More than once, I’ve heard friends and colleagues describe 2020, and now 2021, as a wilderness. So much uncertainty, emotional, and physical suffering; every day a new challenge or problem, leaving many with overwhelming anxiety. All of these factors and more have led people to a dark place of depression and despair. I see this in Christians and non-Christians.
As leaders, it’s often our job to keep pointing people back to hope, but honestly, it can be challenging. Right now, no one really has answers to these ongoing problems.
It may feel trite, but the only answer and response we have are Hope. Not hope in the circumstance or a resolution, but Hope in the person of Jesus Christ. We hang onto that with white knuckles because that is the only thing that will hold.
It’s so important, though, that we look at and acknowledge this wilderness for what it is. And that we keep walking through the wilderness. If we want our people to follow us, like the Israelites who followed Moses, we need to keep moving forward. Just as Moses followed the cloud by day and the fire by night, we need to keep our eyes on Christ and keep walking.
So how do we keep moving forward when the weight of the world feels so heavy? And how do we lead those following when the darkness seems to obscure any light for us to see the cloud or the fire?
We have to stay connected intentionally. The need for quarantine, staying socially distant, and masking is real and necessary. Unfortunately, it has led to physical isolation and also this persistent feeling of emotional isolation.
Isolation can lead to depression. The suicide rate right now is tragically high. Who is your person? You need someone other than your spouse, and outside the four walls of your house, you can and do talk to. You need to check in with this person often and connect with them, even when you don’t feel like it. Keep the conversation going. You choose to let this person know when you feel overwhelmed, frustrated, or whatever feeling you are struggling with that day. The connection must be a priority in this season if you want to get to the other side of this wilderness.
Just as Joshua built a memorial of 12 stones after the Israelites safely crossed through the Jordan River, we must practice remembering. Sit down and remind yourself of all the times in the past where God has been faithful to you. Check out a history book and remember the difficulties our nation has walked through and survived. Search Scripture and find chapter after chapter of accounts of God’s faithfulness.
He was faithful then, and He is faithful still. Just as he was with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace, He is with us in this wilderness season.
Although there always seems to be something we “must” do or get done, it’s equally important right now to do things that are lifegiving. There’s a lot of “hard” we face every day, so intentionally, also do something each day that brings you joy. It may be a 15-minute walk outside, listening to a favorite podcast, a special cup of hot coffee, or practicing a hobby. Find something that brings you joy, and make sure you do it!
It’s tempting in the midst of the wilderness to just sit down and stop. We get turned around and lose our direction, become weary and discouraged. Don’t stop. Keep moving. How do we do that when we are so tired? As the poem, Elisabeth Elliott used to recite repeats, “Do the next thing.” Get up and make your bed. Show up at work. Write the email. Don’t get overwhelmed by the landscape ahead; instead, look at just the task in front of you and do it. That will lead you to the next thing, and you will be moving.
The wilderness is mentioned often in Scripture. The Israelites wandered through the wilderness for forty years. Moses ran to the wilderness after he killed the Egyptian, and this is where he met God in the burning bush. Jacob wrestled with the Lord in the wilderness and, as a result, was touched by God and given a new name. Jesus overcame great temptation in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights, and He often went to the wilderness to pray.
The wilderness is never pointless, and it’s often in the wilderness that God does important work in us. He’s working even in the wilderness. The wilderness can be a holy ground where the Lord brings our dependence and focus back on Him.
This wilderness season is hard, but He will provide what we need in and through Him, just as he provided manna for the Israelites. When we recognize the wilderness for what it is and keep moving forward by following His light, this wilderness can become a place of growth and discovery.