After God leads Israel to freedom and gives them an identity and a foundational constitution, they spend a long time in the wilderness, wandering around and preparing to enter the land of Canaan, God’s promise to them.
I resonate pretty deeply with this story, at least in part because I feel like it has represented my own journey in at least a few different seasons in my life. Essentially, God’s people are called to wait and to be patient and to grow before they enter into a new season of existence and mission in the world.
I’ll be honest: mostly it sucks. Israel bears witness to this in how much complaining they do; I have born witness to this in, well, how much complaining I do. (I’m working on this, I promise.)
But here’s the deal: the Wilderness is a reality of life, and what’s more it’s necessary.
So here are a few humble thoughts on it.
How do you know you are in the Wilderness?
- The maps don’t make sense anymore. Israel doesn’t follow a direct route through the Wilderness to Canaan. They wander around in circles. The Wilderness can feel like that to us: circles, indirect wanderings. In fact, sometimes we realize that the Wilderness is so wild that there are no maps whatsoever to guide our journey.
- The story doesn’t make sense anymore. When Israel leaves Egypt, they are leaving a well-defined story: YOU ARE SLAVES. It’s not a pleasant story, but it was familiar. The Wilderness is about turning slaves into children, and this is no small thing. Nothing feels right, or feels like it fits. We may have felt like we were on a certain career track, but something no longer resonates. We may have identified ourselves with a certain lifestyle, but something seems odd about it now.(Note: at this point it’s always tempting to go back to Egypt. This is mostly a bad idea.)
Here are some ways to engage the Wilderness:
- Avoid nihilism. The most tempting—but most dangerous—thinking while you are wandering is, “My life is over; nothing matters anymore.” Once you give up on a promise of the future, anything is an option. The Wilderness won’t last forever. There is always a promise.
- Find different ways to move forward. In the Wilderness, the ultimate promise—”the land”, the job, the relationship, the career, etc.—may be months or even years away. It’s easy to give up hope. Despair sets in when we feel like we are walking in circles or not moving at all. What we can do in the meantime is to simply engage in smaller goals. I imagine walking around the middle east it might be, “Hey let’s just see if we can get to that rock!” or “Let’s put the tent up differently today…” (ugh?)The point is to try and find some way to feel like you are moving forward. Can you set a physical goal? Can you try to read some new books? To grow intellectually? Keep moving.
- Engage with God. Ultimately, the whole point of the Wilderness is to be prepared for what’s next. While you are wandering, engage with God. Wrestle with Him. Pour out your heart—restless though it might be—and be honest.
If you’re not already there, the Wilderness is coming. It comes for all of us; in fact, I might even say it is a defining characteristic of God’s people. We are, after all, pilgrims who are on the move. So don’t be surprised if you find yourself in a place where the maps don’t make sense, and where you feel detached and disconnected from the story you are living in.
Just don’t disengage, and make good use of the time.
Lenny (with SLASH!)?