“Sounds like your face is in the mud on this one,” said a priest friend of mine. “And that’s a good place to be.”
I stared at him in disbelief. I had just spent a quarter of an hour complaining how close I was to losing my sanity, thanks to a living situation that had become untenable. Over the course of the last few years, my neighborhood had become increasingly dangerous: drug activity, assaults and gun violence were all on the rise, while law enforcement resources were stretched thin. As a single woman, I felt particularly vulnerable; after prayer, reflection and the repeated urging of loved ones, I had decided to move.
Providentially, my house sold in a matter of days, and my offer on a new home was accepted. Due to a processing backlog, however, the settlement dates for both properties were moved back by almost a full month — just in time to coincide with one of the busiest seasons in my work schedule. The delay wasn’t long enough to warrant taking a temporary apartment, especially with two pets and two decades’ worth of household items to manage. For the time being, I had to stay put.
Impatience, frustration and a growing sense of fear began to gnaw at me; at points I seethed with anger and resentment over the decline in my neighborhood’s quality of life. My hopes began to sink with the evening sun, and a chorus of “what ifs” echoed in my thoughts, chanting every dire possibility that could thwart my move. Sleep evaded me and I found myself snapping at others, including my poor real estate agent, who assured me he was doing everything possible to hasten the transaction.
I knew that amid the waiting and uncertainty, the Lord was actually giving me the opportunity to trust him more deeply. But I wanted to revise the lesson, or better still defer it to another time, one of my choosing. The lack of control I had over the situation — and over my often sinful reaction to it — was maddening, and I felt utterly stuck.
And that was the whole point, said my priest friend.
“You’re at your own Red Sea here,” he said. “There’s no way you can cross it unless you give this over completely to God.”
When he led the Israelites out of Egypt, the Lord didn’t take any shortcuts, and in fact he purposely scheduled a stop that looked to be a dead end — literally. Rather than steer them along the shore of the Mediterranean, which would have been the most direct route to Palestine, God “rerouted them toward the Red Sea by way of the wilderness road” (Ex 13:18).
The strategy was actually for their benefit. The sea route passed right through the land of the Philistines, whose opposition would have overwhelmed the newly freed Israelites: “God said: If the people see that they have to fight, they might change their minds and return to Egypt” (Ex 13:17).
The Lord knew his people better than they knew themselves, and he had mapped out an itinerary that, though puzzling at first sight, was designed to bless them, if only they would believe and obey.
But, of course, we usually only realize that after some (or, in my case, a good deal of) resistance. With the Egyptians in furious pursuit, the frightened Israelites looked at the waters and wailed to both God and Moses, demanding of the latter: “Were there no burial places in Egypt that you have brought us to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt?” (Ex 14:11).
Moses had a ready reply: “Do not fear! Stand your ground and see the victory the Lord will win for you today. … The Lord will fight for you; you have only to keep still” (Ex 14:13,14).
The Lord who had heard their cries in Egypt, who had worked wonders by the hands of Moses and Aaron, who had preceded them on the journey in columns of clouds and fire (Ex 13:21, 22) was the same God who would now “(turn) the sea into dry ground … so that the Israelites entered into the midst of the sea on dry land, with the water as a wall to their right and to their left” (Ex:14:21,22).
Safe on the other side, and with the enemy utterly defeated, Moses and the Israelites burst into praise: “I will sing to the Lord, for he is gloriously triumphant. … In your love you led the people you redeemed; in your strength you guided them to your holy dwelling” (Ex 15:1,13).
Many are the Red Seas we face in our lives — the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, illness, addiction, injustice, loneliness, confusion. Yet the One who shaped the waves, who himself has “walked about on the bottom of the deep” (Job 38:16), will always trace for us a way forward, and shepherd us safely to the other side: “When you pass through waters, I will be with you; through rivers, you shall not be swept away” (Is 43:2).
Gina Christian is a senior content producer at CatholicPhilly.com, host of the Inside CatholicPhilly.com podcast and author of the forthcoming book “Stations of the Cross for Sexual Abuse Survivors.” Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.
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