I have never been to the Badlands, nor does the name leave me desiring to do so. Originally named by the Lakota people for its scorching temperature, lack of water and rugged terrain, the description seems to have stuck.
Although I have not visited the Badlands proper, I have driven through Eastern Texas which is its own version of the Badlands. Long stretches of hot, flat sameness that offers little excitement or novelty are neither easy on the eyes nor the soul.
The middle years after young adulthood and the novelty of marriage and family can sometimes begin to look like the Badlands with their long stretches of monotony and sameness.
C.S. Lewis captures the Enemy’s potential to exploit those long middle years in his tongue-and-cheek classic The Screwtape Letters. Screwtape, the senior tempter, writing to his young, naive apprentice Wormwood, encourages him to take advantage of the badlands.
“The Enemy has guarded him from you through the first great wave of temptations. But, if only he can be kept alive, you have time itself for your ally. The long, dull, monotonous years of middle-aged prosperity or middle-aged adversity are excellent campaigning weather. You see, it is so hard for these creatures to persevere. The routine of adversity, the gradual decay of youthful loves and youthful hopes, the quiet despair (hardly felt as pain) of ever overcoming the chronic temptations with which we have again and again defeated them, the drabness which we create in their lives and the inarticulate resentment with which we teach them to respond to it – all this provides admirable opportunities of wearing out a soul by attrition.”
Routine, sameness, necessary responsibilities compounded over time, lack of novelty: all of these have always been excellent campaigning weather for the Enemy of our souls. However, in our culture of instant gratification and constant amusement and change, we are even more susceptible to the slow atrophy of the Enemy.
Steadiness, once hailed as a virtue, is often seen as boring. Quiet faithfulness is not flashy or headline worthy. Yet, the kingdom of God has moved steadily onward through the mundane faithfulness of ordinary people living ordinary lives with an extraordinary God for countless centuries.
We would do well to reclaim and rename the badlands of the middle years as the bedrock of beautiful faithfulness. Rather than allowing the middle years to work their attrition on our souls, we are invited to allow these years to deepen our adoration of our steady, unchanging God. After all, He has not grown weary of causing the sun to rise or the moon to wax and wane monthly. He has not grown weary of using the same gospel to save myriads of souls across the centuries.
Moses, in the midst of his middle years in Midian, met Yahweh in an astounding way and was compelled into a new, fresh season of faithfulness. Even as he grew old and shepherded a stubborn people through an unforgiving land for decades, through grace, his spirit did not grow dull. Deuteronomy 34:7 tells us that “Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated.”
In the badlands of bland landscape with a bleeting flock of wayward soul-sheep, his eyes kept a spark of life and light and wonder. How?
He kept near to His steady, life-giving God. He continually sought His presence and power and wisdom and was rhythmically renewed in Yahweh’s words and promises.
Sameness of company and calling does not have to be equated with the badlands. Quite the contrary, in the sameness of life here, we are invited to be washed and renewed in the steady stream of His purposes and love which have no expiration date. Our steady God offers us fresh mercy and renewed perspective to continue to do the same thing with a hopeful heart.