Lessons from the Wasteland

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Lessons from the Wasteland: Prison is Not the Same as the Wilderness

Published March 18, 2014 by joypatton

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Being in prison is not the same as wandering in the wilderness.  In Scripture, we see different characters deal with these two different challenges.  The Israelites and Elijah experienced the wilderness.  Joseph and Paul were familiar with prison.  Lately I’ve been identifying with Joseph more than the Israelites.  Unjustly accused, misunderstood, thrown away, discarded, locked up, prevented from going where I would choose to go.  I used to think that the wilderness was difficult, but prison is a whole different story.

In the wilderness, you still feel like you are moving forward.  Sure it’s slow and the steps are difficult and painful, but at least you are moving.  In prison, you don’t go anywhere.  You don’t feel like you are making any progress at all.

In the wilderness, you see the sky.  You are in a vast, expanding place.  In prison, it’s small and confusing.  There is no freedom; no illusion of freedom.  Everything you see, everywhere you turn you are reminded that you are not free.

In the wilderness, you are moving away from something bad, something that enslaved you.  Even though you dream of going back and long for the comfort of Egypt, you know that the wilderness will ultimately bring you to the promised land, a better place.  Each painful step is filled with the hope of a land flowing with milk and honey.

In prison, the good thing you had was taken away.  Joseph was taken out of a prestigious position.  Paul was taken out of his traveling ministry.  Both good things; both things given by God.  In prison, the good things were taken away without just cause, and there is no hope of a promised land.  Your only hope is early release, and years of working your way back to a good reputation.  But you have no control over when the locked door will open.  For Joseph, it opened and led to his ultimate dream.  For Paul, it opened and ended with a death sentence, which he joyfully received to enter the ultimate, eternal promised land.

You don’t really get new promises in prison.  You generally harken back to what God promised before prison. This is why it’s called faith; it’s difficult to see the promised land sitting in a dungeon cell.

In the wasteland, you know there is a purpose, a point you will eventually get to.  In prison, waiting is the point.  You feel stuck.  It’s like the progress is so slow and so small, you wonder if you are getting anywhere.

The lesson of the wilderness is to follow.  Step after painful step completely dependent on someone else to guide you.  The lesson of prison is to suffer.  To suffer joyfully.  To suffer and not lose faith.  To suffer and remain hopeful.

The wilderness and prison are both places of testing.  Testing of faith.  Prison is a test of character; you find out who you are and what you really believe when you are sitting alone in the dark.  Both test endurance and patience.

Prison makes you question what you thought you knew about yourself.  Joseph emerged from prison broken and humbled.  He was no longer the cocky kid brother boasting of his greatness.  He left a mature man who understood his fate rested solely in the hands of the sovereign God.  Paul was in prison so that he could write the words that impacted not only his generation, but many that followed.  I wonder if he would have taken time off from traveling if it hadn’t been for house arrest.  Prison is not without purpose.  Prison is not outside the presence of God.  He is still with me, and that is the hope that remains in this cold, confined space.

Lessons from the Wasteland: Lean Not

Published June 10, 2013 by joypatton

When I was little, there was a ditch near our house where we would often play. We put a board across the ditch to be our bridge. I have a memory of my brother using a long stick to poke around in the shallow water underneath. One day he put the stick in the water and leaned on it as hard as he could. That day the stick broke, and he ended up in the water soaking wet. And I was on dry ground laughing hysterically.

In the middle of last winter, this picture came to mind. I felt like I had been standing on the bridge, a bridge that God had placed in front of me. And I had leaned in hard, trusting that we would get to where we were going. But this winter it felt like every door I knocked on was slammed closed, and every window of opportunity a miss. My dream was suffocating and dying because there were no places for it to go. The stick had broken, and I was at the bottom of the ditch, muddy and soaking wet.

As the spring came, God was asking me to step on the bridge again. The little girl in me stood there still shivering and wet, shaking her head. There was no way that I could get on that bridge again and lean on the stick. I knew what would happen, and I was not stupid enough to try it again. I didn’t want to end up in the mud again. I worked very hard to avoid pain, so why would I knowingly walk into it?

On a sunny spring day in the park, I was recounting this to my friend as we sat on a bench. She asked one question that changed the whole picture. “So the stick you were leaning on, was that God?” I shook my head yes and told her that God was the one who had let me down.

All winter I had been hurt and angry because I believed God was shutting me down and killing my dream. I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t do what he made and gifted and called me to do. I felt betrayed and even accused God of being wrong.

As our conversation went on though, I realized that I hadn’t been leaning on Him. He wasn’t the stick that broke. The stick that broke was my own understanding. I had been leaning on other things, trusting other things to confirm my call, seeking the approval of others and chasing worldly success. Those were the things that let me down. When those idols failed, I was left in the mud.

Today he is asking me to just get on the bridge again. I’m very afraid. But one step at time, he will lead me across the bridge to where we are going. I’m afraid that I will once again be distracted by other things and start to think that they will get me there. This time we walk step by hesitant step across the bridge. Today I’m terrified of making a move without him. Today I’m grateful for the things he has given me to do, and I’m trying to joyfully walk in them.

Today I realize that he isn’t the stick; he is the bridge. The bridge never changed and it never went away. It wasn’t the bridge that let me down; it was my own understanding. The bridge was still there asking me to trust, and slowly in small ways I am learning again that He is trustworthy. My eyes are open to the ways he is gently wooing me back to Him and reminding me that I can trust Him.

“Trust in The Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

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