WITH SPRING COMES THE PROMISE OF RENEWAL—the possibility of new beginnings, transformation. The prophet Isaiah spoke to the spirit of this season in this passage in the Bible: "Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert" (Isa. 43:19). Indeed, this is the need for so many: a way made plain right in the wilderness of loss, poverty, illness, violence.
When I think of the people in my life, my friends and family, there's been no shortage of hard times, wilderness times, really, for so many. My thought broadens. I think of all the people in war-torn nations, incidents of school shootings, and of what it takes to rebuild and regroup in the midst of struggle. And then I recall the countless deeds of courage and kindness expressed by individuals at such moments—the selfless outpouring of love, neighbor for neighbor.
That we can find blessings in the middle of desolation is certain. In Science and Health Mary Baker Eddy gave us this powerful definition of the spiritual meaning of wilderness. The definition begins: "Loneliness; doubt; darkness." And then there's a shift: "Spontaneity of thought and idea; the vestibule in which a material sense of things disappears, and spiritual sense unfolds the great facts of existence" (p. 597). Mrs. Eddy's own life illustrated the first part of the definition. Illness, poverty, betrayal. But she also knew firsthand how a spiritual perspective of life changes everything. The example of her own life transformation and the discoveries she left for us are a road map and a promise: Right where everything seems to be falling apart, there's a sound, practical, spiritual answer to lighten the darkness, to show us the "great facts of existence"—the good God has in store!
I've come to love the promise of wilderness experiences. Though they are rarely easy, they do send us reaching for a more dependable source of comfort. They help awaken within us the recognition of what God has already placed in our hearts: the certainty of our immortality and of our access to the spiritual resources we need to move forward.
There's so much to be learned from the examples of people in the Bible on this front. More often than not, they were humble people, called by God to do impossible things. Their stories prompt us to look for the ways that we, too, are being called by this holy omnipotent presence to find right within the struggles of our lives a wilderness waiting to blossom.
In the middle of these struggles, it's easy to focus on the outcome rather than on the journey itself—the spiritual awakening within that enables us to progress. More than anything, awakening to our own intimate relationship with God is what brings real peace. And this peace is never out of reach for anyone, but it does require a complete openness of heart, a willingness to embrace a more spiritual view of life, a childlike love for God. As we cultivate these qualities, we become more conscious of the allness and goodness of God and of all the ways He is speaking to us in quiet, constant urgings, silent whisperings that tell us not to despair, to hang in there, that there's a bigger picture, that everything is going to be okay. I love the story of the Old Testament prophet Elijah for this reason.
Elijah had been in the wilderness praying to die. An angel woke him up, fed him, encouraged him, and told him to take the 40-day journey to Mount Horeb. When Elijah got to the top of the mountain, there was a great wind, but God "was not in the wind," says the Bible. God wasn't in the earthquake that followed. And He wasn't in the fire, either. But after all that drama, destruction, and the material, earthly display of power—Elijah found the presence of God, the real power, in the "still small voice" (see I Kings 19:4-12).
In reference to Elijah's experience, Mrs. Eddy wrote, "When error strives to be heard above Truth, let the 'still small voice' produce God's phenomena" (The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany, p. 249). Nothing can compare to the peace that comes from glimpsing our unity with God and what He has made us to be. In the middle of wilderness times, it can seem like a fierce discipline to find the strength, humility, and grace to get quiet enough to listen, to trust the inner urging that whispers, "I am here. You can trust me. All is well, I love you." But it is worth it. No matter what we're dealing with, the spiritual answers, rooted in the power of God's love for us, are right at hand to bring tangible comfort, direction, and healing.
A number of years ago, I faced some particularly wilderness-like times, and at moments I felt like I was drowning. It seemed like every aspect of my life was a struggle. Right in the midst, though, I could feel that still, small voice of God urging me along. I had a mental image of placing my hands in God's, figuratively, and saying, "Show me," because I had no idea how to go forward on my own.
It was a day-by-day thing. I prayed for inspiration, understanding, peace. Sometimes I didn't feel that I knew how to go forward at all, but there were daily victories, and all the while a quiet assurance that I could trust God. I dug deeper, affirming God's care, expanding my willingness to lean completely on God for everything.
That time, now some years ago, was marked by healing, sweetness, and love. My theme song became this passage from Joel: "I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten" (Joel 2:25). The darkness about so many things in my life began to dissipate. I could feel the living Biblical promise "I [God] make all things new" (Rev. 21:5).
While this experience was not an easy one, what strikes me about it now is that the substance of it was inherently good. The point of those wilderness moments was to discover the continuity of God's infinite love embracing, guiding, and governing every detail of my life. It taught me to dive deep beneath "... the heaving surf of life's troubled sea" and to find that underneath it all lies a "... deep-settled calm" (Message to The Mother Church for 1902, p. 19)—the unshakable, indestructible, all-pervading, great love of God, tenderly compelling our awareness of Him.
Wilderness times are never about endings, broken dreams, shattered lives, but about promise, true comfort—the grace of God looming larger than any sorrow. The promise of these times is that we're ripe for new beginnings. They force us to look for answers in new ways, to seek God with a purity of heart, to think spiritually. As we do so, all that is dark, lonely, barren and without hope begins to give way. We begin to glimpse and trust the spiritual basis and being of our lives—the wilderness blossoms—and we discover life filled with more good than we could have envisioned on our own.
WILDERNESS TIMES ARE NEVER ABOUT ENDINGS, broken dreams, shattered lives, but about promise, true comfort—the grace of God looming larger than any sorrow.
Joni Overton-Jung is a Christian Science practitioner and teacher in Port Hope, Ontario, Canada.