I look around and there’s only one word that makes sense for what we experience – wandering. What have we been doing since the beginning of this pandemic – wandering here and there with no sense of direction. We’re wandering because we are spending a whole lot of time herding cats. We’ve been wandering far longer than that though. As a nation we’ve been wandering since the end of the Cold War. Wandering about, trying to figure out who we are and what we are about and where we are going. All without an answer.
I wonder if this is what it was like for the Israelites to wander in the wilderness for 40 years. Of course there are significant differences. We have many more comforts than they do for one thing. Second, we aren’t actually physically going anywhere. We are wandering in other ways though – purpose, meaning, spiritual wandering, identity wandering, and more.
In Exodus we hear of the Israelites being set free from bondage in Egypt, move up towards the promised land and then doubt God. And God punished Israel by making them wander in the wilderness for 40 years until the unbelieving generation died off.
There are consequences to being willfully stubborn. That’s the phrase I use for Israel of the Old Testament. It’s a pretty good description for so many throughout time and place actually. Willfully stubborn is not a new idea. The willfully stubborn demand their own way, forcing everyone else to obey and follow their lead. And those that follow reap the results and the consequences.
Israel willfully decided to ignore God and God said, “ok, have it your way.” Wander, because you are lost spiritually anyway. And wander they did. Until the generation died off. That is sad. In other words God saw the willful stubbornness and said – “They aren’t going to change. I’ll just wait them out.”
Not only were they unwilling to change, but they wouldn’t or couldn’t see that their stubbornness was costly – not just to themselves, but also to everyone else.
Willfully stubborn people are like this. They will die blaming others who refuse to follow their ways. They would rather die than see that they themselves are the problem – a problem that in the end is completely unnecessary. That’s also sad. Because that stubbornness doesn’t have to be the way things go on. Stubbornness doesn’t accomplish many positive things. It does create resentment though.
All it takes is a change in attitude – letting go of the stubbornness. But changing attitude is not an easy thing. It is hard work. It requires self-examination. And if there is one thing that the willfully stubborn refuse to do, it is self-examination. That would require a maturity level and a willingness to change and adapt. A willingness to acknowledge that they do not have all the answers and that they may be wrong.
At it’s core, willful stubbornness is about this – being in control and doing things the way you want them to be done because you are convinced that you are right and no one else knows any better. And so there is no incentive for the willfully stubborn to change, because that would mean giving up control.
They would rather control everyone and everything into the ground, rather than let go and allow there to be thriving that was not attributed to themselves. Because that would mean their way was wrong, and they can’t handle being wrong. Willful stubbornness is just another form of narcissism. And the consequences of narcissism are always the same – people get hurt, things and norms get destroyed, and there is death – death of relationships, financial death, work death, physical death, death of trust. That’s a high cost just to claim “I am right!”
It’s like a toddle pitching a fit in a grocery story throwing him/herself on the ground because they didn’t get their way. The only effective way to deal with this situation is for a parent to just stand there and wait it out, patiently, non-anxiously. Because fighting it makes it worse and means that the toddler is in control.
No wonder God made Israel wander for 40 years until that generation died off.