There's another story in the Judeo Christian tradition about Israel's first and second kings. The first was a man named Saul who was chosen through ritual and was so resistant that when they went to find him he was hiding in the baggage. The thing about Saul is that he was tall, and attractive, and he seemed like a good fit. These people had spent generations building a new empire and shaking the narrow place out of their way of life, but we know that memories live in our bodies. Some feelings will run through grandmothers to mothers to daughters before someone is ready to release it. So here they were being ruled by prophets and judges, which makes me think that a people who come from a long line of slavery have no interest in a single leader. I see that happening now as the exodus from church grows and deconstruction becomes a broader conversation. It's an appropriate response for people who are in the thick of reclaiming themselves.
But things fade, stories grow less impactful as they travel from lived experience to records of where they've come from. Now they wanted a more traditional kind of leadership, so they did what we do and they rushed ahead to name Saul their king. Things went the way you would expect: Saul accumulated power, and wealth, and family. There were a few red flags, moments they should have seen that he was manipulative, fear driven, and self serving - but the people really believed that God had chosen him so they followed him anyway.
Let's stop there for a moment.
I look back and wish I had acknowledged past signs that a person or a situation was dangerous or toxic. I ask myself why I didn't say anything then, but I know why. It was always because the person was a master manipulator and I felt crazy for not believing them. When all of your people are on board, when the narcissist is playing to their audience, pulling the plug is a risky move. We want to hope that we're misreading the situation or that the person will change, but this is why churches, and ministries, and organizations far too often leave a trail of bodies. We are instinctively drawn to tribalism - it's what makes us feel safe and known - and no one calls for loyalty to the tribe more than the church. Even if it means that human beings are confined to a narrow place. I want you to know that there is no shame in having stayed too long or in having believed someone whose intention was to use and deceive you. Now that we know better, we do better. But shame is not a part of this story.
Back to the story. Something strange happened. A prophet named Samuel broke rank - as true prophets always do. He knew that Saul wasn't a healthy leader so he sought out a particular family and anointed their youngest son - a shepherd who wrote songs and poetry. A boy who was at home in the wilderness.
Which is where we know Divine Love actively creates healing and freedom.
Which is where this whole story started in the first place.
Imagine the intensity of that moment, of the knowing David's family carried with them from then on. This is the part of the narrative when everything starts to swell, when our vision gets broader, and we know that EVERYTHING IS GOING TO CHANGE. Remember the exodus that told us we are worth rescuing, that even the undercurrent of oppression is a system God always rejects? Now is the time. It all has to shift right now.
But when the ritual was over Samuel went home and David went back to his sheep. That was it. Nothing changed.
The deep disappointment of the wrong person maintaining a position of power deflates us. And like the Hebrews at the water of Marah we scream into the wilderness, what now?
The story unfolds the way we expect it to, Israel goes to war and David volunteers to go face to face with Goliath. He goes into battle without armor and with only a slingshot as a weapon. David's shot is clear and precise, he wins and all of Israel falls in love with the shepherd boy. It seems like things are picking up but this is actually where things start to get sticky. We already know that something has been brewing under the surface with Saul all along. Whether it was mental illness, narcissism, or a massive amount of insecurity coupled with power - Saul starts to slip. He hears the songs being sung about David, he sees the love his own son and people have for him, and he knows his position of power is being threatened. Because in reality being good looking and quick with excuses that justify the misuse of power is not enough to keep someone in control.
The story says that Saul began to have violent, unstable episodes so David offered to play and sing for him - the man who knew he was the rightful King of Israel sat at the feet of the mad king and attempted to soothe him. As is always the case with inflamed ego it wasn't long before Saul's rage increased and he tried to kill David and my favorite part of this story happens right here. David didn't pick up the spears that were thrown at him and throw them back. Instead he ducked and he kept playing. Not because he was weak, but because he was more. He was already trained in wilderness, already at home with himself, already confident that The Divine was for him. David already knew oasis.
