Suffering and the Wilderness

Jul 30, 2018

 

Life can throw us curve balls. Suffering can come upon us suddenly. We can lose our job. Get sick. A dear one can die. A hurricane can destroy all that we own. And more. With each time of suffering we are thrown into the wilderness, into a place of transition and seeming danger where we are in totally unfamiliar territory. As we grope around this seemingly hostile territory, we can be hopeless and feel totally unsupported. The wilderness is an unknown and foreign landscape where we live in the process of transition; it can be frightening. Two recent suicides of pretty high-profile folks—Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain– point us to the extreme nature of some wilderness journeys.

 

The wilderness is a nowhere kind of place, an uncomfortable and worrisome place. God can be highly visible in some wilderness journeys as He was in the Exodus story, in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.[1] He is our refuge in the wilderness, where we are totally out of our element. If we will depend on Him, He will provide us with the physical, spiritual, emotional and mental sustenance that we can’t seem to locate on our own. [2]

 

I know that people who suffer from depression are in a different category than most of us who land in the wilderness. My husband had a difficult childhood. His parents divorced when he was 6 in 1945. His mother went to Reno for a quickie divorce, but his father(who kept the kids) smeared her name while she was gone and he got custody of the children. Then, being born into a wealthy family, my husband and his sister were raised by nannies, not good choices. One force-fed Hank and his sister; another tried to scare them into obedience. As a grown-up he was mostly apologetic for who he was. Throughout our married life any big stress would throw him into a depression.

 

But it was after he made a big mistake in our finances that he went into a 10-year-long depression. After nine years of therapy, fortunately, he really did heal from all that childhood trauma, especially from not seeing his mother for years. And he was just like her, a warm people person who was mostly raised by his cold father and nannies. He emerged from that long depression with a sense that he just was who he was. If someone didn’t take his advice, it wasn’t about him. He no longer took anything personally. He died some 3 or 4 years later and I felt that he had completed his life’s journey and was ready to go.

 

Depression can go both ways, as we have seen lately. It is so sad when someone kills themselves. I think we wish we could have saved them. The wilderness is the place where we work out many things, especially the differences between our acculturated, worldly self and our own deeper, truer self. We can use the wilderness for a short-term goal, like figuring out what kind of work we want to look for next. Or how we’re going to get along without our spouse or loved one. But it is the longer term stay in the wilderness that really changes one’s life. If we’re willing to let God lead us through the wilderness, then we have the potential to shed and heal and transform so much of our very human nature and to reveal the true self that has long been hidden.

 

The goal of the longer journey in the wilderness is to leave the thinking and goals of the world behind and to live in the fulfillment of who we were created to be. It takes the stark nature of the wilderness to reveal what in us has to go and for us to allow God to do all the healing and transforming that needs to happen in us. But, slowly and surely, we can leave all that behind as we follow God’s plan for us. Our deeper self emerges led by the Indwelling Spirit of the Lord and gradually, as we own all that we are, we let go of the rebellious, worldly human nature and become God-centered and faithful. It’s an amazing process.

 

Going back to Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, it is sad that two such creative people should kill themselves. Maybe, in a deep depression, we can’t see God at all. Maybe suicide is a huge relief for those who suffer from depression. I don’t know. But I would hope and pray that for everyone who is depressed that they could see and reach out for God’s hand which is reaching for them and allow Him to lead them out of the deep hole they are in.

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Questions to ponder over the week:  When I look back on my times spent in transition, in the wilderness, in my life, how did I manage the transition and changes? Was I looking for a short-term fix or was I seeking to seal my relationship with God? Can I trust God in these wilderness journeys? Am I going to seek out God in my next transition? Will I be able to trust where He would lead me?

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Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who trust Him in our lives. May we follow Him wherever He would lead us. May we be truly His people.

 

An Invitation to All of Us to Pray for our nation: for mercy and compassion for all, for community values and a deep sense of caring for each other. For peace. For love to reign. For a return to a love of God. For us to have one nation under God” as our motto again. If many of us would pray these things for our country, we could change the world. Invite your friends and neighbors to pray with us. in love and faith, Pat

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[1] Exodus 13:20-22

[2] See my book, “Exodus: Our Story, Too!” for a description of the wilderness part of our spiritual journey in Christ.

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