When Donald Crowhurst hears of the Sunday Times challenge to circumnavigate the globe single-handedly he decides to take up the challenge, even though he has little experience of this kind of sailing.
Donald sets about building a boat and his family support him as he prepares to make this epic voyage. But his sailing date gets pushed back and back as he struggles to get the boat ready. Eventually he has to leave, as time is running out, even though his boat is not really finished. Reality hits his wife Clare, as he prepares to set sail. This is really happening. ‘I thought we were just building a boat,’ she says to her husband as he gets ready to leave, ‘I didn’t think we would have to watch you sail away.’
We human beings can’t help but be drawn towards adventure, achievement and the unknown. I’m not the kind of person who would leap aboard a boat to risk danger and madness by sailing alone through treacherous waters, but there are plenty who do love this kind of challenge. I am currently helping a friend finish his autobiography. Mark thought travelling was the answer to life so he embarked on an epic journey, walking across Turkey with only the company of his patient donkey. However things did not go according to plan, and in the difficulties and struggles he cried out to God and found his life forever changed. This week I have been speaking at Scargill House with Phil, the director there, on the prophet Hosea, who talks of God wooing his people as they wander through dark desert days, the emptiness of life opening them up to their need of His help. Sometimes, when our plans go awry and our bright ideas don’t work out, we come to the end of ourselves yet again, and cry out for God’s help and presence. ‘But then I will win my people back once again,’ God promises in Hosea 2 v 14. ‘I will lead them out into the desert and speak tenderly to them there.’ The desert is often a place where God speaks to his people. Jesus went there deliberately for 40 days before setting out on his vast and dangerous three-year mission to help folks re-imagine and re-connect with the Kingdom of God. He revisited lonely wilderness places in those three years, stilling himself so he could spend time with his Father.
Desert places and lonely wildernesses do not always resurrect our faith and hope. But they do sometimes. Sometimes they help us realise our own limits, and to then reach beyond them to the God of hope, mercy, kindness and purpose.