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: Living by the Promise

Published March 26, 2013 by joypatton

“Are we going to live by what he promised or by what life gives us?”  This was the question Lloyd Shadrach posed in his sermon “He Breathed His Last.”  Right now I’m not crazy about what life is giving me and I’m finding it much easier to focus on that.  The last two years I have been writing a book, piloting a study, building a “platform,” and wholeheartedly pursuing the life of the writer/speaker I felt I was called and created to be.  I thought that would lead me to a place where I could get paid to do what I love.  But it hasn’t.  I thought I had laid the foundation beautifully and all God had to do was come in a bless it.  He hasn’t.  I have dug the ditches in anticipation of rain, but it has not rained.  I have set the sails, but the wind doesn’t blow.  So I sit in the wasteland knowing I have no ability to make it rain or make the wind blow.  I can’t make someone want to publish my book; I can’t make anyone pick up the phone and call me to speak.  So I wait in the middle of nowhere, in the wasteland, in the wilderness…at least that how it feels to me.

In the wasteland, there is death.  For me, it’s watching my dream career die, and I mean completely die.  Other times it’s the death of other dreams…dreams of marriage, dreams of having children, dreams of financial stability.  Or maybe it’s a literal death of a person or a death of a relationship.  In Luke 23, it was the death of the Son of God.  The one who represented hope to a nation.  Many watched their dream of peace and power die as Jesus hung on the cross.

Lloyd offered two “comforting” lessons from this place of mourning.  1.) God is present in our darkest moments and 2.) God doesn’t prevent the darkest moments.  Both true, yet both not exactly what I was hoping for.  In our modern Christianity, we want the doctrine that allows us to work hard enough to avoid the house of mourning all together.  We want the version where there are no more tears, and we try to make it so here on earth.  In the church, we don’t know what to do with people in mourning.  We offer trite sayings and try to see how God is going to work it all out for good.  But the truth is first there is death, painful, excruciating death.

Lloyd also said, “The essence of real hope is to lose hope in everything but Jesus and his promises.”  In his infinite mercy, God was weaning the disciples and true followers of Jesus from their false hopes of earthly peace and power.  When he died on the cross, every selfish reason they had for following Jesus had to die as well.  This is what he is doing for me.  I have lost hope in agents and publishers to help me fulfill my dream.  I’ve lost hope that building a platform will make the dream come true.  I’ve lost hope in my own ability and some days wonder if I was a fool to think I could be a writer/speaker.  And truthfully there have been very dark days when I have lost hope even in Jesus, wondering if he cared or if he loved me.

I stood in church at the end of the service praying and asking God what his promise was for me.  Often I have reminded women that the promise is his presence, that he would be with me through it all.  But last Sunday, that promise was not enough.  And then he brought to mind a different promise, one that I’m honestly afraid to share because I don’t even know if it counts as a promise.  It was I Peter 5:6 “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.”  This one was enough; this one made me cry.

So I will hope for a resurrection.  A resurrection that will not come on my time table or in the way I think I should.  It will be a resurrection that comes exactly when God intends for it to come.  In John 11 when Lazarus died, Mary and Martha believed that Jesus had the ability to raise Lazarus from the dead, and they knew Jesus loved him.  When Martha ran out to meet Jesus, she says she believes that Lazarus will be resurrected, if not now then at the end.  Even in their own personal wasteland, they continued to hope for a resurrection.  I think Mary and Martha would have preferred Jesus to come and heal Lazarus when he heard he was sick, but he didn’t because it wasn’t time yet.  Why did Jesus wait and not go to Bethany right away?  Why did he wait until Lazarus had died?  Why did he wait for him to be buried in the tomb for three days?  “It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”  (John 11:4)

What Jesus wanted more than anything was to glorify the Father.  Because at the proper time, the resurrection will happen and no one else can take credit for it.  No one can say “he wasn’t really dead.”  No one can say “we prayed so hard and had so much faith that God had to act.”  I won’t be able to say “I just worked really hard at it and followed steps X, Y, and Z and that’s how I became a writer/speaker.”  More than anything what I want as His Princess is for the King to be glorified.  I know the wasteland does not end in death, but in life.  I don’t know when and I don’t know how, but for now I place my hope firmly in Jesus and his promises.  That is the difference between false hope and real hope.

