When We Find Ourselves in the Wilderness


In Western culture, we have no affinity for discomfort. Those hard situations that don’t come with a compass and often feel beyond our control. Those things that make us feel helpless and bring to surface how inadequate for the task we are.

We will work hard to keep these out of our path. After all, it gets on the way of us having our way. Sometimes, however, it is very much within our human rhythm to face things that have this effect. Like being on the deep end of the pool without knowing how to swim. Hard places where we feel out of our depth. I’ve watched several of my friends for whom motherhood felt that way. For others grad school brought those struggles.

I think of situations where I’ve felt entirely out of my depth. Immigration certainly was that for my husband and me our first years. Calling my home address a foreign city neither one of us had visited prior to landing here was as exciting and disconcerting as it sounds.

No matter the situation, for any of us, it looks like a condition with so much unknown the days feel overwhelming. You face them, feeling each moment a little behind where you think you should be. You have no real reference as far as direction, just trekking along until the new becomes current, and you can keep your head above water. Even though you see pieces of your sanity still floating around!

We are a people of comfort, competence, and self-sufficiency. Our efforts and planning aim to attain a life that is comfortable and safe, rather than cultivate a life that is faithful. While it’s natural for a person not to want hardship, we’ve made it our goal to design a life free of anything that rubs us the wrong way. We don’t want our lives to land in a situation that demands beyond what we know and can handle. After all, isn’t that consistent with the popular saying “God will not give you more than you can bear”?

I used to find (and offer) comfort with that expression. Over the years as I’ve gotten older, I’ve heard that view challenged by godly men and women. Then, reading the Bible more intentionally has helped me understand hardship in a different light. The saying seems to imply He will give us within the measure of our capabilities. This begs the question, then why would we need Him?

I think of the story of the Israelites told through the books of Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. Their journey through the desert shows a people inadequate in every way to make it on their own capabilities. They are utterly dependent on God for everything.

The wilderness was beyond what the Israelites could manage on their own. Without the pillar of fire by night they would get lost, without manna from heaven every day they’d starve. The adversity of the wilderness, the risk factor of the hard conditions of that environment, contrast with the safety and provision only God could give.

We see a rhythm in their existence during those years. The circumstances were teaching them daily trust and faith. The manna was good for that day’s provision. This taught them to trust their empty plates would again hold food the next day. They were learning to trust their emptiness to a promise-fulfilling God. For the Sabbath, He instructed to take enough for two days’ worth, to teach them in practice the importance to rest, while showing Himself trustworthy to obey.  They would end up with spoiled food if they collected more than what they needed. Paradoxically, the wilderness was as tender a place for their faith to grow, as it was a rough place for their daily living.

Looking back on my life, I wonder how often hard things I was fighting tooth and nail to avoid, were actually wilderness seasons designed with a tender purpose, by a tender God, caring more about the condition of my soul than my comfort level or self-reliance. Self-denial makes us needy. If we deny ourselves, we are left with a lot of need and not a lot of resources. The invitation to deny myself goes hand in hand with the invitation to follow Jesus. Either act is folly on our strength. We deny ourselves because we follow Jesus. We follow Jesus because we no longer follow our own will.

The wilderness is meant as serious training ground for the believer, where utter dependence on God will put our limitation not only to the test, but to right use.  So often we fight the drought, the hard state of being taken away from what is comfortable. But what happens when we are removed from what is safe and familiar? We need God, that’s what happens. We are humbled and broken.

And in that state, we are vulnerable, receptive, malleable. In our personal wilderness, we no longer hold all the answers -we can barely understand the questions, and this is terrific training ground for faith that is meant to save our lives by breaking it apart. Doesn’t that sound like the last hard season you went through, or the one you are facing now? It does for me. My life broken apart by circumstances so outside of my control I felt the only way to make it to the next moment sane was on my knees, sometimes literally! Yes, dependence on God so sincere, so needy, it eroded any delusions of strength. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

What’s your wilderness right now? What uncharted territory are you crawling through? Does it feel crushing beyond your own strength? What do you need to move forward? How can you access that? Welcome to the wilderness friend, hold out your hand needy, pray and ask for help. You are on territory that is fallow ground, and He intends to use it to cultivate otherworldly fruit out of the soil of your heart. I pray comfort that surpasses our human comprehension cover you in peace as you take the next steps, even if they are on your knees. Blessed be the name of the Lord, in your life and mine, blessed be His name!