My Faith Journey: Wilderness
Wilderness is part of every faith journey.
Perhaps you can make the argument that it is part of every good journey. Questions and conflict are what make any journey a worthwhile one. What fun would Lord of the Rings have been is Frodo and Sam walked next door to Mordor and dropped the ring into a mountain and made it home in time for lunch? What if the Odyssey was 30 pages long – “Odysseus went, fought, came home, happily ever after.” I daresay we wouldn’t have it today. It would have been lost with all the other crap from antiquity that we don’t have any more.
I would say that Christian traditions are perhaps best noted for their themes of wilderness. Jesus walked out into the wilderness to deal with the devil. Centuries later, many Christian traditions embraced the wilderness quite literally by walking out into the woods and desert and living as hermits. And even that great story Lord of the Rings is a great novel riddled with Christian thought and influence–intentionally.
My experience was no exception. I have often said that Jesus walked into the wilderness, I went to Harding. I went from a place where I was well known and had a ton of friends to a completely new environment where I knew no one. Many people have a similar experience every year when they go to college. New people, new place, maybe a bad room mate: all part of the experience. But most people usually end up at a college a good friend or two right?
I didn’t. I was totally a fish out of water. On top of that I didn’t even have the luxury of a forced friendship for a while because I didn’t even have a room mate. I ate alone, walked to class alone, went to see CAB movies alone…It went on like this for days, then weeks and a couple of months.
The room I was living in at the time had an electrical problem and the light didn’t work, so when it got dark outside, it got dark in my room. Since I had no friends, I was in my room every night when it got dark. So, I either had to go to sleep, or sit out in the hall to study for school. People would walk by, football players would throw food at each other or down the hall. Sometimes it would hit me or my books. It was a sad time.
Honestly, my days were awful: wake up, go to class, eat dinner alone, come back to my room alone, go to sleep. It was a sad existence. So sad that I tried to leave. I was going to quit school. I had decided to quit I wasn’t going back, I was finished. I left town for a week and felt pretty wonderful. The stress was off my shoulders, I was excited to go somewhere else. I didn’t know where, but I was just going somewhere else.
I came back and realized that was a stupid idea. I needed to at least finish the semester. At least then I hadn’t wasted a whole semester and I could transfer, so I went back to finish up my last month.
I am glad I did. Once I went back I changed rooms, moving in and amongst a couple of really great guys who are still my great friends. I was lucky to have one, but I really got about eight or so right at once. That was all that it took to change my entire outlook.
Jesus eventually walked out of the wilderness, Frodo began walking back toward the Shire, I moved into Harbin 205.
I came back for another semester and the rest is history. My time at Harding was the best years of my life (thus far). My faith is firmer and I know myself better than I ever would have had it not been for my time of Wilderness. I am ever grateful for the hard times that I had in the early days of my college career. I am also ever grateful for the rescue I received just in the nick of time.
I would say that Christians are one of the few groups that embrace trials as positive things. Many eastern directions of thought see trials and hard times as evidence that you are too attached to this world. They’d suggest that the mind that is troubled is a mind preoccupied with this world instead of the eternal one.
The Bible however, knows that to be human is to experience trial, tribulation and hard times. Jesus himself experienced hard times and was troubled enough to cry, worry, sweat and bleed. The Bible doesn’t tell us to avoid pain or struggle, just to use it for good and to persevere through it. Here are some verses that meant a lot to me in that time of wilderness.
John 15 – “he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. 3 You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you.”
1Thessalonians 3 – “…don’t be unsettled by these trials. Know that you were predestined for them.”
James 1 – “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance…Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because he has stood the test…”