The Bible is full of stories about wilderness. The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years. The prophets lived in the desert. David fled to the desert for protection against his enemies. John the Baptist made the wilderness his home. Jesus went into the desert for 40 days to prepare for his ministry. Whenever Jesus prayed, he went to a solitary place, a deserted place.
Tom and I have spent some time in wilderness places. Our four months in Death Valley are the most extreme example. But other places we have visited have also been wild and desolate. Most of the parks where we have worked have plenty of places to find solitude. You don’t have to get far off the beaten path to go places where few other people go.
There are times when we live in spiritual wilderness, a wilderness of our soul. These are times when we feel alone and deserted by others. I have seen this most often in people who are grieving. Sometimes people can take comfort from other people who are also grieving, but grief is a solitary experience. “You never walk alone” or “It was then that I carried you” are true, but they are platitudes that often overlook the depth of grief or the wilderness experience.
Each of us has times when we wander in the wilderness. Unlike Jesus, it is not a place we often choose to go. Leave everything that is comfortable in order to fully experience the desolation of aloneness? No thank you. I’m good. I’ll just cover up the depth of my hurt or pain and stay right where I am.
But what if God needs us to experience these deserted places, the places we don’t want to go, in order to fully know God or to do God’s will? Would we be willing to go into the wilderness then? Abraham didn’t hesitate when God called him away from what was comfortable. Moses went kicking and screaming, but he went. Jonah ran in the opposite direction before he followed God into his deserted place.
Are we willing to live in the deserted places, the places where it feels like we are unknown, unloved, alone, in order to prepare our hearts to receive God’s love? Are we willing to serve in the deserted places in order to share that love with others? Can we find the beauty and peace of God no matter where we are?
Sometimes we live in places that are lush and green and produce all kinds of growth. Sometimes we are called to wander in the wilderness in order to find God’s strength instead of our own. Are you willing to live wherever God calls you?