What do you think of when you hear the word wilderness? For most people they probably think of a location or a place that they have been that may seem isolated or away from “civilization.” A place in the middle of a forest, up a mountain, or maybe even in the middle of the desert. In the United States we even have the National Wilderness Preservation System that helps preserve some of these places from our world of land development. But there is another type of wilderness that we can experience that is less about natural places and more about us and our connection to others. You might call it a personal wilderness. When you are experiencing a time of wilderness you may feel isolated and disconnected from family, friends, or communities that you are a part of. Feeling the disconnection from having a normal and regular routine to your daily life. Or you may feel disconnected from your faith, or from God. I want to first acknowledge that this is a normal thing, especially in this unprecedented time we are living through, and it does not make you a bad person or a bad Christian for feeling disconnected or in a wilderness. The Bible is actually full of stories about people who experienced wilderness moments. From the Israelites who literally spent 40 years in the wilderness waiting to enter the promised land, to Job and his spiritual trials, and even Jesus who spent 40 days in the desert wilderness being tempted by satan.
In this time of a global pandemic, of social and physical distancing, and still not having in-person gatherings at our church, I would guess that many of us have experienced our own wilderness moments over the past few months. I am an introvert and all of this has been hard on me, so I can only imagine how difficult it must be for those who are extroverts and crave interaction with others. This time has forced us to find new ways to stay connected to our friends and family, even those that are nearby. This time has forced us to find new ways to worship and connect with our church communities. Some of us may enjoy this new way of digital worship and others may be longing for the day that we are back together. To gather in community.
When we are in the midst of a wilderness moment it can be hard to see God’s presence. To see how God is active through those around us, or how God is present in a world that is so full of brokenness and violence. When I am in one of these moments I am often brought back to the
“Footprints in the sand” poem:
Last night I had a dream. I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Across the sky flashed scenes from my life. For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand: one belonged to me, the other to the Lord.
After the last scene of my life flashed before me, I looked back at the footprints in the sand. I noticed that at many times along the path of my life, especially at the very lowest and saddest times, there was only one set of footprints.
This really troubled me, so I asked the Lord about it. “Lord, you said once I decided to follow you, You'd walk with me all the way. But I noticed that during the saddest and most troublesome times of my life, there was only one set of footprints. I don't understand why, when I needed You the most, You would leave me.”
The Lord replied, “My precious child, I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of suffering, when you could see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”
For me this poem is a reminder that even in the moments of wilderness, the moments of feeling isolated and alone, that God is always there. God promises to be present with us, and just because we cannot see or fell that presence does not me that God is not right there supporting us through the wilderness.
I pray that you can find hope in the promise that whether you are aware or not God is always with you, even in the wilderness.