3 lessons I learned in the wilderness

November 11, 2022

I recently had a birthday. I am now officially 33 years of age. Birthdays tend to bring along with them a time of reflection. A time of looking inward, outward and upward to try and assess where you’ve been and where you’re going. I spent this past year in a wilderness season. It was challenging and uncomfortable and I had to learn a lot.

I thought I would share three things that I learned in my 32nd year of existence while navigating through a really tough season.

Humility is hard. Do it anyway.

Let me start with one of the most unpleasant and most ongoing lessons. Humility is hard. There just isn’t a glamorous road through it. Well I mean, I haven’t found one… not from a lack of looking that’s for sure. I can’t tell you how many times this past year I have wanted to take a detour or stand (head)strong in my justifications.

So many things happened… so many hurts and so many offenses. And it happened on all fronts, in every avenue of life. I battled with leadership, work had changes and challenges, family dynamics weren’t always ideal, friendships were taking strain and even church was a struggle for a while. Last year ended with a massive feeling of defeat and I started 2022 with many unhealed hurts.

I realised early in the year that if I wasn’t going to intentionally do something about it, I would grow bitter and my heart would go hard. This meant that I had to go low… really really low. I had to forgive when I didn’t feel like it. Let go, when all I wanted to do was feel justified in my offense. I had to honour, instead of accuse and more than anything, I had to learn to love and trust when all it felt like I could do was focus on my pain.

I had to trust Jesus that He would be enough. That I didn’t need an apology, I didn’t need retribution and I didn’t need anyone else to fix things.

It wasn’t a graceful journey. I got some things right, but I got a ton of things wrong. Many things took a few tries before I got there. It is a beautiful thing to come face to face with just how flawed you are. To realise how desperately I need to rely on Jesus. Humbling yourself and getting really low isn’t fun in the moment, but the fruit of it… worth every ounce of pain and discomfort it took. Dying to self isn’t comfortable, but it is incredibly necessary and oh-so liberating.

Who you are in the wilderness is who you really are.

About halfway through this past year, it became abundantly clear that I was indeed in a wilderness season. The wilderness is basically a season of growing. A season of refining. Our character gets developed there more than anywhere else.

The Israelites are a good example of how the wilderness exposes what’s really in our hearts. Here are a people who were miraculously saved out of Egypt. Within the first week of them being released they had seen so many miracles and experienced God’s provision to such an extent that they should’ve been a people of great faith. At least, on paper… that’s what it looked like. But what we read about is a people who constantly get confused. One moment they serve God, another they build a golden calf. They were fed every day of their lives, but still moaned and groaned.

The wilderness exposed what was in their hearts.

This past year, I got to see what has been residing in my heart as well. There were some things I really liked. Like, my ability to love in difficult times and how I tried to have compassion, even when it was difficult to. There were other things that weren’t as pleasant though. I realised how much I run to people, instead of God, how I struggle with jealousy and envy. I learned that my love isn’t always as unconditional as I’d like to believe it is and how insecure I was in myself and my future. Toxic thought patterns and escapism also surfaced. And that’s just to name a few.

These were not things that were constantly on my radar. In fact, there were things I was completely oblivious to. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t there all along. Sometimes, walking in the sweltering heat of a desert season exposes what was always there. It’s the perfect conditions for God to refine our character. I have been in a season of intense refining as I journeyed through the wilderness. But when God exposes something, it is never to shame or condemn, it’s always to call us higher.

Something John Bevere said in his teachings on the wilderness really struck me. He said: “you can’t shorten your wilderness season, but you can prolong it.” We prolong the wilderness by not being obedient, by missing the lessons and getting caught up in sin and complaining. As soon as I heard this, I committed myself to not mess around anymore. To take the lessons I was learning seriously and to relentlessly deal with everything that surfaced in my heart. It meant having some hard conversations and spending lots of time with my crying face buried in the carpet, desperately crying out to God for more and more grace.

I leave my wilderness season being incredibly grateful for it. God provided me a chance to deal and to process. He provided me an opportunity to heal from recent wounds, and wounds from long ago. If I was never in a place where they would be exposed, I would still be walking around with many of them. I looked in the mirror and saw what was beneath the surface… what was really there. I look now, grateful that I see less of those things.

Invisibility is God’s spotlight.

I don’t think I have had a season of my life previously so marked by invisibility. Don’t get me wrong, I know God sees me and all those nice Christian things. But sometimes, it would just be nice for people and leaders to see you too. For people to see the gifts and callings on your life and to call it out.

This past year, though I have had moments of visibility, moments where I could walk in, and step out into what God has called me to. And let me tell you, those moments made my heart come alive in significant ways. Those moments, however, were fleeting. Sometimes a breakthrough comes and you think, wow, finally! Momentum! Only to realise that it really isn’t your time. It’s not the season to move yet.

I remember clearly bringing my absolute frustration to God earlier this year. “Why Lord, why am I still stuck? Everyone else is moving! Everyone else is going somewhere! I’m still here!”

Have you ever just had an image pop up in your imagination before? It’s like you can envision a scene and it feels totally random? I have learned over the years, that those little interruptions, if you lean into them, can actually be God showing us something.

I suddenly saw a long stretch of road. One of those where you drive for ages and all you keep seeing are the same mountains in the distance, never getting closer. I saw myself sitting at a random stop sign on this road with my luggage in hand and everything. I felt God whisper to my heart… “Lelané, you’re at a stop street, not a dead end. Just wait for Me. Now is not the time to hitch hike your way out.”

Staying behind when everyone else is going forward is hard. Staying in obscurity while everyone else gets opportunities and open doors, is also hard. I’ve learned this year that invisibility is God’s spotlight. It’s His way of highlighting things in us that need work so we’re even able to handle promotion and forward motion.

Hiddenness is His grace and His protection. If He says to wait, then wait. If He says to move, then move. Invisibility is a safe space to learn how to move to God’s rhythm, instead of the world’s, or even your own. Invisibility is the place where He comes extra close and puts a spotlight on your relationship with Him. A light that only you can see. The only light that will ever really matter.

When you start to realise that staying behind is a beautiful place of intimacy and encounter with the Father, you become a lot less impatient and fall a lot more in love instead.

Leaving the wilderness.

I could write about 7 blogs about the things this past year has taught me. Even more about the things I’m still busy learning. I think we sometimes know in theory that we never truly “arrive”, that we will always have something to learn yet, in practice I am sometimes surprised by just how far away I am from arrival.

Going into my 33rd year of existence, I am filled to the brim with hopeful expectation. I have no doubt that the year ahead will bring with it good things, even if those things come wrapped as hard lessons and more dying to self. I have tasted and seen the goodness of God in the middle of the desert. And if I can be convinced of His goodness there, I am convinced of His goodness everywhere.

Hard seasons aren’t great in the moment. They are taxing and exhausting on every level. But man, let’s not let our familiarity with Psalm 23 have us forget the beautiful truths that lie within it. I leave you with these amazing words… and I hope that you remember that if you find yourself in the desert still, that He is with us, always. He brings beautiful things out of the mess, and wherever you are now, if you lean into the journey with the Father, you will surely not stay there.

The Lord is my shepherd;
I have what I need.
He lets me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside quiet waters.
He renews my life;
he leads me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
Even when I go through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
as long as I live.

Psalm 23 – CSB

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