Two images come to mind when I think about wilderness.
Desert. Wide open vistas of nothingness. Dull, wind-whipped colors. Lifeless and void. No edges anywhere, just the vast expanse of sand in all directions.
The other is a forested mountainside where no light has reached the earth for decades and no human foot has crushed a pine needle. Endless acres of trees so dense that, once deposited in their midst, there is no edge that is visible.
Both feel claustrophobic to me. I tend to want to edges, some defining mark that lets me know I’ve arrived somewhere. Wilderness doesn’t have edges.
If you read my post last month here at GSD you’ll remember that one of my dearest dreams is to be a mom, which God has allowed me to live for over twenty-one years now (can I just say that adding ‘grand’ to mother is a dream that I hope I have the opportunity to live now that I have a married son!!). It has been a roller-coaster of a dream, taking us on dips and turns that we may not have signed up for if we’d known they were coming.
I also mentioned that we have a chosen son who came to us with a host of behavioral and emotional issues due to the trauma he experienced in his first two and a half years of life. Something that you may not know about trauma victims is that their need to be in control is very high. Their desire to control a situation at all costs is a driving force if that trauma hasn’t been adequately healed and dealt with.
Our son’s need to control and ‘normalize’ his inward state allowed us to experience our own trauma at his hands. Our home was a war zone for all the years he lived under our roof. We never knew what would set him off or when the explosions would start again. We were under attack constantly.
These many years of trauma led me into an emotional wilderness. I shut down and numbed my emotional responses so that I could survive the attacks that came on such a regular basis. This led to physical and mental health issues that we are still trying to find the edges of.
When I think of wilderness, I can’t help but think of Moses. He had the opportunity to become extremely familiar with the wilderness that he would lead the people of Israel through. He lived there for forty years before leading the people of Israel back out there for another forty years. In that first forty, I imagine he had a lot of time to think and allow God to smooth out that hot-headed youth, to hone his leadership abilities and perhaps to learn to listen first and act later.
While Moses was out there he did what was in front of him. He got married. He raised a family. He tended sheep. He talked to burning bushes. Then he left the wilderness to tend to the next thing that God had in mind for him. The thing that the wilderness prepared him for.
God uses our wilderness experiences to blow off the parts of our character that are not in line with His desire for us. He uses the wilderness to grow a hunger in us for the things of the kingdom. [clickToTweet tweet=”The wilderness is an avenue to the next thing.” quote=”The wilderness is an avenue to the next thing.”]
The phrases “do the next right thing” and “do the next right thing in love” have become buzz words in the online world that I live in. I will admit that these phrases bother me greatly, mostly because figuring out ‘right’ things was what I longed to do and couldn’t. Analyzing my motivation was paralyzing. My foggy, traumatized heart, mind and emotions couldn’t sort out the “right thing”. “In love” was a confusing concept that lacked definition.
One day I picked up Elizabeth Elliot’s book Secure in the Everlasting Arms, and in it she shares her own wilderness experience and offers up handholds on the cliffs of despair. In the midst of these messages, she shared one that stood out to me and became an anchor. I reach for this concept whenever I find myself frozen by anxiety or fear. When faced with incredible losses and difficult decisions, she said she simply brought herself to do the next thing.
Not the next RIGHT thing, not necessarily even IN LOVE, just the next thing.
What do you need to do next? Pick up the kids, throw in a load of laundry, draft an e-mail, pay the bill, write the article, patch the hole, show up at work? What’s the next thing in front of you? Do it. Then the next thing will present itself.
Moses’ next thing was to pack up the fam and go back to Egypt. He just kept doing the next thing as God revealed it to him. God used his wilderness to prepare Moses to deliver the Israelite people from their bondage.
This concept of the ‘next thing’, when stripped of being right or wrong or trying to discern motivation – because that decision often put me into a state of stress paralysis, freed me to put one foot in front of the other. It allowed me to be a mom to all my kids in the various state of need they were in even though I was in a needy state myself and the things that needed to get done, got done. Even some of the things that pertained to my dreams. And some things didn’t get done, and that was okay.
My personal wilderness is gaining edges…I can see the forest for the trees now, and there is an oasis that isn’t a mirage. Some of my dreams will be left behind in the wilderness. Some are beginning to take shape. All the time I am being prepared for the next thing by a God who loves me and knows what the next thing is. I trust that He will help me get it ‘right’ and do it ‘in love’.
I’m not the same person who entered the wilderness. It has changed me, hopefully for the better. The wilderness has led me to value listening and silence and awareness of the work of the Holy Spirit guidance system that is in me. The wilderness is shaping the dreams that are yet to be.
What do you do while you’re in the wilderness?
Do the next thing.
Shared by: Lani Wiens