Lessons from the Wasteland: The Ache

Published February 26, 2013 by joypatton

The Ache is the gap between how life is and how I think it ought to be.  The gap between Eden and reality.  The longing for perfection and justice that is never fully satisfied this side of heaven.  No matter how much I hate it and want it to disappear, the ache never goes away.  I tell myself if this happens, then life will be good.  If my life were better, then it wouldn’t hurt so much.  But the Ache never goes away.  In so many moments and situations, the Ache remains.  Will ever stop?  Is its defeat even a legitimate goal?

In the life of Jesus it seems that the Ache was constantly with him from the very beginning to the very end.  He was born in a stable and his mother felt the ache of wanting a warm, safe, clean place to bring him into the world.  And yet God’s provision was a stable.  The Ache of wanting the whole world to know, but his arrival only known by a faithful few.  Everyone in the story instinctively knew that this was no way for a King to be born, and yet it was exactly how the King was supposed to come.  The Ache is the gap between how we think it should be and how God made it to be.

As he chose his disciples, the Ache of knowing that Judas would be the one to betray him.  And yet, he chose Judas.  He walked with him.  He ate the Last Supper with him.  We see this gap in John 6.  He asks his disciples if they too would turn away.  Peter makes a beautiful declaration of belief, and yet Jesus feels the ache of knowing that one of them is a devil.  The gap between good and evil.

And how does Jesus deal with the ache?  Does he run away from it?  Does he pursue happiness hoping to remedy the ache?  Does he exert his power to force people to change, to make them right?  Does he cut off and cast out those who add to the ache?  No.  Instead he pushes in.  He stays consistently true to who he is and what he is called to do.

This is so contrary to everything inside of me.  I chase happiness and peace and perfection.  I cut off anyone who threatens that.  I run away from hard relationships and hard conversations because it’s just easier to ignore the ache.  I am satisfied with moments of happiness from my favorite escapes that take me out of the present: shopping, television, movies, and fancy parties that make me feel important.

And yet Jesus seemed content in sadness, chaos and imperfection.  He is at peace because he has submitted all things, including himself, to His Father.  He asked Judas to be one of the Twelve because that’s what the Father asked him to do.  He knew the Father had a purpose for the ache: His glory.  The Ache is what makes Jesus beautiful, unfathomable, supreme over all.

Jesus shows us that we don’t have to be afraid of the ache.  We don’t have to run away from it or try to fix it.  That the pain of life is mixed in with the joy.  Like the joy of sharing a good meal with good friends and the pain of knowing that it will be the last time.   The joy of feeling life in your womb and the pain of knowing it will be short lived.  The joy of being who you were made to be and the pain of being rejected and misunderstood.  Both exist in life simultaneously.

It is because of Jesus that the biggest ache, the biggest gap between God’s righteous perfection and my unrighteous imperfection, has been bridged by the blood of Christ.  Every other ache is temporary.  Every other ache will be remedied in His eternal Presence.  This is the hope we have: that because of Jesus, it won’t always be like this.

But for now…it is.  Like Jesus, I must trust the good hand of the sovereign God who is working all things for good.  In the ache, I remain true.  I pay attention to my heart.  I push in to hard relationships and hard conversations to know Him more, to follow in his steps more closely.  So rather than run from the ache, try to fix it or change it, because of His example, I embrace it.

Lessons from the Wasteland: Sell everything

Published October 15, 2012 by joypatton

“You have found a treasure: the treasure of God’s love.  You know now where it is, but you are not yet ready to own it fully.  So many attachments keep pulling you away.  If you would fully own your treasure, you must hide it in the field where you found it, go off happily to sell everything you own, and then come back and buy the field.” – Henri J.M. Nouwen – The Inner Voice of Love

When I read this, I realized that in the wasteland God was asking me to sell everything.  This feels so counter-intuitive to me.  When you find a treasure, you don’t hide it and then come back.  Don’t you want to show everyone?  But the truth is that this treasure is so precious, so personal, so profound, that when you find it, you hide it.  Not because you are ashamed, not because you are afraid, but because you are not yet ready to fully own it.

