he taught me that in this chosen life overseas. In the great mystery of the universe, I lose my life to find it. I choose the desert and find the Bread of Life.