Throughout the Bible, the wilderness is used as a way to shape leaders for the ministry they're meant to carry out. Right after His baptism, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness where He was humbled and tested in preparation for His public ministry. In Lost Without You, Norman is similarly "test[ed]" both at home, and as he ventures across the border to New Mexico, on a divinely-inspired quest to be more bold while serving others. As he resists various attempts to corrupt his humility, morality and perseverance, he grows in Christ-likeness, overcoming temptation with wisdom.
From Jesus To Norman
Most know, as documented in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, that immediately after His baptism Jesus was "led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil." (Matthew 4:1) After forty days and forty nights of fasting, the devil came to Him three times. During his time of testing, Jesus choose to "keep [God's] commands" by refusing to exalt himself because He was the Son of God, misuse the Power of God that was within Him, or to worship another God and sell out for worldly possessions. (Matthew 4:3-10) Jesus' submission to a period of testing---from fasting, to His bold declarations of scripture in response to His tempter---proved His desire to live for God and not Himself. Having passed the tests, Jesus begins His public ministry, but not before being ministered to by angels.
Many of the elements of Jesus' trial---from the method and nature of testing, to the ministering angel(s)---are reflected in Norman's quest throughout Lost Without You. His journey is tempered by both internal and external tests that challenge his commitment to service by presenting opportunities for distraction with the potential to derail his objective. But, incorruptible as always, Norman chooses humility and wisdom to overcome that which would threaten his destiny, a fortitude which enables him to reach new heights in his capacity to serve, and even begin his ministry to others, like fellow service trainee, Sandy.
A Posture Of Service
In these first few minutes, Norman exhibits several behaviors that demonstrate his posture of service. We join Norman in this film as he serves Rita a cookie, then, recognizing the anachronism, surrenders his sandwich, and boldly approaches the director to rectify the situation. He places Rita ahead of himself by bringing her a cookie, and then places the accuracy of the commercial ahead of his desire to eat. Akin to Jesus' fast, you'll notice throughout Lost Without You that Norman doesn't eat for his own pleasure, but only in the service of finding Sandy.
With regard to the job offer, Norman describes himself to the director not as an expert, but as "a student of U.S. Postal History," a subtle act of humility. Even so, Norman's knowledge is enough for the director to offer him the position in the Office of Postal Heritage. Much like the devil tempted Jesus with all the Kingdoms of the world, (Matthew 4:8-11) so this man tempted Norman to veer of his path of service for what Norman later describes as a "dream job in D.C." Notice, however, that this job doesn't include any elements of service, but might as well be a PR job where Norman might be tempted to misuse his genius to attract attention and exalt himself.
For someone as pure of heart as Norman, the easiest way to corrupt his pure heart---and brilliant mind---would be to poison it with pride. The director telling Norman he was "being wasted...in Denver," is "good and [he] knows it," and that he's "too humble" sets Norman up to become prideful. Incorruptible as always, however, Norman focused not on the praise---the flattery---but on the directive to "think big [and] be bold," actively pursuing this challenge to deliver the same letter presented by his tempter.
The director's words prompt in Norman an acute awareness of opportunities to be more bold, a task facilitated by a commitment to "assume nothing," a pursuit which thoroughly demonstrates Norman's commitment to service.
Training To Serve
Convincing his colleagues to "assume nothing" about the timing of their letter was a bold move that quickly turned into a true test of his perseverance. Unable to discern the address of the sender, knowing only that it came from the University Hills area, Norman and Rita are forced walk at least a square mile containing hundred of businesses over multiple days, each of which they had to visit personally, only for none of them to pan out. But notice, even after walking the same route, over the same amount of time, that Norman draws water to soothe Rita's feet and not his own. Again, he places Rita and finding Sandy above himself, even to the point of self-denial, not just over the course of the week, but into the weekend as well.
Norman's desire to "assume nothing" drives him to do several things which push the boundaries of what he was previously comfortable with doing in aid of delivering a letter. Flipping the focus of the investigation to the recipient and away from the sender created a new perspective that ultimately lent itself to a big break in the investigation. Norman both commits a "gross violation of Regulation 67-K, " removing the letter from the DLO in order to pursue his hypothesis, but then takes it one step further by suggesting he and Rita forego their trip to Tiny Town, and instead head across the border to New Mexico. Again, Norman chooses service over recreation or his own desires. It's a bold move with big consequences both for their investigation and for Norman.
"Most people think New Mexico is just a big desert, but 25% of it is covered in forest."
Appropriately, both "desert" and "forest" are akin to wilderness, or new, unfamiliar territory that lends itself to the testing of those who enter it.