I don’t like not being ready.  I don’t like it when someone tells me I can’t have something.  It often spurs on my Ice Queen to take it by force.  I have talked to women who have what I’m chasing after.  It’s so maddening to me when they tell me that they don’t know how it happened.  That the opportunities just fell out of the sky and the doors magically opened.  This is not the answer I want to hear.  I want to hear how God called them to it and through diligence, hard work and perseverance, they obtained the prize.  This is how my flesh wants the story to go.

But that is my story, not God’s story.  God’s story takes me through the wasteland.  The land of nothing and no opportunities.  The dry and weary land of knowing the treasure is there, but not being ready to fully own it.  The pain of now and not yet.  In the wasteland, I’m tempted to believe that God has taken these things from me by force.  In a jealous rage, he has ripped away everything I have.  But this is not truth.

Rather he has invited me to sell everything.  This past year I thought I owned a position.  It was a position I thought I deserved, that I earned, that was rightfully mine.  In my wisdom, it was a logical next step for where God was taking me.  After all, it all made sense on paper.  To me, this position was exactly what I needed.  And yet, it was taken away.

I believed that God took it, that he forced me out.  But honestly, he gave me the perfect opportunity to sell it.  To let go of the attachments that have kept me from knowing Him.  I could have gone and asserted myself and demanded my proper position.  I could have gossiped and taken my complaint and my hurt other places.  I could have fought to hold on to my precious position.  And yet, God was asking me to sell it, to let it go.

There are other things I’ve had to let go of this year.  I had to let go of some friendships and my desire to be justified, right and loved by all.  I’ve had to let go of micromanaging my teenage son and learn to let him rise and fall on his own as a man.  All the publishing and speaking doors I knocked on were closed.  I had to let go of my self-effort to get to where I thought I was going.  I have “sold” these things so that I could have one thing, the pearl of great price.  The treasure more valuable than all other treasures: Jesus.

Henri Nouwen goes on to explain, “This is often a painful enterprise, because your sense of who you are is so intimately connected to all the things you own: success, friends, prestige, money, degrees, and so on.”  The wasteland is painful.  It looks and feels like everything is being taken away.  But the truth is that he is asking me to let go.  He is also giving me clear direction about what needs to be sold.  It is the painful process of dying to self.  This is not something we do once, but something we must do daily.  Jesus himself said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)  Deny self and follow.  That’s what it means to sell everything.

But as it has been said before, living sacrifices tend to wiggle off the altar. I want to wiggle out of the pain.  I want to get to the Promised Land without going through the Wilderness.  But that is my story for my glory.  I want His story to reveal His glory.  This is why we need the Holy Spirit.  In his mercy and perfect timing, he shows us what we must sell.  Invite him into the wasteland to show you what possessions are keeping you from knowing and trusting Him more.  In His perfect love and full of grace, he will show you.  “Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44)

What is God asking you to sell?  Will you do it joyfully?

Lessons from the Wasteland: Follow me.

Published September 10, 2012 by joypatton

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.

 

Lessons from the wasteland: Who’s in charge?

Published June 25, 2012 by joypatton

“It’s dead.  It’s all dead,” I lamented to my friend in the parking lot.  “All of my goals, my dreams, my plans are all dead.”  My friend, who is considerably more Type B than me, tried to hide her smile.  She knew that this was possibly the best place for me to be right now.  She was wondering what would be so awful about living without goals or plans.  That night I was staring into my own personal wilderness, a wasteland of nothingness.  Where the things I thought would never change were.  Where all of my efforts and planning had yielded no fruit.  Oh, the drama!  Oh, the complaining!

Little did I know that the same week I would walk with another friend through her wilderness.  Two years ago she and her husband sold their home in Wisconsin to come live near family here in Nolensville.  They rented a house until her husband could find a full-time job.  They lived on their savings and were thankful that their house in Wisconsin had sold so quickly.  Then a month ago, we helped them down-size again into a rented townhouse.  And this week the townhouse literally went up in flames.  I stood there with my arm around her, and we cried as we watched the fire burn.  They have lost almost everything and still no full-time job.  They stayed with us in our basement apartment for a few days, and it was a privilege to walk in the wasteland with these amazing people of faith.

