Updated: Jul 13, 2020
I just couldn’t help but title this “The Wilderness in Between and COVID-19” because it rhymes quite nicely. And because if you put “COVID-19” in the title of anything, your readership goes up by multiple percentage. What percentage I don’t know exactly, because it’s a guess and I can’t prove it. But it seems to me that these days our eyes get caught by the name of humanity’s microscopic nemesis more often than not. Is it beneath me to shamelessly employ this to get your attention? Apparently not. I only hope I can earn that attention by pointing you to a possible new path that, as always, brings you to a place of greater peace.
I promised a few months ago to finish talking about “the wilderness in between.” If you haven’t read the first two blogs, you can go back and read them here and here for context. Here is the word that came to me months ago as I was reflecting on how to describe my life at that time.
I’m not who I was,
And not yet who I will be…
But in the wilderness in between
Will you walk with me?
Between who I was and who I will be is the wilderness. Undeniably, it is for everyone. As a matter of fact it is such a human experience that when I searched this topic online it seemed universally recognized. Not just Christian authors, not even religious ones per se, but so many millions have identified, analyzed, processed, and then gifted their observations to the world about this human experience. It’s been called hundreds of different things: “the dark night of the soul,” “the wilderness road,” “the journey through the wall;” heck, even “a midlife crisis.”
Why bother adding my own proverbial two cents to the mass of amazing literature already out there? Maybe because in every generation and in every season, we need fresh reminders. Not just those voices of the past, but the voices here and now, telling us that the wilderness is necessary. The wilderness is characterized by a deep, abiding, and searing loneliness, and you cannot take companions with you, no matter how badly you so desire. But when you get there and see the millions of footprints on the same worn paths, somehow, in spite of the barrenness, there is a certain comfort that comes. My footprints are there, too. Probably too many. But at least I can say I’ve earned the right to show you the places I’ve mapped.
The wilderness is an incredibly powerful and deeply provocative image in the Bible. When you begin to mentally skim the pages, starting in Genesis, and list where and when it comes into the stories of our most beloved characters, you will be amazed at how often it’s there. We don’t think about it too much because we’re too focused on what is happening. But where? Most of the time we don’t notice. However when you do take that time, you will see that the wilderness is the muted and faint backdrop to almost every encounter they have with God.
Think about them…Abraham, Moses, The Israelites, Jacob, Elijah, Hagar, David, Paul, and so many others… And of course, Jesus. Not just once did He go to the wilderness, but again and again.
The prophet Hosea, in an extraordinarily beautiful passage, lets us peek into the heart and mind of God, who says of His adulterous wife, Israel: “Therefore, I am now going to allure her: I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her…”
That irony should not be missed. To allure someone is a very powerful thing, and the Lord God doesn’t seem afraid to use imagery usually reserved for lovers. But as interesting as that is, it is where he is going to take her that may be even more extraordinary. The Lord is alluring, enticing, drawing us to…the wilderness? Of all the fruitful, lush, and beautiful places He could bring us to, He brings us instead to the empty wasteland, the driest and loneliest place on earth?
There must be a reason. He does nothing in vain, nothing by accident, and nothing to intentionally hurt us. He can only do everything, in every way, for our good. Do you want me to give you scripture references to prove that? How about this one—the whole entire Bible. Yes, folks, turn in your Bible to…every single page. We build on this infallible goodness in the character of God when we speak of going into the wilderness. We must be convinced He is good if we are to survive and thrive in these days.
Here is what I think is so unique and powerful about these days we are living in now: just as I wrote about global grief, similarly, I see we are in some kind of global wilderness experience. Tucked away in our homes, with so many sources of distraction cut off, some of us are facing some very dry and lonely days indeed. Even if we do have family and friends physically surrounding us, that character and flavor of that wilderness experience has come to so many.
The wilderness, as a spiritual phenomenon, is never about literal aloneness anyway. It’s about emotional crutches being smashed and corrupt dependencies being broken and tainted wells drying up. It is uncomfortable and painful and bewildering. It can be dark and confusing. It is absence when we so desperately want presence. It is the “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” coming from the depths of one’s soul. It cannot be theologically reasoned with. It cannot be prayed and fasted away. It cannot be soothed with all our little addictions and indulgences. It is the ultimate death to our flesh and all it stands for.
Therefore, it is the place where we encounter God.
If we say yes to the leading.
After Jesus’ baptism the gospels tell us He was “led by the Spirit into the wilderness…” Sound familiar? Does it help to know some of those footprints I talked about are none other than Christ’s Himself? If He was led there, tested there, and experienced all the fullness of the wilderness, I know I must go through this too. In order to become the me I was created to be, my fullest and most authentic self, the old must die away in the desert just like it did for the others that have gone before me.
He is alluring me, alluring us all…do you hear His tender voice? Even in these harsh places, if we shut out the world around us and open our hearts, we will be given eyes to see and ears to hear. We know He is our unseen guide and companion, even if we cannot feel it in the dark moments. The wilderness cannot be ignored or escaped from, it must be experienced and embraced. We must allow it to do its holy work in each of us, and become all the better for the breaking. And let us never forget: it is here some of the greatest gifts and blessings we will ever know will be given to us.