Everybody drinks the water from the murky pool
Surely as you think you’re well
You know your belly aches
Everybody learns religion at the blind man’s school
Will you reach for heaven
When the preacher charms the snake?
Is your faith so right?
Are you so blessed?
Everybody wanders in the forest
Is your heart so true?
Are you that good?
Everybody wanders in the woods
Everybody wanders in the forest
Everybody wanders in the wilderness
— The Choir, “Wilderness”
Today is my 40th birthday. Do I feel older? No. Do I feel old? Yeah, and I have for a long time. When your 13-year-old daughter is thisclose to being taller than you are, it sorta changes your perspective on the world. Some people like to make 40 sound like it’s no big deal. “Forty is the new thirty.” No. No, it is not. Forty is the old forty, and it always will be.
One of the cool things about turning 40, though, is that it is a pretty significant number biblically-speaking. In the Bible, the number 40 represents a generation. It also symbolizes a period of testing or trial. God flooded the earth for 40 days. Moses lived in Egypt for 40 years and then in the desert for another 40 years before leading his people out of slavery. He then spent 40 days with God on the mountain. Jonah warned Ninevah that it had 40 days before its impending destruction. Ezekial lay on his right side for 40 days at Mount Horeb. David and Solomon each ruled for 40 years. At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus fasted and was tempted for 40 days, and he remained on earth for 40 days after his resurrection before ascending to heaven.
Of course, the Israelites also spent 40 years in the wilderness between leaving Egypt and entering into the Promised Land. When I think about how old I am and imagine spending the entirety of that time wandering the desert, living off of nothing but manna and hope, it makes me realize just how difficult that was. The Israelites weren’t lost, however. They knew how to get to the Promised Land, they just weren’t allowed to enter it because of their rebellion toward God.
In a way I can relate. I’ve spent much of my life wandering. Waiting, searching. Rebelling. Feeling fulfilled but not fulfilled. Content but not content. At times I’ve been faithful to God, appreciative of the little bit of manna I’ve had and the family I can share it with. Other times, I’ve been angry and bitter, watching friends around me enjoying the milk and honey of their Promised Lands while I couldn’t even pay the bills. Feeling stuck in my job, stuck in my life. Stuck in a seemingly perpetual state of emptiness. While I had a beautiful wife, two awesome kids, and a roof over my head, it was never enough. I should’ve been happy. Instead, I was numb.
Now that 40-year penalty seems to be coming to an end. Christy graduated nursing school last month and earned her RN last week. She starts an incredible job soon, and eventually the financial stress we’ve endured for way too long should begin to subside. I’m beyond proud of all her hard work and dedication, and I’m excited for the future. Excited but still apprehensive. I’ve spent so much time in the wilderness, it’s hard for me to imagine anything different.
As Joshua stood on the banks of the Jordan River 40 years after stepping foot out of Egypt, God told him, “Moses my servant is dead. Therefore, the time has come for you to lead these people, the Israelites, across the Jordan River into the land I am giving them.” Joshua, who took over as the Israelite leader after Moses died, should’ve been thrilled. He wasn’t. Even after seeing the land with his own eyes as a spy many years before, he was terrified of crossing the river into it. Three times God told him to be strong and courageous. “Do not be afraid or discouraged,” He said. “For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Forty years is a long time. Like Joshua, I feel old, tired, and unprepared for the journey ahead. Like Joshua, I’ve lived with frustration and regret for so long, I can’t imagine anything different.
But this side of the riverbank is not my home. Living in the past, wondering what-if won’t do me any good. There’s something greater waiting on the other side. I just have to trust God and know He’ll be with me when I get there.