The first steps into the wilderness were timid and terrifying. Looking back over her shoulder, she watched the peaceful meadow evaporate into mist. Her old life was gone, and she couldn’t go back. Into the dry desert ground she stepped. The sand swirled around her, and she couldn’t see anything up ahead. She wondered where this journey would lead and if it would be worth it. This wilderness seemed so terrible that she wished she could stop and let it swallow her whole. She dropped to her knees, discouraged, empty and alone. And then she heard his whisper, “Follow me.” She looked up and saw nothing but wilderness sprawling before her. Questions and doubt chasing each other in her head as the wind chased the sand.
As her head dropped back down, she saw a footprint in the sand. The wind began to slowly take it away piece by piece, but before it disappeared she planted her own foot firmly in its place. “This is the way,” he whispered. “Walk in it.” As she looked down again, she saw another print and quickly placed her other foot inside. This was how she walked for hours and days. Sometimes she would hear his voice whispering to her not to give up. Sometimes she felt his gentle hand in the small of her back, guiding her every move as they danced through the desert. Many times she looked for him in the distance or looked for a sign that she was on the right path, but the nothingness was all that answered her. She continued this way looking for each step until one day she saw the grass between her toes.
She looked up and the sand was gone. She could see the path clearly ahead. She turned and looked back at the wilderness. She was surprised that she didn’t want to leave. She was afraid that she would forget how to follow. She was afraid that the beauty of this new world would distract her from his voice. Yet as she turned back toward the beautiful sunlight, she heard him say, “Follow me.”
“You know who you are, don’t you?” my counselor asked as he looked at me. Of course, I knew who I was. I was a mom, a wife, a writer, a speaker, a teacher. That’s who I am, but I knew he was asking me a trick question. “You are not all of those things. You are simply one thing: a follower.” It was true. All of those other things could evaporate in a second. I might never get to speak or teach women again. I might tragically lose my kids or my husband. But one piece of my identity that I will never lose is that I am a follower o f Christ. Because even if those terrible things ever came to pass, I know that the only way I could ever make it out would be to follow him. I must also accept that following him might mean that he leads me into some of those wilderness places.
After all, the Israelites were led into the wilderness. They didn’t end up there by accident. And Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted (Matthew 4:1). And yet God was there. For the Israelites their only job in navigating the wilderness was to follow a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. They didn’t have a map. They couldn’t see the Promised Land from where they stood. That’s why following requires faith, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).
In the wasteland, God teaches me how to follow. He teaches me how to trust him for every bit of bread from heaven. He proves to my wandering heart that he is indeed trustworthy. I learn to hear his voice, to see his hand. In the wilderness, it is quiet and desolate. My usually busy life can’t drown him out. Like a sheep, I learn to listen to the voice of the good shepherd.
When in his good timing and by his grace the wilderness comes to an end, I must move on without forgetting the sweet lessons from my beautiful Shepherd. I can hear his voice more clearly and my heart knows when he is leading. I’m afraid I will forget and try to do things on my own. But I know that when I do, I can repent, turn around, and find him waiting there.