Ah, the proverbial wilderness. I’d wager to say we’ve all been in a season marked by seemingly aimless wanderings and parched souls. Where unanswered questions and frustrations are home-base, or waiting to wait some more is the only movement you’re sure of. It takes many forms but if you can’t relate a portion of your life to it, I’d also wager to say, just give it a minute.
To say I’m acquainted with the lonely, lostness of the wild seems an understatement. I’ve spent years surrounding myself with incredible friends and life-giving experiences, all the while returning to a dry deserted camp to rest my head. I quickly learned that loneliness doesn’t have much to do with the quantity of people around you but rather the wholeness of your heart – yet my well-intentioned heart sought half-heartedly like a champ, coming up empty too many times to count.
Sometimes we call ‘loneliness’ what God’s word calls a longing for unhindered intimacy with him and others. And we start thinking that other people can provide us what only God can provide. And it amazes me how often I call ‘loneliness’ what is actually a groaning for redemption. (Paul Matthies)
The beginning of this year felt like a fresh slap in the face to my pride, self sufficiency, and the all too familiar mask of keeping it together on the outside. I hit a low, a wall, a whatever that left me looking my brokenness right in the eyeballs. My self-imposed expectations of one in my context of life and work made the sting of my utter humanness particularly poignant and I’ve found myself yet again feeling a bit… lost. Seeking wholeness, newness, clarity, and grace.
In this space I’ve been confronted with an onslaught of my faults. Failures and shortcomings rise to the surface daily and hit me like daggers. In so many ways it’s beautiful though, because it feels like a redemption of the time I’ve wasted not letting the truths of the Word cut to my depths, rooting out disease at the source. It’s like God said, ‘All your doings, your healthy habits and even seeking me – it’s not enough. You still have to let me in and heal you from the ground up.’
Leviticus talks about the ins and outs of the wanderings of my good friends, the Israelites. God gave them laws and a covenant and structure to live out their days in obedience and reverence of the One that promised a land of abundant goodness. As the sacrifices for atonement are outlined (in incredible detail, I might add… guilty of skimming these verses, can I get an amen of solidarity??), the following verses stuck out:
He will put all the sins on the goat’s head and send it off into the wilderness, led out by a man standing by and ready. The goat will carry all their iniquities to an empty wasteland; that man will let him loose out there in the wilderness. (Lev 16:20-22)
The goat was taken to the wilderness
to remove all the sins
of the Israelites. Their iniquities. Rebellion. All of it. The wilderness was a place to let loose
the things that separated them from God in order that they would be right with him again. I can’t help but see the parallels to my own life as I slowly confront and let loose junk that I’ve held onto for too long and let God rebuild the foundational parts of me. Preparing me to go to new depths and heights.
The wilderness isn’t just a place to wander. It’s a place to release. To surrender and repent and give up the things that have kept me from walking in true wholeness of heart. Hebrews 12 tells us to “strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up.” (NLT) While I often seem to ‘find myself in a wilderness’, the picture above shows such intention. A season of wilderness isn’t passive.
Another thing that takes intentionality? Being. I mean, there’s not much to DO in the wilderness. Lots of wandering. Waiting. Listening. And isn’t that one of the most difficult parts of the wilderness seasons? Letting go to simply BE. It doesn’t come naturally, yet God calls me to be with him. To sit in his presence and soak him up, filling the empty places that sin once occupied but now are free for something richer and lasting. Elisabeth Elliot wrote, “Loneliness is a wilderness, but through receiving it as a gift, accepting it from the hand of God, and offering it back to him with thanksgiving, it may become a pathway to holiness, to glory and to God himself.”
I now am beginning to know
that God has a way of helping me see myself as I really am, over and over again, in order that I would more clearly see him as he really is – so deeply vested in the wholeness and worship of my heart. And oh, what a gift that is if I let him truly take root. A friend of mine drove out to the desert recently and talked about the sturdiness of the vegetation out there and the depth of the roots underneath the surface. It made me think about how it’s in the desert places that we really establish our foundations. It’s the dry places where our roots go deep to find their source of life.
Verses 26-28 go on to talk about the man that is to take the goat to the wasteland. He was to wash himself and his clothes before coming back into camp. And it makes sense – if I’m truly going to release sin and its hold on me, I can’t bring any back. I have to leave it ALL in the wilderness, cleanse every part of me that was associated with it and come into the next season clean. Whole. Healed. Released. In Romans Paul reminds us that we are the offering to God now. Our whole selves made whole and holy by the Holy Spirit (15:16). Under the new covenant, the goat symbolizes the work I’m called to do in this wasteland, amidst my wandering.
Hope rang out for the chosen people, “God has promised good things for Israel” (Num 10:29), and oh, how I cling to what rings for me too, wilderness and all.
“Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” (Acts 3:19-20)
“As it is written, what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor 2:9)