“Where are we going today, Mom? What are we going to do?” One of my daughters begins almost every morning with this, before I’ve drained my first cup of coffee. For most of her life, I’ve had a relative plan for our days, our weeks. But not these last few weeks. We are finding ourselves in a season of major limbo as we wait to know with certainty if we will return to our home and life in Africa.
We had plans to return, tickets even. Our departure day came and went, and we drove through Chicago and saw planes depart without us. Someone must be grateful for the extra empty seats, I thought. The weight of disappointment is heavy, the aimless feeling increasing. Even my 5 year-old can feel it.
Not unlike many of you, I’m guessing, I thrive with a plan and purpose for my days. Filling out my planner is a life-giving exercise, one that I take great joy in doing, with all my multicolored markers. At the moment, January and February sit nearly empty, and I fight off the unsettledness daily.
What does life look like for me, for my family, in a season of wandering? Can there be joy in the wandering? Can I receive this season from God with grace?
Elizabeth Elliot once wrote, “To love God is to love his will. That which He gives we receive…God shields us from most of the things we fear, but when he chooses not to shield us, he unfailingly allots grace in measure needed. It is for us to choose to receive or refuse it. Our joy or misery will depend on that choice” (from Secure in the Everlasting Arms).
These words might seem trite if we did not know her story, all that unfolded in her life. But to know her tragedy of being widowed as a young mother, and to read her willingness to receive it with joy, can we not respond to our own hardships with the same resolve?
Surely if Moses had known what his leadership position would entail, he would have fought God even more to say, “No thanks!” I have read the story of Israel’s wandering in the wilderness many times in my life and typically fostered a relatively judgmental perspective: how could they keep fussing at God, after he rescued them so thoroughly from Egypt? After his miraculous provision of manna and quail? After exhibiting his powerful presence in the form of the cloud, the pillar of fire, in the tabernacle?
Yet the last time I read through Exodus, my response was not one of judgment, but rather one of identification. Have I not also been rescued, from my own bondage of sin and misery? Has God not also provided miraculously for me, time and time again? I could tell stories. Has God not demonstrated his powerful presence in my life, in the lives of others around me? And yet I am so prone to fuss, to complain, to bemoan my circumstances as unfair, as difficult, as uncertain, as stressful. In a season of wandering, for even a short few months, I can see the temptation toward an attitude of misery. Our future truly is so uncertain, our home sits empty without us, our ministries struggle because of our absence. Where is the joy?
Nancy Guthrie insightfully points out that, after the Israelites had already wandered in the wilderness for forty years, Moses explained why God had let them experience hunger in the first place:
“He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD” (Deut. 8:3).
In response to this revelation, she writes,
“He ‘let you hunger.’ He allowed them to feel their emptiness. Why? So that their hunger pangs, their discontentment, would cause them to consider carefully what would deeply satisfy them, what would fill them up. It wasn’t merely spicy food. It was a divine word, a divine presence, a divine promise, a divine power for living with less than everything they might want in the wilderness of this world.
“Have you ever thought about the emptiness you feel in this light? Do you think, perhaps, that God has let you hunger for whatever it is you are hungry for so that you might become more desperate for him, more convinced that he is the source of what will fill you up? Do you think he might want to retrain your appetites, redirecting them away from this world, this life, even this age, so that your anticipation of the age to come might begin to share your perspective on whatever it is you lack?” (Even Better Than Eden, 20)
Here is the wisdom, here is the source of joy. It’s HIM. It isn’t our secure circumstances or our far from secure ones; it isn’t a set salary or an insufficient one; it isn’t a houseful of children or a quiet house; it isn’t a clear future or a cloudy one. He is the one who fills us up, he is the one who is our joy. Even in seasons of wandering, when the days are undefined and feel aimless, he is always our joy.
How have you experienced God as your joy in seasons of wandering?