The Silent Wilderness

Growing up, I never dreamed of being a princess, a doctor, or a professional dancer. It wasn’t that I had no ambition. In fact, I played many sports, learned new instruments, made the honor roll (a lot), and took my college applications VERY seriously. But for some reason, I never thought much about what I would do after school. Maybe it’s because, despite what I told people, I always knew I would end up in the church. More than school ever could be, church was actually my whole life. With a pastor father and deeply faithful mother, we were there. Always.

I viewed everything through the lens of church and my faith shaped every decision I made. Some of you will argue that’s how faith should be. But as a child, this deeply embedded faith sphere kept me from even thinking about what my life would look like in the secular world. I even remember saying to my father, around 6th grade, “If faith really is everything that we say it is, how could I work anywhere other than a church?” At 12 years old, I had ruled out teaching or construction or writing or any other possible pathway because it had been so hammered into me to choose Jesus.

Today, I’m a “minister” to youth and college students. The word’s in quotes because I don’t feel much like a minister these days. After a couple years of steady family trauma, I struggle to hear God and I rarely feel the goodness of a God I thought I knew so well, yet I am supposed to teach children about God every week. How do I do that?

In Barbara Brown Taylor’s sermon “Four Stops in the Wilderness” she says,

Whatever your own wilderness is like, I am betting that it has at least three things in common with all other wildernesses: You did not choose it. It is no place you would ever have gone on your own. You are not in control…Whether it is noisy or quiet, there is one sound missing, and that is the voice of God. It might not even seem like a wilderness to you if you could hear that voice — telling you that everything is going to be all right. But you cannot hear it, and that silence defines the wilderness.

The silence is deafening. The silence is pushing me farther and deeper in a wilderness. Into a period of searching that I should have done years ago. I didn’t choose to be in this place of ministry discontent but I’m realizing if I am no longer a minister, I have no idea what to do.

Looking back, the praise and applause I received every time I thought about ministry, slowly affirmed ministry as my only option, as if nothing else was good and holy. And as the secular professions begin to look more appealing to me, I’m realizing I don’t know what my skills and talents are outside of a church context.

The wilderness is terrifying and many of us are finding ourselves here in our 20s whether it’s about our work, our relationships, or our faith. We are lost, out of control, and struggling to find God. It’s a cold dark space, lonely and unsettling, but we can’t seem to maneuver our way out. And if God isn’t the answer, as we’ve always been taught, then what is?

Photo by Rico Marceca on Unsplash

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