And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)
Having heard the Father’s voice in his baptism, Jesus’ entire ministry was rooted in a knowledge of his being the beloved. This identity precedes everything he accomplishes, which is why it is so critical for us to see the connection between his baptismal identity and his temptation in the wilderness. The very next episode the gospel writers record is Jesus being sent into a time of solitude in which the tempter seeks to undermine his identity by offering him the three compulsions of the world. Seeking to sow doubt, Satan says, “if you really are the Son of God…” then prove it by doing the kinds of things that will make it easy for people to receive you.
Jesus’ resistance to these temptations shows that his identity isn’t found in being able to produce miracles on demand or in being adored by the masses, nor in being received as a powerful leader. His identity is only found in belonging to God. The temptation he faced was to achieve his Kingdom and his identity in the image and power of a self apart from the Father. This is our greatest temptation as well.
When we cut through the layers of our fears, are we really sure about who we are? Solitude removes us from the voices that echo back who we think we ought to be—the false self—so the Spirit can unmask the hidden motives and compulsions that drive our thoughts and actions. When the applause and accolades are gone we lose sight of who we are. Solitude offers space for God to do the deep work of revealing a true self that is given and not earned—a space where the old self dies away and a new self rooted in the image of God can emerge.
SPIRITUAL PRACTICE: Withdrawal
Spend 30 minutes of your day in a place where you will be free from encountering other people and place yourself intentionally in the presence of God. For some of you this will require a weekend or perhaps getting up earlier than usual. You can do this at the beach, walking your dog, or on your morning commute. Regardless of how the time alone with God comes, consider that God is as near to you as your next breath. Let the following questions guide your time.
• What do you want God to show you about himself?
• If you find your mind wandering to the concerns of the day, ask God what he would like to see happen with those concerns?
• Ask God to reveal who you are in him.