Baptized in the waters of sacrificial service in Denver, New Mexico thrusts Norman into a new space where he was tempted and tested in subtle ways to show outwardly the principles on which he operated internally at home. Even here, Norman's selflessness and dedication to service prevails.
Fortunately for Norman, he wouldn't have to do so alone. Where Jesus was joined by the angels only after His time of testing was over, Norman's ministering angel, Rita, ministers him through this period providing wisdom, encouragement, and even literally acting as a guide, a duty which begins the moment they cross the border.
For the first time since receiving his card, Rita asks Norman if he has considered the job offer, to which Norman responds, "I've been thinking about what that director said about thinking big, it's easy to be bold about the little stuff." Reminding him that "the biggest thing he ever did" happened when "[Norman] didn't think at all," Rita's response highlights Norman's capacity to be bold not just "about the little stuff," but also in moments where it really matters. Interestingly enough it's the kiss to which Rita refers that serves indirectly as Norman's next area of temptation.
If you saw the international version of Lost Without You, or saw the clip here on the blog, you might remember a scene in Denver as Norman waits for Rita outside her apartment. And, as we discover, she lives next door to a lingerie store appropriately called, "Temptations." Innocent Norman is visibly uncomfortable, averting his eyes and even slipping off the edge of the sidewalk awkwardly so as not to appear too interested. In New Mexico we get an escalated version of this situation where, outside the motel, Rita asks Norman if "[he] doesn't mind" they aren't staying together, and, arguably "doing more" in their relationship. In this moment Norman has an incredible amount of power, not unlike when the devil taunted Jesus to use His power in a way that could be constituted as misuse when tempted. (Matthew 4: 5-7) Just as Jesus spoke wisdom to boldly reject the temptation and avoid misusing His power, Norman fervently rejects her concern, reassuring Rita that "there is a time and a place to think big and be bold and it's not Las Vegas---either of them." Not surprisingly, Rita "knew [he] would say that," once again highlighting Norman's consistency in both action and deed regardless of location. Where his non-verbal internal position played out in Denver, Norman verbally reaffirms his relationship boundaries outwardly with Rita in New Mexico.
Choosing wisdom over misusing his power over Rita's feeling to indulge his own desires had an even deeper consequence. Resisting any possible temptation, Norman not only prevented corrupting himself in some manner, but protected Rita from being corrupted herself. At the same time, he avoids veering away from the objective of finding Sandy in any way. This is an important---but easily missed---nuance to Norman's testing period.
The Alpha (Dog) & Omega
Norman's consistency is pushed to its limits the following day during what is hands down one of the more entertaining segments of Norman's journey---the enchilada tour. Perhaps his greatest act of service, Norman sacrifices his "lower intestine" in the service of finding the "hottest mole sauce in town" to find Sandy "at the end of the road." Little does Norman know, at the end of that road will also be a fork, where Norman is finally forced to contend with the reality that he might have reached the "end of the road" in more ways than one at the Omega training facility.
Making an executive decision as the treasurer of the O'Toole Foundation, Norman has, in a way, come to the end of his period of testing and entered into his period of ministry by purchasing Sandy from the company in order to reunite her with Topper. Having proven himself incorruptible in New Mexico, Norman can return to Denver and participate in the plot unfolding there, unbeknownst to him.
The circumstances increasingly dire, Norman, desperate to bring "his best friend" home and keenly aware of what Sandy is capable of, ministers to her on El Dorado Canyon. His words are a composite of the lessons he's learned over time, not the least of which is that "thinking big and being bold is only hard until you take the first step," the guiding principle behind Norman's entire journey throughout Lost Without You. His words clearly have impact, as Sandy is able to successfully reunite Norman and Oliver, and not long after is reunited with her best friend as well.
It's during their joyful reunion that Norman makes his most important decision, with Rita at his side, to tear up the director's card, choosing to direct his own path to being bold right there at home in Denver. In doing so, he reaffirms the actions he already demonstrated over the past 8 days.
Norman's quest to "think big and be bold" proved the purity and totality of his desire to serve throughout Lost Without You. Self-sacrificing in every way, he foregoes food, comfort and even his home in pursuit of delivering Topper's letter to Sandy. Even as he is "test[ed]," Norman's humility, perseverance and restraint, both at home and in New Mexico, thoroughly prove the incorruptibility of his heart and motivations as he chooses wisdom over temptation at every turn. In doing so, Norman captures elements of the spirit and purpose of Jesus' wilderness trial, and like Him, Norman is released to his ministry upon successfully passing his tests.
Wilderness Series: Introduction | Joe | Oliver | Shane | Norman | Prologue