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.