“But I will court her again and bring her into the wilderness, and I will speak to her tenderly there.”
Hosea 2:14 (The Living Bible)
“Who is this coming up from the wilderness leaning on her Beloved?”
Song of Songs 8:5 (NIV)
There have been several times of my life that I would call times in the “wilderness.” I don’t mean that I left my relationship with God, but that there have been times that I have stepped back from organized religion and from what I’ve been taught, and I’ve really examined what I actually believe to be true. Basically, I stripped off most of the trappings of humankind and peeled back to the basics of who God is and who I am in relation to Him. Journeys in the wilderness can feel lonely and dry at the time, but in fact, when I look back on them, they are beautiful times full of richness, wisdom and God’s presence.
I grew up going to a small denominational church where I learned a lot of wonderful things, especially about Jesus and His love and kindness. But as I entered high school, I began to be a bit bored there and was longing for a deeper relationship with God. About age 16, I determined in my heart that, when I went away to college, I would find a church like one of my teachers had gone to. My teacher seemed to have a really close relationship with God, and she had told me about her charismatic church. When I went to college, I joined a fairly fundamentalist church for a while. At first, it seemed like so much fun because everyone was really into their faith, church life, and evangelizing, which was all new to me. But later, I began to feel that there was a lot of control and legalism, so I made the very difficult decision to leave that church. Leaving it was a really big deal because all of my friends were in that church, and they were instructed by leadership to no longer associate with me. It was both one of the hardest and one of the best experiences that I have ever been through. At the time, it was excruciatingly painful because I not only lost my church family, but I lost my friends, too. However, leaving this church caused me to cry out to God, search the scriptures, and firmly define what my salvation was based on. Later, I realized that it was a wonderful period of spiritual growth for me.
Another time in my life that I seriously re-examined my faith was when I was introduced to God as “Father.” For many years, I had been involved in what’s known as “the faith movement,” and I had received a wonderful foundation in scripture and faith. I was taught how to believe in and stand on the promises of God found in the Bible. However, I was beginning to see some flaws and errors with some of the teaching. I felt that sometimes there was too much emphasis on “having enough faith” and material things. Then I had a life changing encounter with my Heavenly Father (that’s such an important story that I’ll write more about it in a separate post).
In 2003, I went to a conference called “The Father Loves You,” and I heard teaching for the first time that dramatically changed my life. I know that the words “changed my life” can be cliché, but it really did. I received the revelation that God is a Father, a loving Father, the perfect Father. It was there that His love poured into my heart, and I knew that He loved me, and I knew that I was His daughter. The scriptures that say that He is a loving Father and where Jesus talks about Him as a Father jumped out at me in a new way. They were all over the Bible, but until then, I hadn’t really seen them. After this, I began looking at the things that I had believed and the way that I lived and thought through the lens of the Father’s love. From that point on, many things in my heart and life began to change. I realized that I had become performance-based and had previously believed that God either approved or disapproved of me because of my actions and thoughts. When I came to the scriptural realization that He loved me just because I’m me, it felt like a load of weight lifted off of my shoulders. I had such peace.
For quite a few years, I peeled back my beliefs, examined them, and filtered them through the lens of my heavenly Father. This was such a precious time for me and really began my journey toward discovering my true identity.
A more recent time in the wilderness began at the very end of 2016. For some personal reasons, I stepped down from pastoring the church that I had co-founded. I had been through a really stressful time and knew that I needed a break from ministry. I really thought that if I could just take off a few months off, I’d be fine, and shortly thereafter, I would be ministering again. However, God knew that I needed longer than that to heal and recover. I even had a dream at that time that involved me telling someone “four years later” that I was keeping this “baby.” At the time, I didn’t know what the dream meant, but I have had baby dreams before, and the babies almost always represented my ministry. In this dream, I was in a large field, carrying a baby that looked just like me, and I was trying to give it away, to find someone to adopt it. But I looked down at her, and she looked exactly like me, and she was talking away. I said, “This is the most verbal baby I’ve ever seen!” I knew that I could not give that baby away. Then suddenly, in the dream, it’s four years later, and I say, “I hope people know I’m keeping this baby.” When I had this dream, I knew that it meant that I would have a ministry again, but I could NOT believe that it would be four years before I would be ministering. But my sweet, precious, heavenly Father knew that I needed that much time to recover and prepare.
I went through a pretty rough time, feeling disillusioned because I found myself quite alone after I had stepped down from the leadership position at my church. Surely people who cared about me would reach out to me, right? But instead, I was pretty much left alone to heal, except for a few close friends. I don’t blame people for not reaching out. It’s hard to know what to say to people when things like this happen. Looking back, this was probably the best thing for me, because in the silence, I leaned on my heavenly Father like never before. I spent lots and lots of time journaling, writing and reading.
Again, I found myself examining my beliefs, getting rid of some, and embracing some new ones. This time was lonely, difficult and beautiful, all at the same time. I grew closer and closer to God, and He led my steps. In the beginning, just after I had left my position at my church, I felt the Lord was saying to me to “just be My daughter.” That my identity was not in being a minister, but that I was free to just be His daughter and enjoy my life. I started a career as an insurance agent, which I surprisingly really enjoyed. I found that I was good at it, and I really cared about my clients and enjoyed helping them. I came to a place where I was content and at peace working and just enjoying my life. I felt close to God, even though I wasn’t a member of a church at that time.
But then, something happened. About 3.5 years into what I called “my sabbatical,” I began to feel a strong stirring to start to minister again. It wasn’t a convenient time in some ways because we were at the beginning of the pandemic. But in some ways, it was the perfect time because I began to prepare myself to minister again. As someone who prophesied over me recently said, “The lockdown is not lockdown for you, Anna. It’s a breakout time to prepare to minister, prepare your teachings, your books and articles.” And, as God would have it, it will be almost exactly four years from the time I left my church to the time that I launch this new ministry. Isn’t God so amazing?!
These days, what I have called “times in the wilderness” may be what some people describe as “deconstructing.” It’s really a time to step back and examine what you’ve believed or been taught and see if it is in line with scripture. Sometimes we need to examine church culture because culture is a powerful force in our lives even when we don’t realize it. I believe that this can all be a healthy process, and it actually can bring us closer to God. I know that during wilderness seasons, some people leave their faith or leave their relationship with God. But for others, it’s a time to really quiet the voices around you, examine your beliefs, and come out of the wilderness closer to God than ever before, leaning on your Beloved.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU FEEL GOD LEADING YOU INTO THE WILDERNESS OR IF YOU FIND YOURSELF IN THE WILDERNESS?
- Enjoy the quiet, knowing that it most likely won’t last forever. Sometimes we need to get quiet so that we can hear the still, small voice of our loving Father.
- Journal your thoughts and feelings and what you feel the Father is saying to you. You’ll be able to look back and see that God was speaking to you through it all.
- Sometimes during transition, there is a time in the wilderness between one thing and another. Resist the temptation to feel aimless or lost: you’re on the right path.
- Don’t rush through the wilderness. Your heavenly Father knows just how to lead your heart and life, so just trust Him. His timing is perfect.
- Remember that you aren’t alone. Even Jesus experienced a season in the wilderness. This season, as painful as it may be, is an important time in your journey of faith.