Have you ever found yourself smack dab in the middle of a spiritual wilderness? A season when faith and everything else just seems really hard, to the point where you feel disillusioned, lost, and even scared? You wonder where God is and why He isn’t speaking to you. You try to open your Bible, but you just can’t seem to get your heart into it. You try to make time to nurture your faith and spend time with God, but for some reason or another, you never do. You feel like you’re in a funk, inexplicably off, and scared that you’ll never get back to spiritual civilization. Those who have yet to go through this kind of spiritual season have no idea how it feels and how it can affect every other aspect of your life and being. Your soul grows so weary. It feels worn out to the point where you’re not sure you can go on. You start questioning everything you’ve believed, thought, and felt. Next thing you know, you’re in a full-blown wilderness, trying to find your way out.
I recently went through my first “wilderness season.” I don’t remember the exact moment I entered the wilderness period or how I came to find myself in such a season. We humans always want a reason or a cause for something. As I examined myself and my life, it seems that I just gradually slipped into the season. I was busy and stressed. I was tending multiple pots on the stove of life, and it was an emotionally stressful period for me. I just slowly slipped out of the habit of making sure I made time with God and got into His Word every day. I had so much going on and I had to make room for everything, and I’m sad to say, my spiritual life seemed to be the natural one to go. I didn’t think it would hurt if I just slacked off for a while believing, “it’s fine, I’ll be fine, it’s not like it has that huge of an effect on me anyway. I’m a devout Christian, strong in my faith, surely slacking off for a little while won’t hurt.”
Guess what? It did.
I’m not sure how long I was in this spiritual wilderness before I realized where I was and that there was a problem. One fine day in the autumn, I took my laptop and papers outside to get some fresh air while I worked. I paused in what I was doing, in the middle of a thought, when I happened to look around me. Surrounded by God’s beautiful creation, all of the colorful leaves made the mountains and woods look like a patchwork quilt, and I suddenly realized something was wrong inside of me. I can’t explain why or how I came to this realization, but all of a sudden I realized how weary and numb my soul felt. I started to take inventory of my soul and my spiritual life, and I soon realized that I seemed to be running from something. It struck me that I hadn’t opened my Bible in a long time, I stopped praying and talking to God, and I even arrived at the point where I couldn’t really bring myself to go to church (I had missed a few Sundays in a row leading up to this realization). I felt so incredibly disillusioned, lost, confused, and downright panicked. I had two main questions: How did I get to this point? And, more importantly, how do I get out?
I remember hearing several wonderful Bible teachers say that when you go through a season of spiritual wilderness, you need to lean into it, not run from it. That is true. The only place running away or avoiding will get you is even more lost, deeper into that uncomfortable wilderness. Ignoring the situation by staying busy or doing something else will get you absolutely nowhere and it certainly won’t fix things. Believe me! What does everyone say you should do when you get lost? You should turn around and go back the way you came. Don’t keep walking in the same wrong direction. Turn back. In a spiritual wilderness, you need to turn back to God. As soon as you do, He’ll hand you a map and a compass. Now, He may not bring you out of the wilderness right away, in fact, He may allow you to take a little longer getting out, but rest assured, He’ll be with you every step of the way.
As soon as I had that big realization that autumn day, I prayed for the first time in a while. Now, I’m not that person who can come up with those poetic, beautiful prayers like some people. I’m more of a simple, get to the point type of gal, so I prayed with every fiber of my being, “Lord, get me out of this.” You know what happened? Nothing. No big sign, no cloud formations, no voice from above—nada. At least, at the time I thought nothing happened. I talked to Him, asking if He saw me, if He heard me, and where in tarnation was He? Nothing. After a few minutes, I started to get back to my work, figuring it was helpless and I had other things that needed to get done, I’ll deal with this later—but then a book popped into my head. I had had this book for almost a year and hadn’t read it yet. My “to be read” pile shifts and grows continuously. I couldn’t get this book off my mind. It was about soul-keeping, all about how to nurture and guard your soul. It became clear that I wasn’t going to get anything done, so I went and found the book, and started to read it. It was like a soothing balm to the soul. It was enlightening and convicting all at the same time. I soon realized, days later, that God was indeed listening, He was there, and He did indeed do something after all. Around that same time, I came across a song by Lauren Daigle called “First.” The basis of the song is that we want and need to seek and keep God first. I highly recommend listening to this song. It sure helped to remind me to check my priorities!
God didn’t take me out of my wilderness right away. Instead He gave me a map and a compass. Step by step He brought me out, but it took time and effort. I slowly started working my daily time in the Word back into my schedule. I started praying and talking to God again. I started a new devotional that was without a doubt God-ordained to come out right at that specific time and it has been a huge help. I went back to church even though it felt weird and uncomfortable at first.
The only way I can describe what happened in that season is spiritual warfare. Something got a hold of my unguarded soul, and dragged it into that self-inflicted wilderness from God. I realize now that I had stopped believing and hanging on to God’s promises and truths. I subconsciously made the decision to turn away because things were hard and difficult and not going the way I had planned. Key word there was “I.” I wanted my plans to work, without consulting God’s plans, which trumps anything I could ever dream up. I walked further away from Him when I felt that he was silent, that He wasn’t there. In reality, He was always there. He had never left me. I had left Him. I had turned a deaf ear to His words by not opening my Bible and opening my heart and soul to what He had to say.
The truth of the matter is I wasn’t brave enough to listen to what He was saying. I was scared that He wouldn’t agree with my plans and what I wanted. I wasn’t as strong in my faith as I thought I was, because if I was, I wouldn’t have been afraid to hear His words. I would want His plans over my own. This wilderness opened my eyes. It convicted me and pushed me to do better and more importantly, to keep growing in my spiritual life. We must keep growing and learning. I now see that the wilderness that I once thought was uncomfortable and scary ended up being a lifesaver. God saw that I was in trouble long before I did, and He knew exactly what I needed. He went into battle for me and with me. I am so thankful, grateful, and blessed to have a Father like Him, and I now I thank him for that uncomfortable season in my life.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him.” Romans 8:28
When you find yourself in a hard season, lean into it and lean into God. Do not turn from Him, rather, chase after Him like your life depends on it—because it does.
By Liz Austin
Originally published in Be Still Magazine, Issue 07.