How long does it take to become spiritually mature? Answer: it is an ongoing process, and God guides us through that process by stages.
The Lord led Abraham to the land of Canaan and promised that he and his descendants would live there. But immediately afterward, Abraham was forced to move south, to the land of Egypt, to escape a famine. (See Genesis 12:7-10.)
Hundreds of years later, God delivered Abraham’s descendants from slavery in Egypt. But when they came to the land of Canaan, they were not yet ready to enter. “Your children shall wander in the wilderness forty years,” He said (Numbers 14:33). By the time they were collectively prepared to enter, nearly all of that first generation had died, and it was their children who received the blessing. (See Numbers 32:11-13.)
It’s easy to criticize that older generation, who didn’t have the faith and courage to enter their promised land. But it’s worth noting that they were the parents of the people who did enter the promised land forty years later. Like the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, they instilled in their children the seeds of faith, so that their children were able to accomplish things that the parents could not. (See Alma 53:10-22.)
Additionally, it’s worth noting that the Lord sustained them during their years in the wilderness. It might not have felt like it, but He was with them throughout the journey. At the end of that time, Moses invited them to reflect on their experience:
The Lord thy God hath blessed thee in all the works of thy hand: he knoweth thy walking through this great wilderness: these forty years the Lord thy God hath been with thee; thou hast lacked nothing.Deuteronomy 2:7
Thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no.
And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live.
Thy raiment waxed not old upon thee, neither did thy foot swell, these forty years.
Thou shalt also consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee.Deuteronomy 8:2-5
We can learn many lessons as we wander in the wilderness. Sometimes it is only in retrospect that we recognize the growth we have experienced during those times.
At the end of Lehi’s life, he spoke to his son Jacob, who was born during the family’s journey from Jerusalem to the American continent. Lehi called Jacob “my firstborn in the wilderness” and reassured him that God would “consecrate [his] afflictions for [his] gain” (2 Nephi 2:2).
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said:
God can provide miracles instantaneously, but sooner or later we learn that the times and seasons of our mortal journey are His and His alone to direct. He administers that calendar to every one of us individually. For every infirm man healed instantly as he waits to enter the Pool of Bethesda, someone else will spend 40 years in the desert waiting to enter the promised land.“Waiting on the Lord,” General Conference, October 2020
Today, I will be grateful for the Lord’s governing influence in my life. As I reflect on the changing circumstances I have experienced over time, I will remember the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness for forty years. I will remember that those years were an important part of their spiritual maturation and that the Lord was with them throughout the journey.