God Does His Best Work In the Wilderness



As I write these words, we are part way through Lent, and I am deep in the wilderness over here on the west coast. If I look out my window, I don’t see wilderness around me, but I know I’m in it nonetheless. It feels a little bit like all hell has broken loose—in my office, at the local coffee house, or when speaking to a friend who’s asked for conversation and encouragement.

I’ve been listening to lots of different people lately. I do that all the time, and some people even pay me for a particular kind of listening—a listening together called spiritual direction. I spent three years learning the practice and I continue to learn with the people who visit me each month. Every one of those persons is unique, with his or her own set of questions and wonderings. Each one is a distinctly individual person, with their own gender, age, marital status, life experiences, spiritual struggle, need for discernment and companionship.

Yet they are all alike in one central and important way: they each want to be seen.

I believe there is a deep-seated desire built into us to be known and understood. The phrase, “I see you,” is one of the rarest and richest in the English language. To be truly seen includes being truly heard. And it implies being valued and held in high regard. To be seen in this way is to begin to understand our own, intrinsic worth, which is the most basic and important foundation stone upon which sturdy relationships can be built.

All of the listening I’ve been doing in recent days, however, has led me to the sad conclusion that we do not see one another very well at all. This is not new, is it? We resist the very thing we long for, and we hide. And sometimes we do that hiding well enough to reap the whirlwind.

Too many friends are reaping that whirlwind these days.

In the last week, I’ve heard stories of betrayal, diminishment, neglect, fear, sorrow, loss and pain. Marriages in jeopardy, careers on the line, friendships torn asunder by cruel words and careless actions, gut-wrenching fear overwhelming solid judgment, children struggling with addiction, and a long list of serious health crises, too often exacerbated by stressful relationships at home and/or work.

It is a wilderness, indeed. Bleak, endless, and monotone.

And then, I remember: I am seen. They are seen.

 Even here, in this place of sorrow and struggle, right in the middle of the thorn trees, we are seen. We are seen through eyes of love and mercy. We are seen by the One who will not let this season be wasted or wasteful. He holds our own hands firmly and graciously, and reminds us that there are riches to be found, even in the middle of this wild and wooly place.

God does some of his best work in the wilderness. Jesus sought the wilderness as he began his life of ministry and sacrifice. Wilderness is where the preparation happens, where we seek and are found, where the all-important spade-work is done. So. Now I am looking for the blossom beneath the thorn. I’m listening for the sound of oasis streams, sniffing the air for fresh signs of new life in this place.

I am re-committing myself to see. To see the other, the one in tears, the one with questions, the one who is tired and broken and without hope. To ask for the grace to see these dear ones as God sees them, to listen with anticipation as well as with empathy. I am recommitted to speak slowly and carefully, to plant seeds of redemption wherever and whenever I am able.

I know this to be true: even in the wilderness, God is at work. Even here.

Diana Trautwein
Married to her college sweetheart for over 40 years, Diana is always wondering about things. She answers to Mom from their three adult kids and spouses and to Nana from their 8 grandkids, ranging in age from 3 to 22. For 17 years, after a mid-life call to ministry, she answered to Pastor Diana in two churches where she served as Associate Pastor. Since retiring at the end of 2010, she spends her time working as a spiritual director and writes on her blog, Just Wondering. For as long as she can remember, Jesus has been central to her story and the church an extension of her family. Not that either church or family is exactly perfect . . . but then, that’s what makes life interesting, right?
Diana Trautwein

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Diana Trautwein
  • Sitting with this thought from both Old and New Testament examples -> “Wilderness is where the preparation happens . . .”
    It’s hard – maybe impossible at times – to see beyond the wilderness when we’re walking it, but these words are a sign post pointing toward hope.

    • pastordt

      Yes, yes, yes. While we’re in it, it’s so difficult to see anything else, isn’t it? We recently spent a few days with friends at a resort in the desert, which is its own kind of wilderness, despite the wonderful amenities! But amidst the miles of sand j(!!!), I was struck again by the intrinsic beauty of the place. That’s what we need, I think, eyes to see the beauty that is always there. Always.

  • Being seen is so important!

    • pastordt

      Amen, Alina. Amen.

  • Lynn D. Morrissey

    This is truly beautiful, Diana–and needed. So many of us are wandering around in the wilderness of our souls, feeling unseen, unheard. I can tell you that you do both, and one way is through your blog, guest posts like this one, your compassionate responses in comment boxes, and as just one family example, how you *see* your precious mother, when she still sees but cannot comprehend and respond, in kind. I believe that Church is in much need of transparency. We are afraid to be seen, perhaps in part, because no one sees us. No one regards us, so we go deeper into hiding. It’s a vicious circle. I have found the journaling process shared in small circles as one precious, sacred way to be seen and heard. I facilitate such groups. When we bare our souls on the pages of our journals, and then to each other, by reading them aloud, we are seen and heard. Each woman receives undivided attention and respect. We honor her story both by really hearing her heart and seeing where she is and from where she has come. We encourage her on the way to where she is going. Always, always healing and transformation occur. We accept and love. But we can’t love and accept what we don’t see. The wilderness, especially, I think, is a place both to see and be seen, because all the props are stripped away. The darkness becomes a place of raw (even wild) beauty: When the branches are stripped of leafage, we can *see* the stars! Thank you so much for this poignant sharing, Diana! I’m so grateful.
    Blessed Lent of Looking,

    • pastordt

      What a lovely gift to offer, Lynn. Thank you! And thank you for these good, kind words. I am grateful for you!

