Encountering God in the Wilderness

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Within a span of 24 hours, life as I had known it was over. College classes had moved online, the place I worked ceased operations, and all my friends packed up and moved back to their childhood homes. This was not how college was supposed to be. These were supposed to be the best four years of my life. I wasn’t supposed to have to move back home and say goodbye to the life I had in Waco. I wasn’t supposed to say goodbye to the overcommitted and overplanned life I had made for myself. I wasn’t supposed to…or wait, was this exactly what God had in store for me all along? As I settled into my new rhythm during quarantine, I began spending more time in the Word simply because I had the time. I was no longer rushing from meeting to class to coffee with a friend, so I was able to just be still (side note: I’ve also learned that I hate being still). However, I decided I would not waste this time of rest that I had been given, even if I wasn’t so sure I liked it. I began in Genesis, with the goal of reading through the Bible in a year. As I committed to reading every morning, I quickly found myself in Exodus. When I reached Exodus 14 I was stopped dead in my tracks. God started stirring something in my heart, and I couldn’t ignore it. God took something that I had read many times and gave me new eyes to see how I fit into this story. This story not only changed my view on this particular season of disappointment and confusion, but it ultimately changed my view on life, and here’s why:

In Exodus 14, the Israelites had just been rescued out of slavery in Egypt. Through God’s providence, the shackles that had once bound the Israelites were broken. After fleeing the life that oppressed and confined them, they found themselves standing at the banks of the Red Sea, water splashing their feet, beckoning them forward. There was an unknown wilderness and future ahead of them and following close behind, an angry Egyptian army and a past of enslavement. All hope seemed lost in that moment as the Israelites turned to Moses and said, “It would be better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” All they could see in front of them was a body of water they believed they couldn’t cross, and beyond that, a wilderness that seemed desolate and unsettling and unfamiliar. The Israelites faced a decision: to trust God and move forward into the unknown, or to turn back to the familiar bondage of slavery. That’s when God began to speak to me. 

What if, like the Israelites who had been enslaved in Egypt, I, too, was a slave, but to busyness, comparison, and fear? What if, like the Israelites suddenly freed from the shackles holding them back, I found myself suddenly liberated from the shackles that were keeping me from the life God intended for me? What if, just like the Israelites standing at the banks of the Red Sea, scared of the unknown, and willing to settle for the known, I was staring into the abyss of my wilderness season with fear and discontentment, too afraid to move forward because it was unfamiliar? 

Life as I had known it changed within 24 hours, and not just for me. Maybe you also see yourself standing knee-deep in the Red Sea, staring eye to eye with a wilderness of unknowns in front of you, tempted to look back on your shackles fondly. Is the wilderness scary? Yes. Do we know how long we will be wandering? No. Do we know when life will return to any fragment of normalcy again? No. But I do know one thing: we have a choice. We can choose to stay stuck–longing for a return to our overcommitted and busy lives–or we can choose to move forward, cross the Red Sea, and step into the wilderness. 

Even though it may be unfamiliar territory, we know that what is unknown to us is not unknown to God. He can carry our anxieties and our fears, because He knows what the future holds.  During this season of living through a global pandemic and watching life as I know it fall apart, I have learned to ask myself this question: Will I keep looking back on the way my life used to be and yearn for the shackles I’m comfortable in OR will I move forward into the unknown, trusting God every step of the way? While it won’t be easy, it’s worth it, because the wilderness is where God is. 

By Rachel Lychner. Rachel is a Waco enthusiast and will be a junior at Baylor in the fall, studying Marketing and Communications. Her mission in life is to use public speaking and writing to teach people more about God’s love for them.

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