But I must admit that I look at these godly people who daily give their lives to others and wonder why God has taken everything from them.  Then I start to compare wastelands.  Why is their wasteland so much worse than mine?  What if God takes everything from me someday?  Why have they been in the wilderness for over two years?  What if mine lasts for two years and gets even worse?  Will I still praise Him?  Will I still love Him?

I have to ask: Who is in charge of the wasteland?  Many times I try to be the one in charge.  The Orphan in me who lives without the love of a heavenly Father tries to deny reality and minimize her pain.  It’s not that bad.  She tells herself she shouldn’t be complaining so much.  She shames herself into being thankful because it’s not as bad as what some people have to go through.  She looks for other things and addictions to distract her and give her moments of joy: shopping, television, friends.  Often she thinks that she has brought on her wasteland.  She has a lack of faith.  She tells herself, “I did something wrong,  I didn’t do something right.  You see, it’s all my fault that I’m in this position.”

The Orphan also begins to believe certain things about God in the wilderness.  She thinks that God brought her here and left her all alone.  That he has forgotten that she’s here, or even worse, that he doesn’t care about her suffering.  She believes he is punishing her.  That he’s making her suffer for all the things she has done against him.  She is afraid to admit that she is angry with God.  She knows he could have prevented this, but for some reason he didn’t love her enough to keep it from happening.

The Ice Queen in me wants to be in charge too.  She looks for ways to shorten the wilderness.  She looks for the quick exit and makes a plan to reach it as fast as she can.  She spends time analyzing exactly what took her into the wilderness.  She carefully retraces her steps, her thoughts, her actions so that she can go back and take the right path to avoid being stuck in this wasteland.  If she can fix the fault, then she can find the exit.  She also blames others for her wilderness so that she can be right.  If they hadn’t said and done those things, she wouldn’t be stuck here.  It’s all their fault; she is just an innocent victim.

The Ice Queen begins to believe that God made a mistake when he brought her to this wilderness.  Maybe he fell asleep or maybe he made a poor decision.  Maybe her wilderness is really about teaching someone else a lesson they need to learn.  She becomes the martyr, sacrificing for the well-being of others.  If she is here by accident, then God must need her help to find a way out.  She makes a plan and starts walking.  She becomes angry with God because he wasn’t powerful enough to keep this from happening.  She ultimately blames him for her wilderness.

But I want to walk through the wilderness like a Princess.  The only step she takes is the step he shows her.  The Princess knows that she is not the one in charge of the wasteland.  Instead of fighting it or avoiding it, she presses into it even more.  She feels the pain, and she mourns what has been lost.  Yet in the pain, she trusts in the everlasting, steadfast love of the Father.  She knows that even though he may feel distant, he is there in the wilderness.  All she has to do is turn toward him and she will be able to make the journey.  In this wasteland, she rests and waits and worships him.

The Princess believes that God is in charge of the wasteland.  She trusts that he has not forgotten her.  He has not lead her her to punish her, but to discipline and train her.  This wasteland is not without purpose.  He is the One who made it.  He is the One who brought her into it.  He is the One who knows when and how it will end.  He has not brought her here to delight in her pain.  He has brought her here to transform her, to make her more like the Prince.  He has taken everything away so that he could have her all to himself.  He wants her to know him more and to trust him more.  All she has in the wilderness is Him, the manna, the bread of life.

“He turned rivers into a desert, flowing springs into thirsty ground, and fruitful land into a salt waste,

because of the wickedness of those who lived there.

He turned the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing springs;

there he brought the hungry to live, and they founded a city where they could settle.” Psalm 107:33-36

“Whoever is wise will observe these things, and they will understand the lovingkindess of the Lord.” Psalm 107:43

My dear Princesses, may we remember that the wilderness is a sign of the lovingkindness of the Lord as much as the Promised Land.  May we rejoice in the steadfast love of God in the wasteland as well as the fruitful land.  May we never forget that He is in charge of the wasteland!

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