The Spiritual Wilderness
“Unless you have walked through it and have come out on the other side, you’ll never understand. And when you’re in the middle of it, there can never be enough reassurance that you are gonna be okay.”
I found this in my journal, written some time after my ordination in 2017. Looking back, this is the most accurate description of the period I spent seeking. I also realize it reveals little about my experience that would be helpful to someone who finds themselves in a similar place.
Those sentences are packed with 5 years of deconstructing, healing, acceptance, believing in myself and the Divine again. My journey through the spiritual wilderness may become a book someday, but for this moment, these words are offered as hope to anyone navigating the vast unknown.
So what exactly is the spiritual wilderness?
It is a time when you feel alone and vulnerable with no direction on next steps to lead you closer to the Holy. I’m intentionally vague about this description because it's as unique for each person as our fingerprints -- no two are the same. I’m also being intentional on how I define the Holy because it was revealed to me that God has many names, faces, definitions and meanings. While I may still refer to this as God, the God who is now part of my life is vastly different than the one I knew before my transformation.
Although the experience differs greatly for each individual, there are similarities in how we all arrived there. For some, a crisis of faith that was prompted by an abrupt -- and often tragic -- life event. The death of a loved one, a betrayal or a loss of control in your finances that jeopardize your well-being are just a few examples.
However, it doesn’t take tragedy to find yourself in that space. It can be more subtle -- you may just wake up one day and realize that everything you thought you knew about God has shifted, and you don’t know where to turn next. This may have been years in the making, as it was for me. Looking back now, I can see that I was always in the middle of a crisis of faith that was inviting me to explore my understanding of God. Instead of accepting it however, I kept diving deeper and deeper into a religion that insisted God be contained in a box that was too small and too restricting for the God that kept showing up for me.
After one particularly challenging week inside church, where my faith once again collided with their theology, and the call to the spiritual wilderness that had been beckoning my entire life could no longer be ignored, I embraced my identity as a spiritual sojourner.
Stepping out of that building for the final time concluded the chapter of my life where I searched for God in a suffocating ideology plagued with rule books created by humans -- primarily men.
I was finally free.
The most terrifying moments came when I realized that nonone would answer that question for me. I was still influenced by my old beliefs.
In other words, I was looking for the rule book that would define God for me.
This is a fragile and precarious time for a person whose spirituality has been filtered through someone else’s definition of God. With that gone, there is only you -- and God.
You are here.
But where is God?
Day after day, nothing came. There were times I trusted this “season of no answers” and there were many more where I doubted myself to the point of considering returning to church because the void threatened to overtake what I believed to be my calling.
When some speak of their spiritual wilderness, they admit that doubt compelled them to return, opting instead to “fake it in the pews” -- pretending to believe in order to belong. Sadly, this is all too common but remembering my own doubts and feelings of loneliness, I now fully understand.
For many of us, the call was too strong, and we chose to stay in the unknown. For me, that meant no longer looking for a rule book to fall back on. Instead I did something I had never fully and completely done inside church.
I trusted and waited.
My journey took me through intense and life-changing soulwork that redefined my relationships and gave me the tools to unpack and begin healing my personal and religious trauma. Being accountable led me to the space that I had been longing for my entire life.
The space where God lives in humanity, not in one religious ideology..
Looking back on my time in the spiritual wilderness, I also realize that I was asking the wrong question.
“Now what” is unanswerable.
It’s also arrogant, because it assumes answers will come from without, when all along they’re waiting to be discovered within.
For years, there has been speculation that the iconic movie, “The Wizard of Oz,” carried themes of spirituality hidden inside its mythical tale. Perhaps it does, because each time I arrive at this point in my story, I see the image of Glinda the Good Witch in my mind’s eye. Dorothy was longing to go home after searching far and wide in a fantastical adventure that included demonic flying monkeys and a battle with the most powerful of all beings who the people fearfully revered.
Leaning in to capture her undivided attention, in the most gentle and loving of voices, Glinda assures Dorothy, “You’ve always had the power my dear. You just had to learn it for yourself.”
I began this blog post with two sentences that hold my season of fighting my own demons and battling a Being I fearfully revered. That Being now belongs to the entirety of the universe, and the fear is long gone. All that remains is the gentle and loving voice, assuring me that I’ve always had the power to go home.
I just had to learn it for myself.