the wall & the wilderness

kathyescobar healing, spiritual formation 18 Comments


lent is not a ritual.

it is a time to think seriously about who Jesus is for us,

to renew our faith from the inside out”

– joan chittister

* * * * *

 one of my all-time favorite carnival blog posts was called a nifty chart for the journey. it included a chart that i adapted from one of my best-reads-at-seminary called the critical journey:stages in the life of faith by hagberg & guelich.  consider it my free gift to you that cost me thousands of dollars in tuition.  i refer to it often in talking with people who find themselves a critical juncture in their spiritual journey.  they’ve hit a “wall” so to speak and know that they somehow can’t go back but they don’t know how to move forward, either.

if you haven’t seen the chart yet, check it out here:

the first three stages (recognition of God, life of discipleship & the productive life) are important, but many people hit a spot in their journey called “the wall”, a place in their journey where things just stop working for one reason or another. i’m not going to go into all the ins and outs of the chart, but recently i’ve been thinking about how scary “the wall experience” is.  it is a much easier path is to stand at the wall, dance around for a while, and go back  (which i have seen many a person do, by the way.  they leave the confines of what they had once known for a while, wrestle with some questions, and find themselves back in the traditional confines in some shape or form because it doesn’t feel like there are any other good options for them, their kids).

but to really go “through the wall” and enter into the wild and dangerous wilderness of a journey inward, which is stage four, requires a whole other degree of courage, patience, and perseverance. during stage four we wrestle with hard questions, we cry out to God for direction and hope, so much of what we once knew is stripped away and we’re not sure what’s left. as john described in his comment on the wrestling with the word “christian post: “i can tell you honestly that I was so scared and freaked out about what was happening to me. contrary to what some people might think, there was nothing cool or rebellious about watching a faith that I loved, begin to unravel and become undone.” yeah, going through the wall is not pretty. it’s a vast and dark and lonely wilderness and scary beyond belief.  no one i know has been giddy about giving up so much of what they once knew and having to find peace & a place & a new direction to walk after being stuck in a clear and definable groove for so long.  and this isn’t always just related to “spiritual church-y” things. sometimes we leave the safety of a marriage, we lose a family member, we lose our jobs or our health or a whole variety of things that force us out of safe & contained and into the wild unknowns.

the beauty of the mysterious spiritual journey is that if we are willing to keep wrestling, seeking, moving, trying, listening to the movement of God’s spirit deep within us, we can pop out of stage four–the journey inward–and move into the lovely journey outward, which is stage five. we live from a free-er place, a full-er place, a less demanding place.  we love more freely.  we might still have questions but they don’t torture us as much.  we have more hope, not necessarily in the system (ha!) but in God’s spirit-at-work-in-our-lives-and-others.  we find new life that might not be as pretty or shiny or inspiring as before but it feels on more solid ground (and lovely in its own way).

i have been thinking a lot about the wall and the wilderness lately, especially today as we enter a season of lent, 40 days of stripping away and getting to the essence of our spiritual journey-without-all-the-trappings on the path toward resurrection & new life & hope.

for some of you, you’ve been in this wilderness of going through the wall for a long, long time.  you’re tired. you’re lonely.  you’re confused.  it’s dark and even though your heart might get stirred online here and there, you and look around your neighborhood and what your options really are it just gets lonelier and weirder.  you think about going back but you know you can’t.  you just don’t know how to move forward, either.   for others of you, you have made it through one wilderness and maybe found a new place of hope and peace but it seems like you might have hit the wall again in a different way (this is me right now).  yeah, i get these weird stuck & scared moments where i just wonder how i ended up here and which direction i’m supposed to walk next.   for others of you, you may be out of the wilderness completely, in a great place that you are really happy and content with.  and yet others might be a combination of all of these at the same time.

i have no idea what your spiritual journey looks like right now, but i feel confident of this–God wants to be with us in the midst of the barrenness, the parchedness, the loneliness, the weirdness, the darkness, the confusion. i am very thankful that Jesus knows what it’s like to be human, to hunger, to thirst, to be shamed, to be tempted, to be rejected, to be misunderstood.  he experienced many of the things we experienced and i am guessing his 40 days in the wilderness weren’t pretty and happy.

so this lenten season, i am going to intentionally open my heart to God in this season of wilderness. to strip away some of the unnecessary junk that i still hold on to that it’s again time to let go of.  to move in my heart and remind me of what’s at the core.  to help me be unafraid to go into new places in my faith journey that i may have been unwilling to go before. to seek peace. to be willing to repent and turn away from what’s hindering, hiding, festering and turn toward hope.  to restore in me a clean heart that’s not so weary and burdened with “the church.”  to make space to listen to the Holy Spirit, the comforter, the advocate, the friend, the companion, the one who keeps calling me to a simple faith in a complex world.

where are you at this lent? this is the first year we are really practicing intention in it as a faith community, with fat tuesday, ash wednesday, the whole bit, refuge-style. it’s been fun & challenging for me, for us.  some like it more than others, but i think the challenge is good, important and roots us in deep and sometimes unfamiliar soil.  i love julie clawson’s recent thoughts on lent, that the question isn’t “what am i giving up?” but “how can i allow God to transform me this season?”

here’s what i hope for those of us who have found themselves at the wall & in the wilderness–maybe for the first time, maybe yet again:

that we hold on and listen.

that we remember that even though it feels like we’re alone, we’re not.

that we strain to hear the heart of Jesus without being strapped with all the unnecessaries.

that we open our hearts to love.  wild, scary, stripped-away love.

that we open our hearts to life.  new life past the wall, beyond the wilderness.

yes, hope is dangerous, Jesus is dangerous.

but i think that’s the idea.

  • are you at the wall? in the wilderness? as always, i love to hear your thoughts and it helps so many others feel less alone, too. while i agree that we have to do the wilderness alone, i think we can go a little crazy out there in the desert unless we have some other voices in our heads that remind us we’re not the only ones.