You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. – Deuteronomy 10:19
I am beginning to understand the ancient Israelites. Not long ago, I preached a sermon series about the life and leadership of Moses. When it came time for the Israelites to cross the wilderness, I knew that story well. They grumbled. They complained. They asked themselves and Moses – aloud! – if they wouldn’t have been better off in Egypt. Having just gained their freedom, they actually considered the relative benefits of slavery– only a chapter or two past the Red Sea crossing.
I have always thought this was unbelievable. Was it not enough for God to draw them out of Egypt, not enough to become a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, not enough to part the waters, not enough to offer manna? I have preached about this more than once; the unreasonable preference for captivity and servitude over freedom when the road gets hard, the fickle human nature that makes us gripe miserably even in the face of enormous blessing.
But now I’m starting to get it.
I’m starting to be a little bit more compassionate with the Israelites because I have begun a hard journey of my own. I am finding that it is no small thing to step out into the desert without any known destination or time of arrival. It is beyond intimidating to traverse an endless stretch of earth with no idea how long it is going to be.
Our family recently made a decision to become foster parents. I am so glad we did. While there is so much wrong in our world that we can do nothing about, here is one area where we can take action; in which we can do something concrete and demonstrable. I am glad we are doing this.
But it is hard. No question about it. It is intimidating to have vulnerable young lives in our hands. It is frustrating beyond belief to deal with the mystifying damage done in former troubled settings. And it is daunting to see no distinguishable end to this journey in sight.
Of course, I could end it at any time that I want to. The Israelites could have gone back to Egypt. Just about any of us can make a full flight out of our circumstances if we really want to. Escape isn’t that hard. But is the escape really that much easier? After all, isn’t escape just another word for exodus? Isn’t this what was already going on? I can’t imagine any direction we choose to run where there will be no regrets, no worries, no fears or famine.
Escape isn’t the point. Calling is. Having begun this journey, I fully intend to travel this road as long as the call is there. I will simply point out that it is hard to have no map or compass or expected arrival date.
The Israelites were given more than just a journey through the desert. They were given instructions. They were told to treat the stranger as family; in fact, to LOVE the sojourner as though they were their own, “for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt.” This is a marvelous idea. And also extremely complicated. There is an enormous emotional toll trying to make a stranger a part of the household; to treat with love someone who is unknown at best, and possibly more than a little prickly.
Still, our family has made the choice to follow this path that we believed God called us to. We put our feet on the desert floor and agreed to walk. It is much harder than I could have imagined – as I’m sure it was for the Israelites – and so I am beginning to have some compassion.
And I am beginning to understand that there is nothing to do but keep going. Left, right, left right. Across the sand as long as God’s call is there, because the manna will come. The water will emerge, just in time, from the stone. There will be enough love in the world for us to share just a little of it with the children strangers who come into our midst. And God multiplies what we can give even when it feels as if we are empty. God will sustain us, and God will sustain them.
Until we reach the Promised Land.