Setting Up Camp in the Wilderness
Our good friend Ciara shares her own journey in the wilderness and what she has been learning there.
We often refer to times of struggle as “desert” or “wilderness”. Although these times tend to be seasons of deep growth, it can be hard to fully see all the ways that God is meeting with us, is present with us and teaching us, until we look back
And it’s even harder to see these things when you’ve been in the desert longer than “40 days and 40 nights” and the wasteland appears never-ending ( I like to use the word ‘desert’ because if you are dyslexic like me you can easily read it as ‘dessert’. And who wouldn’t want to imagine a metaphor where you’re wandering around a giant trifle or layers of cheeky gateau?! ).
My current wilderness feels never-ending. It is a wilderness of physical, chronic pain that I’ve been carrying with me for sixteen years. The nature of it is degenerative so it has progressed and has taken over my life more and more in recent years until what was abnormal for me has now become normality.
Where is God in these times? Can I see what God is teaching me right in this moment, in the now of this wilderness?
What I have come to realise is that it is hard to see what God is teaching me in the wilderness while I’m always moving. Pausing to take a breath, to rest a while, is something I’ve found to be of immense help.
There is a reason that those who live in the desert are often nomadic. They have to keep moving in order to find what they need to survive. But then periodically, they set up camp for a while to rest.
The necessity of setting up camp in the midst of my desert is a lesson I have learned reluctantly. But it is an important part of the wilderness journey. It is space to sit with the pain, to take time to mourn, to lament the loss, to heal a little, to listen, to feel nothing yet feel everything ; to shout in anger, to dance even when there’s no reason, to eat well, to sleep well, to let others look after you ; to relent, to deal with what you’ve been avoiding ; to seek depth, to speak with God.
And what God has been showing me is that these times of “setting up camp” are not a contradiction of who we are and who He is, but confirmation. They confirm that we are wildly complex, beautiful beings who need times of rest, of pausing, to know who we really are, who God is and to learn how to navigate the pain and suffering. ‘You formed my innermost being, shaping my delicate inside and my intricate outside, and wove them all together in my mother’s womb. I thank you, God, for making me so mysteriously complex! Everything you do is marvellously breathtaking. It simply amazes me to think about it! How thoroughly you know me, Lord!’ Psalm 139:13-14 The Passion Translation
We are mysteriously complex and God’s work in us is marvellously breathtaking. Things that are complex and breathtaking need time to be shaped and formed. Time for discovery and understanding and process.
We like to keep moving. To deal with things only one at time and then move on, not come back to it, done and dusted. We like to feel in control – control feels less messy, less vulnerable, less overwhelming.
But what if we relinquish control, allow God to pull us aside to set up camp for a while where there is the space and time to explore with Him the places within that we have avoided? Yes, it can feel undignified, raw, messy – but it is real, it is good and it is necessary.
‘And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, “Arise and eat.” And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. And the angel of the Lord came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God.’ 1 Kings 19:5-8
What I am discovering in my years of wilderness wanderings is that these “encampments” are my nourishment for the rest of the wilderness journey. They are not the promised land but they are an oasis. But for me to experience this and benefit from the nourishment, I have to relent, to stop and make camp for a while.
Ciara Menzies is a freelance photographer and creative with a passion for visual story-telling. You will often find her most recent book, The Coorie Home, gracing the shelves of your local bookstore or gift shop. Ciara comes originally from Perthshire but now resides in Edinburgh.