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The Wilderness in Between, Part 1

Updated: Jul 31, 2020

I am not who I was

And not yet who I will be…

But in the wilderness in between

Will you walk with me?

I penned that little verse in my journal several months ago after having the words roll and roam around in my head over and over. It’s not poetic genius or anything, I understand. Actually I rarely ever write anything that rhymes, and the fact that it did was strange to me, although it made it easier to remember. But the sentiment caught in these words are what haunts and hallows me. They came from someplace deep inside, a heart’s cry, tender and fragile and yearning and frightened. A childlike, wide-eyed reaching out to the Divine, to Jesus, my soul’s companion, who actually has a choice to walk with me or leave.

Oh my God in heaven, where did that last sentence come from? In what secret cove, in what dark corner, has that thought been hiding? He has a choice to walk with me or leave. I swear to you, I didn’t know it was there until I typed it onto this screen. And now…now it’s out there, it’s real, it’s come to the light to be examined and wrestled with. Does he have a choice? DOES HE? My heretofore unquestioned theology says he doesn’t. “I will never leave you or forsake you.” “I am with you always.” “Can a mother forget her nursing child? Though they may forget, I will never forget. See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…”* These are some of the most comforting words in the Word of God. All the Bible studies and sermons and songs and all of it, always telling us he will never abandon us, he could never walk away.

And yet…and yet…love always comes with a choice.

It’s not love unless you can choose to stay or go, to say yes or no, to pull in or push away. And no matter what our pristine theology says, every human feels and knows this in the very core of their souls. Even a child knows this. LOVE MEANS CHOICE.

It makes sense now, the last line of my little verse. “Will you walk with me?” It’s not just a question, it’s an invitation. I never knew that before, and now I see it so clearly. Something inside me, real and raw, knows that because he actually has a choice, I need to ask. I need to invite. I actually need to let him know: I want you with me. It’s not just “I am with you always,” it is “I want you to be with me always.” This is the give and take of deeply bonded interpersonal relationships. This is love in its beautiful simplicity. And in light of that, could we stretch ourselves just enough to actually consider not just all his promises to us, all his wonderful expressions of love he has given, but the fact that maybe, just maybe, he wants the same response from us?

I hear a faint echo, I see a scene dimly, coming from thousands of years ago…a man, surrounded by a few friends, who has just been rejected by so many people who claimed to love him. While pouring out all his heart, soul and strength, every ounce of his emotional energy, in a moment of truth and openness he says one deeply personal but inexplicable thing and the crowds turn their backs and leave, totally abandoning him. He looks at his few friends and, utterly unprotected and unveiled, asks them: “Do you want to leave too?”** Ahh, how my heart twists and turns when I think of Jesus in that moment! And ahh, how I understand this raw humanity! Of all the stories of Jesus--the miracles and sermons and parables and encounters—this story touches me so deeply every time. He gets it. He gets our human story. He wanted and even needed companionship on the road he took. And with that one question he displays just how human he truly was, and just how much he can understand these crazy unfathomable depths of our human hearts.

Two questions now merging and meshing inside, both powerfully vulnerable and beautifully bold.

“Will you walk with me?”

“Will you leave too?”

My invitation has a response, and it comes not from a theological treatise or cold words written in stone. It comes from a heart that has known the heaviness of loneliness and the desperate need for someone to choose to walk with us when we are weakest and most fragile. The longing for love in its simplest and tenderest form. A hand held out, a falling in step with, a glance of eyes that say yes, I’m still here. I’m here because I want to be here. I choose to stay. I choose to walk with you, wherever this road takes us…

And my own heart answers: Where else could I go? Only you have the words of life, and only you know this wilderness road. Don’t leave me to myself, stay close, closer than my very next breath. I choose to walk with you, wherever this road takes us…

*Joshua 1:5, Matthew 28:20, Isaiah 49:14-16

**John 6:66

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