Embracing the Wilderness

Christ in the Desert by Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoĭ, 1872

Christ in the Desert by Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoĭ, 1872

Here I sit, more than one year after my “I am a Freelance Minister” post and things have pretty much stayed the same for me ministry wise. I still have my same 9-5 job, we are still attending the same church we moved to, we have gotten involved in various groups at church and I have had a few opportunities to fulfill my Freelance Minister vision.

If I was completely honest, I have not been as okay with the whole freelance minister vision as laid out in that post.

As I go back and read the post, I think I was trying to stay positive and stay hopeful which is completely fine. What I did not realize is what this past year was about to drop in my lap and push me into. The stars in my eyes and the grand vision of what I thought this past year would look like for me has faded a bit. I think I had an ice bucket of reality dumped on my head. Things I expected to happen did not. Moments I never expected to happen did. Things I thought would change remained the same, and parts of my life I expected to remain stable shifted out from under my feet.

Life as I know it changed drastically. This past year I experienced the death of my father, the miscarriage of our second child, our first child has entered the initial stages of the “Terrible Twos”, we had a bit of a financial “come to Jesus”/overhaul moment (thank you Dave Ramsey), and many tears have been shed.

I finally decided to see a counselor regularly.

After my first conversation with my counselor and really considering the hurdles of the past year I picked up a book off my shelf that I have been meaning to read for a few years. The book is called Leaving Egypt: Finding God in the Wilderness Places by Chuck DeGroat. The book talks about Israel’s journey out of slavery in Egypt, to the reeducation of Sinai and out into the wilderness before arriving at the promised land. As I move through the book, I realized that my “Freelance Minister” post stood as the moment I left the safety and predictability of Sinai and (somewhat unknowingly) set out into the wilderness. The promises, plans and visions I felt as I wrote that post seem quite distant now.

And for good or for ill, I have a hard time not questioning it all sometimes.

“Wilderness darkness. It’s when the bottom falls out. It’s when everything you knew to be true is called into question. Its when the ‘answers’ provide no comfort. Security is stripped. Your sense of justice is offended.”
Chuck DeGroat, Leaving Egypt: Finding God in the Wilderness Places, p. 130.

What I did not initially realize was that being a Freelance Minister would drive me out into the wilderness. Leaving what is safe and secure will inherently do this to some degree. The Israelites left Egypt with grand dreams of freedom and hope. What then happened were the unexpected and unplanned elements of the wilderness. In my life, as the unexpected and unknown stacked up, I broke down. This was not a sudden, dramatic kind of breakdown. It has been more of a slow burning fire where elements of my life have finally begun to succumb to the heat and are beginning to fall.

Chuck DeGroat points out I was in good company.

“Mark’s description of Jesus’ wilderness experience is striking: “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness” (Mark 1:12). Drove him? Was he unwilling? Afraid? Some people enter the wilderness willingly. Others enter kicking and screaming. I suspect that most of us experience aspects of both.”
Chuck DeGroat, Leaving Egypt: Finding God in the Wilderness Places, p. 124.

If it happened to Jesus, why did I expect anything different? Just before Jesus’ wilderness experience he was baptized by John and heard the voice of God. Things were positive and progressing much like he had probably hoped. Then, following where God was leading him, Jesus ends up in the wilderness. He was tempted, tired, hungry and thirsty for forty days before emerging to begin his ministry.

I’m beginning to know what that might have felt like.

I found the painting above by Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoĭ who attempted to capture what he thought Jesus might have looked like during this experience. I immediately felt more of a connection to this image of Jesus than to many others I have seen (and I’ve seen a lot). Jesus looks spent and drained of energy. His clothing is tattered, his face looks gaunt, his feet are dirty and his hair does not look like it has been brushed in a long time.

Yet, his hands are clenched.

Clenched in prayer?

Clenched in frustration?

Clenched in prayer and frustration?

Is Jesus about to crack?

You can almost see the words of the accuser in the eyes of Jesus, “If you are the Son of God…”

Knowing that Jesus went through this experience, helps me understand and accept a bit more what I am currently going through. This does not diminish, devalue or decrease the pain, annoyance or frustration of this past year and whatever else is coming. What it does help me see is that there is something to embracing where you are at and not trying to easily escape the wilderness. Jesus was tempted with the easy way out of the wilderness. Hungry? Turn these stones to bread. Feeling week? Take these armies and kingdoms. Questioning your calling? Jump off the Temple…surely God will save you.

Jesus resists the temptations and does not take the easy roads out of the wilderness.

He embraces the wilderness for what it is.

And in that, I shall embrace my wilderness.

At some point, I know I will get out. But right now…this is going to suck.



9 thoughts on “Embracing the Wilderness

  1. Greg, I really enjoyed this post. You all are so strong and the trail will break out of the trees into the sunlight…you just have to keep walking it 🙂 Love you all.

    Liked by 1 person

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