Harden not your hearts. - Psalm 95:8
The Israelites at Meribah -- on that day in Massah -- are often referenced in the Bible as the people who really messed up. They'd been wandering around the desert for a long time, following Moses into the promised land. But the trip had been much longer and more arduous than they'd expected and they were very tired and very grumpy. So God provided manna. But they didn't love the manna, and kept complaining. Then they complained about being thirsty. I supposed people do get thirsty in deserts and it's scary not to have water. But the people began to whine about how they never should have left Egypt, where they had plenty to eat, forgetting that Egypt was where they had been enslaved. So God tells Moses to strike a certain rock, and out of that rock gushed abundant water in the wilderness. From parting the sea to flocks of quails, God kept trying to show the wanderers that all their needs were being be met. But they were more focused on their comforts and wants than their needs and refused to notice God's provision and salvation. Not even a miraculous bubbling spring stopped the ungrateful complaining.
The word Meribah means "quarreling" and the Massah means "testing place." Meribah and Massah were where the people lost sight of God. Meribah and Massah are any place in life where we're not satisfied with what we have, and gratitude is the last thing on our minds. And that is the slippery mistake we can so easily make that lead us down a variety of wrong roads! The psalmist says, "Harden not your hearts, as your forebears did in the wilderness, at Meribah, and on that day at Massah." Do not turn and put your God to the test as our ancestors did in the desert - being ungrateful and continually challenging God to do more for you.
As I ponder this warning from the psalmist, I think about the many modern ways we still put God to the test -- times when we are dissatisfied with the way things are going and lose touch with gratitude and humility. No one has ever liked wandering around in the wilderness, after all, and it's natural to want comfort and ease. But the psalmist reminds us how important it is to remain open-hearted to God and one another even when the world disappoints or even hurts us.
Lent is a good time to practice open-heartedness. I recently read another Old Testament passage that says: "Cut away the thick calluses from your heart and stop being so willfully hardheaded." I find that to be powerful imagery. Calluses form in places where we've been rubbed the wrong way. Lent gives us an opportunity to take out the sandpaper and sand away some of that thick skin to allow the pain of annoyance, the discomfort of hunger, the anxiety of impatience or even the fear of the unknown to be felt instead of callused over. In Lent we're challenged to feel all these things and yet still stretch into trust and gratitude anyway. To remember that even in the wilderness, God is still with us.
God's love is present to us everywhere, even in the valley of the shadow of death. So don't let your heart be callused and hard. For it is only a soft and open heart made of flesh that can feel and share the healing love of God.