When You’re Lost in the Wilderness, Remember this
Much of my work is public speaking—a job transformed by the pandemic from one of hotels and conference stages to loungerooms and laptops. Recently I Zoomed in to speak at Walsall Community Church. My topic was going to be joy, but that all changed when a few days before I was to speak, one of their members passed away from Covid. Paul was only in his mid-30s. He was young and fit—everyone expected him to pull through. But now his wife was missing a husband, his young children a father, and the church a friend. This wasn’t a time of joy, but one of wilderness.
Wilderness seems the right metaphor for times like this. Like the famous story of the Jews wandering the desert for forty years, the wilderness is that barren place between longing and fulfilment—where you search but can’t seem to reach the Promised Land of the relationship, career or healing you’ve wanted. The wilderness is a hard place to dwell—but in my experience, there’s hope beyond its confusion and tears.
Like my Walsall friends, some enter the wilderness through loss. My wife and I entered it through infertility, while others enter it another way again. The chorus of Kanye West’s song Jesus Walks comes from, and is sung by, a gospel choir that started in a drug rehabilitation clinic. As a BBC documentary tells it, while its members walked through the wilderness of addiction, that song became a hymn of hope for both them and others—‘Jesus walks with me’ not just a lyric, but a prayer that led them out of the wilderness.
If we were to zoom back in history and watch the first Easter play out in real time, today Judas would cut a deal to turn Jesus in, tomorrow night Jesus would be arrested, and Friday morning he’d be crucified—a wilderness experience I can hardly imagine. But on Sunday morning rumours would spread about Jesus walking among them again, and on Sunday night we’d watch his disciples’ wilderness of grief turn to joy.
And so, while I wasn’t sure what it would look like for them, I told my friends in Walsall that because of that first Easter, in the hands of God new things could spring from their grief. Amidst the tears, I believed there was hope for them—and for us. Because the message of Easter for all who opt into it is this: after the wilderness comes a new beginning.
First broadcast on BBC Radio 2’s Zoe Ball Breakfast Show
I had a wilderness experience this afternoon – I went to a farewell lunch – as so often happens I felt uneasy and anxious – I ask myself should I be selective in the invitations I accept – I’m almost 80 – will I ever be able to cope – I may never be able to cope in this life – I know the right thing to do is to keep trying and face my challenges – thanks Sheridan.
I bet facing those challenges will be far more generative than avoiding them. Show us the way, Bill.