The Wilderness

About a week before I got the news that I would not be returning to school last semester, God told me that I was entering into a wilderness- unknown to me, but not to Him. Let me tell you, not getting to participate in my many organizations, going back to the whole family living in one house, and having my summer plans to go to portfolio school be wrecked was NOT what I thought God meant by a wilderness. And I was bitter. God had literally given me the key to unlock all that He had for me in this season, but there I was refusing to dig any further into this wilderness metaphor and outright telling God, “I don’t understand. Nothing good can come from this.”

After about two or three weeks of this game of push-and-pull I was playing with God, I finally let go of my anger and pride just enough to do at least one thing: look up what the definition of a wilderness is. And here is what I found:

“A wild and uncultivated region, as of forest or desert, uninhabited or inhabited only by wild animals; a tract of wasteland… any desolate tract, as of open sea.”

It clicked. Everyday felt the same and different, but I couldn’t understand why. From the moment God told me I was entering a wilderness, I automatically pictured a dark, wooded forest, but this definition reveals more! It can be a forest, a desert, or even a sea, but the commonality is that it is vast and desolate. It made so much sense. Some days I felt like I was tripping over roots in the dark, others I felt like I was squinting from the sun beating down and scrounging for water, and still others I felt like I was drowning in a never ending sea of waves. But no matter which location I was at each day, I didn’t know which direction to go, where I had come from, or if there was even a destination to be reached. And it was after these first few weeks of getting scratched up by the bristles, exhausted from the heat, and knocked down by the waves, that I realized I had only one place, one direction, one thing to turn to: God. He was the second commonality, and though I had been fighting listening to Him and was originally determined to figure it all out on my own, I had tired out, and He was all I could turn to.

Throughout the several months of quarantine, God began to heal some of the cracks that had been spreading in my family. He fostered a deeper friendship between me and my sister, where we were confiding in one another, speaking truth into one another, and interceding on behalf of one another. He revealed different parts of His character to me through new books I got to read. The list goes on and on. It wasn’t easy. Just because I knew I had to turn to God and let go of control, doesn’t mean that I did it perfectly everyday. In fact, many days I did not, but what I realized that He was teaching me was “How do you know that you can fully depend on Me, until you have no other choice.” The reality is that oftentimes we aren’t quick to choose to fully surrender our lives to Him. Though at first I was mad that I had no other option, I am now so incredibly grateful, because I learned that I can depend on Him, His ways are better than my ways, and I actually choose now to surrender to Him, because I know what is possible when I do.

On my drive back to Athens this Fall, it hit me like a truck, and I just began to cry. I was in the middle of praying, thanking God for all that He did in my family, in my relationship with my sister, in me, when my own words flashed into my mind, “I don’t understand. Nothing good can come from this.” I just laughed and cried and was in complete awe at the power of our God, the love of our God, the patience of our God, the forgiveness of our God.

Since being back at school, I can truly say that it has been joyful. It seems crazy that one of the best seasons of my life has been in the midst of a pandemic, but it’s because during my time in the wilderness, God prepared my mind, heart, and eyes to be ready for the lessons to be learned in reflection of my time in that wilderness and to be ready to apply these lessons on a daily basis once back in a (semi) normal routine.

Of course, in my first few weeks back to school, I met up with an old friend, who is so selfless that she actually asked me to read a book for her as her birthday present. I thought it was a very strange request, but I got on it, since her birthday was in October… Man. It has been the perfect book to guide me deeper into all that the Lord is showing me.

So here are the top things that God has taught me during my time in the wilderness, alongside just a few of the amazing quotes from One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.

  1. Be present. Like actually. I realized that it was an extremely rare occurrence for me to actually be present, because I was constantly wondering if I should have done something in the past or worrying about what I should do in the future. God is right here, right now, and if you are somewhere else, you are missing Him.
    • “Time, what God first deemed holy above all else (Genesis 2:3).”
    • “Thanks makes now a sanctuary.”
    • “When I’m present, I meet I AM, the very presence of a present God. In His embrace, time loses all sense of speed and stress and space and stands so still and… holy.”
      •  Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts


2.  Invite God into everything. Now that I know how much better it is when God is with me, I always try to invite Him. He was always already there, but since He has been opening my eyes to His presence, I get so excited to see Him move that I don’t want to just wait to see if He shows up- I go ahead and invite Him- let Him know that He is welcome. I used to find myself having a whole list of things I needed to cover with God before I went to sleep, but now, I know that He is right there with me in every conversation I have, in every decision I make, in every jam sesh in my car. I invite God into my everyday moments, large and small, not because I don’t think He’s there, but because I want to be aware that He is.
  • “The fast have spiritually slow hearts.”
  • “It takes twenty minutes after your stomach is full for your brain to register satiation. How long does it take your soul to realize that your life is full? The slower the living, the greater the sense of fullness and satisfaction.”
  • “Don’t I always have the choice to be fully attentive? Simplicity is ultimately a matter of focus.”
    •  Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts

To top it all off, I had a day this past week where I felt myself slipping back into old worries and anxieties, the kind that I used to drown in for weeks. But at about the 24 hour mark, I was leaving Wesley after a Wednesday night service, and a friend of mine caught me on my way out. She told me that God had given her an image and a message to go along with it, which she had written on a notecard, and she knew that God was telling her it was for me. I got to my car, opened the door, sat down in the driver’s seat, and can you guess what it said? After a description of a child on a swing set, she writes, “I feel like the Lord was saying that this season is good and it is simple, because He wants to remind you that in the simplicity of childlike faith, you are taken back to your first love and experiencing joy at its simplest form.” I mean, wow. God was so kind to so quickly remind me of the outlook I am to have thanks to who He is and this season I am in.

And that’s what I want to propose to you. Maybe you are in a wilderness, and you need to stop running in circles trying to figure it out on your own. Maybe you’ve never truly invited God into the everyday activities and conversations in your life. Maybe you continually find yourself anywhere but right here in the present moment. Whatever it is, God is there with you, and He is ready when you are. If you don’t know where to begin, I have listed some verses, books, and songs below that guided me through the wilderness. Take that step of faith. Invite God in. It won’t take long for you to realize that taking some of these simple steps turns into a posture, which becomes constant communion with the Almighty Creator of the Universe, the I AM, the Best of Friends, the Greatest Teacher, the Healer, the Redeemer. God is all of these and so much more, and you get an all-inclusive backstage pass to continuously be with Him and grow a deeper relationship with Him.

Bible verses:
  • Isaiah 40:3
  • Isaiah 43:19
  • Mark 4:1-11
  • Deuteronomy 32:10
  • Ephesians 3:20
  • Exodus 13:18

Books:
  • One Thousand Gifts - Ann Voskamp
  • Intimate Moments with the Savior - Ken Gire
  • The Mark of the Lion Series - Francine Rivers

Songs:
  • God Is Still Here - JJ Heller
  • Palm of Your Hand - Harvest, Jon Thurlow
  • Find You Here - Ellie Holcomb
  • Not in a Hurry - Will Reagan, United Pursuit
  • Voice of God - Dante Bowe
  • Let the Ground Rest - Chris Renzema
  • Springtime - Chris Renzema

Author | Hallie Turner

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