He had to leave though. He had to get up and leave Saul and it cost him. David lost his best friend, his wife, his status, his reputation, and his tribe. He knew where to go and he knew how to survive - his life as a shepherd had prepared him for the wilderness. He was used to the cold, and the wild, and the wide open sky full of Universe. This is the life he had already lived and he didn't hesitate to live it again. I've always wondered if he ever considered going back to Israel and taking what had been promised to him or if he questioned why Samuel had ever given him the hope of something more. Whatever was happening for David out in the desert, one thing we know for sure: he wrote. His pain, and loneliness, and uncertainty poured out into poetry and songs. I know the potency of that experience and I am one million percent certain that that open conduit of creativity and vulnerability is part of what made David a man worth following. He wasn't emotionally blocked, he was wide open energy. He lived his life by ripping open his rib cage and letting his heart breathe - and that's what Rob Bell says prayer is.
Eventually discontent people started leaving Israel to seek out David. And I want you to know how important it is to know that these people were discontent. Remember that the Hebrew people had another word for Egypt that translates to "the narrow place"? And remember that when they left that life of oppression and slavery they came to the waters of Marah? Remember that the bitterness of that water would have healed them, but they didn't know yet that God was for them, so they asked for something sweet? I love that The Divine always meets us where we we're at, knowing that we're not always ready for the deepest healing. So they drank the water sweet but the invitation to deeper wells had never been retracted.
Generations later in the recorded story of David's life, these discontent people found their way to him and devoted themselves to his wilderness life. The translated word for "discontent" means bitter. Years after their ancestors had rejected the bitter water, David welcomed it into his camp. Even though his ancestors weren't ready for it, the need for healing had never stopped moving through their blood and Divine Love had kept the flow open for the one who was ready to feel it. He who had already reconciled to the hard work of being alone, of not knowing that the promise would ever come, of losing everything that had made his life safe and comfortable, of running from a mad king - he knew that The Divine was for him and that even the bitter water was for him. And let me tell you, people who have left a Saul will always be angry or bitter for awhile. It's an appropriate response to having served a manipulator who has no empathy for the people they are leading. You GET to be angry when you leave the narrow place, your heart is catching up to your body and it takes a whole lot of internal processing to feel whole again.
David had left Saul's house, but he wasn't free from Saul's abuse. Saul came for him, he raged against him, he brought armies of soldiers to try to hunt David and wipe him out. There were a few times that David had the opportunity to kill Saul and no one would have blamed him, but he refused. Because David already knew who he was and because he trusted that The Divine would either deliver the promise or not. He was open handed with his own path and the bitter water had done its work of purging the old way from David.
Those discontent people were called David's Mighty Men. They left Saul for the wilderness too - and that kind of experience creates something stronger than tribalism. It creates family. There is a knowing that some of us carry in our bodies and will always recognize in one another, a deep feeling of having lost everything in order to live free. The deconstruction of faith often happens because we have spent far too long building someone else's empire, soothing someone else's madness. We haven't taken a real breath in years and we suddenly know we just can't live this false life anymore. So we enter the wilderness, not to get lost but to be found. We don't start a war to lay claim to everything we think we are owed. We go deep into the desert and we drink the bitter water. We reconcile to ourselves there, we experience the mystical creation of love and freedom in the dark silence of wilderness. We encounter. We wake up. We let go.
There is no new life without the death of an old one. There is no promised land without leaving the narrow place. There is no cleansing without first drinking the bitter water. There is no freedom without leaving Saul.
What is meant for you will come to you and what is not meant for you will leave you, but the practice of an open hand and an open heart is the only way to finally heal what has been stirring in you since you first stepped foot outside of Egypt. It's okay if you don't trust the bitterness yet, if you don't trust The Divine yet, if you don't trust the promise of more yet. It's okay if you are grieving the loss of the life you once had - even if it was a life of oppression and pain. It's okay if you are only just beginning to shake your arms free in this new wide open space. It's okay, friend. Because this is where you are right now and The Divine/The Universe/Source/God always meets us where we're at.
The invitation to deeper wells has never been retracted.