  • “listen with anticipation” – I love that. When you are feeling hopeless, it is such a stuck feeling. To know that someone else believes there is a future and a moving forward, what a wonderful gift to give someone.

  • Roos Woller

    I love your last paragraph, I to recommit to “seeing” others and you are so right God is at work in the wilderness in my life and in others.

    • pastordt

      Indeed, Morag. A gift that keeps on giving!

    • pastordt

      Thanks for these kind words and for your own recommitment to ‘see.’

  • In those sad and troubled times of wilderness struggles, we do need to remember God is at work in it all, and place our faith and trust in Him who will see us through. He sees us right where we are. And it is my prayer, too, to see others as God sees them.
    Blessings, Diana!

    • pastordt

      Thank you, Martha – blessings right back at you.

  • Hi Diana,
    This is an inspiring article. Thank you. How much we miss by not engaging with each other, by not really listening, by not being aware of how God is at work, or how He wants to use us to be Jesus for someone else in the midst of their pain. A few years ago, I was struck by the fact that Jesus came down to earth to be with us just where we are, in the mess, in the problems in the pain. He came to engage with us in the difficult places and to show us the way to something better. However, He never expected us to get there by ourselves. As His followers, we are surely called to do the same.

    I think that listening is the best gift that we can give someone. To allow another to truly express themselves and to listen without judgement, without interruption and without a hidden agenda. It’s so wonderful to know that God sees us wherever we are and to have that hope and certainty that He doesn’t waste anything that we go through. That doesn’t make the pain less, but it is an encouragement and hope in the midst of it.

    I love the word redemption. The idea of planting seeds of redemption in another person’s life is a beautiful one. It’s only through listening that we can ever hope to do that. Sometimes, we speak too soon, offer a platitude, a “simple” solution. In truth we’re losing the opportunity to really engage if we speak without hearing where the person is at this time. We cannot speak into a situation unless we’ve understood what that situation is. We only come to that understanding through listening and through seeing. Thanks for the food for thought Diana. God bless, Rachel

    • pastordt

      Thank you so much for this very thoughtful and insightful response, Rachel. Your words are beautiful and helpful.

  • Gwen Acres

    We often go out our doors with a facade, a face applied. It’s not really fake, just what is needed to make it through the day. Each and every one who says, ‘ just fine, thank you’ is another person deep down inside. To know and be known, to love and be loved takes time. Am I safe here? How little we know of another’s pain or vulnerability that is just below the service of their smile. I try to see through their eyes and hope they see through mine.
    Thank you Diana for looking deep…

    • pastordt

      Exactly, Gwen! The column that I just wrote and submitted for my print magazine speaks to this very thing. About how important it is to remember that everyone has a story behind their smile. That’s one reason I really love this month’s theme at SheLoves, “I see you” – powerful, powerful words.

  • Sandy Hay

    I’m thinking of a couple of wilderness times in my past. I hated them then ….but now I’m certain of the amazing work He did. And with a close friend who is in her own wilderness, I’m hoping I’m helping her see a glimpse of God in this and beyond it.

    • pastordt

      Yes, indeed, Sandy. It often takes hindsight to see God’s work in our wilderness places. Thank you for being a hopeful person for your friend.

  • Lee

    Spoke directly to my situation, I am in the wilderness , cried hopelessly tonight. Thank you for the article and for the reminder that I am, we are seen and through it all God is at work.

    • pastordt

      Oh, Lee. I am sorry for the pain of this place, but grateful for that sure foundation beneath it all. Blessings to you!

  • “planting seeds of redemption” — oh, how I love this. That’s a phrase I want to hang on to. Thank you, Diana, as always for your words.

    • pastordt

      You’re welcome, Ashley.

  • Saskia Wishart

    So much depth here Diana, I am inspired to see what God is doing in those wilderness times.

    • pastordt

      Thank you, Saskia. Sometimes it is painful to look hard at the wild places, but it is always worth it, I think. Blessings to you.

  • Yes indeed. It’s a good commitment to come back to again and again because being a listener, one who sees and hears people, can exact a price. Love this, Diana! Thanks for the reminder.

    • pastordt

      Yes, it does exact a price, Marilyn. The listening life requires sufficient space for solitude, stillness, silence, self-care. Thanks for that reminder, my friend.

  • Nancy Ruegg

    Your article spoke truth into a current situation I face with a young woman who is very talkative. I want to be a good listener for her, but it’s a challenge, especially with the word “like” sprinkled into every other phrase. But I KNOW there’s a blossom beneath the thorns of chattiness and “like!” And if I don’t stick around to listen, I’ll miss the flowering. Thank you for this very timely encouragement to see as God sees and listen with anticipation for that day!

    • pastordt

      Blessings as you plow through, friend!

      • Nancy Ruegg

        Thank you, Diana! ‘Love that verb, “plow” — makes me smile! I’ll remember that while I listen and grin on the inside!

        • pastordt

          Some ‘listening’ is kinda that way, ya know? And yes, smiling on the inside is a grand idea. 🙂