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November 26, 2020
When you think of the word “Wilderness,” what comes to mind? I tend to associate the word with my personal adventures outside. Someplace secluded, uninhabited and vast. Someplace that makes my boots muddy and my brow glisten with sweat. That type of wilderness I enjoy. It feels good to escape from the confines of my apartment, and spend some time running or hiking in places where the Wi-Fi is weak.
But there is another side, another purpose, to wilderness that is not quite as enjoyable. When Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and into the wilderness, life was not easy. It was anything but. The word wilderness can mean different things, and to the Israelites, I would guess it meant being in a place that was dangerous, uncultivated and inhospitable. A place that was not easy to live in. But there was also a psychological side to this wilderness that they faced.
They had just deserted the place they had called home for generations, and uprooted their entire lives- themselves, their families, their livestock, their possessions, to blindly follow a man named Moses, led by the God of Israel. They were now nomadic- constantly on the move and constantly in a state of the unknown. They didn’t always know where they were going next. Often, they didn’t even know what or when they were going to eat next.
They were a part of a completely new way of life. A life where you have no idea what comes the next day. A life that was scary, unprecedented and unpredictable. Sound familiar?
With the holiday season among us, I find myself wondering even more than usual, when is this going to end? This pandemic has left many of us in a perpetual state of anxiety, with so many questions and so few answers. Sometimes, it feels like I’m stuck in the wilderness, and not the type of wilderness I enjoy. Rather, a wilderness where I feel alone and not in control. A wilderness where God seems distant or maybe even altogether absent.
The type of wilderness that is designed to disorient you and make you struggle. The kind that strips you down to your essence, with no distractions to hide behind. One that forces you to wrestle with yourself- every part of you. Your fears, questions, vulnerabilities, anxieties, anger, depression. It forces you to acknowledge and accept the reality that you and I are not in control, and never were. Even though we sometimes like to think we are.
If this pandemic would just be over, things would be so much better, I sometimes think. Would I be better? Many things would certainly get better. I could see and hug the people I care about in person. I would feel liberated from being cooped up in my apartment and away from other people for so long. But when I think back to times before COVID-19 struck our country, those raw and difficult emotions I am sometimes faced with now were present pre-COVID, too.
If __________, then things would be so much better. There was and is always something that can change for the better. We are always waiting for the next step in our lives, doing everything we can to get there- whether it be getting the right job, the right house, the right relationship. Perhaps it’s healing after a difficult diagnosis or coping with a divorce. Maybe it’s the passing of a loved one or simply a period of transition in your life.
Through each of the journeys we stumble through in our lives, it can often feel like aimless wandering. But the middle of the journey, the middle of the wandering, is where the important “stuff” happens. Just like when we think about special days in our lives, it is often more than the day itself that makes it special. It’s the journey that brought us there- the waiting, the laughing, the crying, the wrestling, the exhaustion and everything in between.
The wilderness that we walk through can be very demanding, intense and lonely. So what do we do when we are several months into a pandemic and are still unsure of when we will be able to safely gather again?
With so much out of our control, perhaps we can focus on what we have that we can control. Maybe it’s as simple as making sure we eat three meals a day and get eight hours of sleep. Or maybe it’s something more difficult, like working on our daily mindset, attitude or effort level. But whether it is a small task, or a large task, things are quite a bit more difficult now.
The most important thing we can all do now is to not be afraid to feel what we are feeling. To allow ourselves the grace and space to identify, acknowledge and process the emotions we have, regardless of which emotions they are. And most importantly, (and this is the hard part), to do so in a way in which we don’t make ourselves feel guilty, weak or incapable for feeling what we feel. To allow ourselves to freedom to express and sit with our emotions without judging ourselves too harshly. Because it is in this honest, vulnerable state of being, that we will be able to give ourselves the opportunity to heal.
Life right now is hard enough. I hope you don’t make it even harder by being hard on yourself.