Not literally, but no amount of sunlight or celebratory life events can seem to shake this looming feeling. It seems unending. You know the light is there because your life experience tells you the sun rises and sets each day; no season and no night lasts for eternity. But, regardless of reason, you cannot see an end in sight. You’ve been stuck here, waiting as patiently as you’re capable of, and now you’re starting to feel… trapped. Punished. Confused. Angry.
Sometimes you want to cry, other times you want to scream. There’s no one particular person you want to cry or scream at; in fact, you’ve done that and no relief came. You just felt like a bit of an ass afterward. Sometimes you want to cry and scream just to be heard — just to feel something other than the numbness. It’s not about getting attention or blaming or pity; it’s about grasping for something that feels real.
I remember all too vividly life in The Wilderness.
I was 27 years old and had just brought my first daughter into the world. It should have been a time of celebration, the most joyful and exciting time in my life. Only it wasn’t.
My daughter was born just a few months after my husband and I said “yes” to church planting. Our ministry had exploded beyond anything we ever dreamt and we knew it was time to put some organization around the chaos, hire staff, and develop a financial structure for this thing we were doing. As part of the process, my husband joined a pastoral residency program that placed him in another city, at a church we’d never been to, and in a financial structure that took us from full-time to part-time, causing us to lose pay and our health insurance. All the while, we had to figure out how to keep our already existing ministry afloat and this new tiny person alive.
My husband was thriving (at least from my perspective) because the town where we were placed happened to be his hometown, but I found myself doing life as a new mom feeling very much alone. I was pulled from my church home, lost one of my jobs (I worked two part-time jobs at the time), on an unpaid maternity leave, and had no health care for my newborn who refused to eat anything. On top of all this, the women’s group I was co-leading disbanded, so I lost that community of women, too. When I went back to part-time work after maternity leave, I felt like a burden on my family because we couldn’t afford childcare and they were stepping in.
I reached my breaking point the day Corey came home and told me he was going to start substitute teaching to help with income. Can he do it? Yes. Would he probably enjoy it? Yes. Did we need him to do it? Absolutely, we didn’t have a penny to our names. But, he was already working 50 hours between the residency program and what was becoming 3rd Street Community Church. My husband was giving everything he had to everyone around us and absolutely exhausted when he came home. His patience with our little girl was amazing (and still is) and he was doing all he could to provide for us.
But I resented him.
What good is all this if my husband is gone six days a week? What kind of a foundation does our church have if my family is suffering in the process of building it? What happened to all the people who said they were “for” us? Why am I sitting on the floor of my kitchen, completely alone, crying right along with my infant because neither of us has any clue how to exist in this place?
And where are YOU, God? I felt you when we said “yes” to this process. I trusted you when you brought us this child. I was obedient when you told me to let Corey lead this season of life and to not be on 3rd Street staff. But now, I am a victim of every one else’s decisions. I have no control over my own life. My husband is working from 6am to 8pm every day and now you’re silent, too. I have done everything that is asked of me. I’ve followed the leading of others, I’ve showed up where you asked me, I’m doing my best to figure out how to be a parent, I’m trying to steward what little money we have, I’m doing as best I can… What more can I possibly do?!
Except I couldn’t. I still believed in the vision for our city. I still believed in my husband and our family. I still believed that God was good and for us. What I felt and what I knew to be true were completely at odds. I lived with this inner tension for months. My body and soul had no peace. Rest was a concept but far from my reality. Then, just as I was starting to find somewhat of a rhythm and accept this fog I was living in, we found out I was pregnant again. I remember staring at our little 7 month old daughter in complete disbelief that there was about to be two of them.
When I saw that test flash “pregnant”, something flipped in my mind. Things were going to be different. Things had to be different. In that moment I found my grit. I held tight to my sweet oldest baby and every ounce of me was prepared to fight for my family. God was giving us another little one and there was nothing in this world that was going to rob me of the joy I missed the first time around. No job would keep my husband from enjoying his girls. Fear would not steal my heart this time. Anger would not disrupt my peace ever again.
My daily prayer became, “whatever may pass and whatever lies before me, let me be singing when the evening comes.” I didn’t know why God had become silent, I didn’t understand why my own life felt so foreign, but I knew one thing for certain: peace and joy are a choice. And they would relentlessly be my choice.
For so long I had unknowingly relied on my circumstances, jobs, and a sense of purpose to bring me joy and peace in life. This time in The Wilderness revealed to me just how shallow my understanding of both concepts really was. I had sought joy and settled for happiness; I had practiced passivity and called it peace. God was using silence to draw me into my own soul to discover my selfish and empty core.
With each day that my husband left for work, I prayed. I prayed for his day at work. Honestly, I prayed often for him to come home early. I played worship music when I felt anger, jealousy, or resentment rising. When I felt sadness and melancholy coming on, I embraced those feelings and let myself experience them. I asked God to restore my joy in new ways and to show me how life leading these littles and this church planting journey were going to be a brand new adventure. Each day when Corey came home, I asked about every detail of his day. I discovered the places he was actually struggling and I had no idea. I began to hear from God through my husband. All this time, a simple, “How was your day?” and “Tell me more about that” held the keys to combatting my feelings of being alone in The Wilderness. All this time, he had been experiencing it, too. All this time, God had been trying to speak to me, but I wasn’t listening for him.
As year two in The Wilderness was coming to a close, I began sharing with friends about this strange place I was in. A friend of mine stopped by my house one day and when she asked how I was doing, I simply said, “I’m in The Wilderness, but I’m accepting it and it’s not so bad.” Her face lit up and she said, “The Wilderness?! Me, too! That’s what I call it, too!”
She was there, too. All this time.
All this time, my husband was there. My friend was there. And as I opened up, I found more and more people were there with me. Each of us learning, none of us being punished.
This place was hard. This is the place where things got real, life got hard, and the end seemed so far away. But this is the place I found my grit. I found my depth. I found my soul. I found my purpose. I found more of God than I had ever known before.
The Wilderness is not a place of punishment and isolation, even when it feels that way. The Wilderness is a place of intention.
“Remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness…”