Embrace the Wilderness

Have you ever been there?  I’m sure you have.  Feeling alone, barren, out-of-touch, as if you’ve lost your purpose and meaning.  It feels like your wandering through life.  It feels like you’re wandering in the wilderness.

I honestly believe wilderness-wandering precedes breakthrough.  Moses spent years in the wilderness before returning to Egypt to free his brethren.  He needed time to mature, learn, grow, and be humbled.  The Israelites, after being freed from Egypt, wandered around the desert before seizing the land God had promised them.  That time was needed to remove the doubters from the crowd.  Even Christ, before starting his short time of ministry on earth, was led into the wilderness.  During this time, He went without nourishment and was tempted.  He used this time to show His complete reliance on the Father.  It prepared Him to accept what was to come – a sacrificial death on our behalf – followed by the most world-changing event in history – His resurrection.

I know I have been there; and on more than one occasion.  I have wandered in the wilderness professionally.  I have wandered in wilderness relationally.  I have wandered in the wilderness spiritually.  It was uncomfortable (to say the least).  But, having experienced these times of wandering, I have found that there was a purpose for each.  There was a lesson; one that I could choose to learn and grow from, or one that I could choose to ignore and remain stagnant.  There was an opportunity; one that I could seize upon, or one that I could let slip away.

I wandered in the professional wilderness after the Navy informed me I was no longer useful to them.  I had no job awaiting me, and no prospects on the horizon.  I enjoyed so much the work I had been doing, but knew there had to be more.  I just didn’t know what.

It was during this time of wilderness-wandering that the dream of attending law school began birthing in me.  The urge became so strong that I couldn’t resist.  I applied, was accepted, and graduated.  I came out the other side and have been dwelling in a professional oasis ever since.  This time of wilderness-wandering taught me to follow my dreams, no matter how difficult it may seem to attain.

I wandered in the relational wilderness after moving back to Arizona from the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.  I left so many great friends behind.  Friends who had mentored me.  Friends who had encouraged me.  Friends who had prayed with and for me.  I had no one like this in Arizona.

I found, however, during this time of wilderness-wandering, that I needed to be a bit more proactive in seeking out friends and mentors.  At the request of my new pastor, I started an early morning breakfast and Bible study for men.  That was nearly 18 years ago.  The Bible study remains, and the new friendships I have developed are invaluable.  This time of wilderness-wandering also taught me to reflect and cherish the friends I had left behind.  It taught me that I need to remain in contact with them.  It taught me that true friendship is not temporary.  Rather, it’s a lifelong experience.  As such, I’ve begun rekindling those old friendships.

I wandered in the spiritual wilderness much of my early adult life.  I didn’t really feel God’s presence in my life.  For a long time, I didn’t have any emotional connections or experiences.  Yet, it was during this time of wilderness-wandering that my faith grew stronger.  Instead of relying on myself, I learned to rely on God.  Instead of relying on feelings or emotions, I learned to rely on the Bible – the inspired word of God.  I came to know and understand Him more through yielding to Him and understanding His word.

The lengths of my wilderness-wandering varied.  Some lasted days, some months, and some years.  In each instance, however, I came through stronger and with greater perception and wisdom.  I, too, needed to mature, learn, grow, and be humbled.  I, too, needed to have doubt removed.  I, too, needed to develop complete reliance on the Father.

If you find yourself in the middle of a wilderness, don’t fret.  Keep the faith.  Persevere.  Indeed, I would encourage you to embrace that wilderness. After all, we know from Romans 5:4 that perseverance produces character.  And strong character, at that.