Sunday, June 23, 2013

All about the wilderness

If there is one subject I am qualified to write about, it's this one.

The wilderness is a very important place in biblical terms. It's a place of hardship, of death, of struggling to survive, living rough, having your needs met but only barely. There's no abundance, there's no luxury, there's no real blessings, just the bare essentials to keep you from freezing and/or starving to death. Every day is a battle. It's a notoriously unforgiving environment. It's also often associated with the number 40, which is the biblical number of trials and testing. The Israelites walked in the desert for 40 years after their exodus from Egypt. Noah spent 40 days adrift in the ark with all of the animals (mate, that must have reeked after that long). Even Jesus Himself spent 40 days in the desert without food or water, as this was his time of trial.

I lived in Taupo for nearly three and a half years. This time was by far the hardest season I'd ever had in my entire life. From the day that I arrived there, things went bad immediately. I showed up at my job the following day to find out I'd been made redundant before I even set foot in the door. I was fortunate to receive a large payout, but I had rent to pay so that began to decrease rather quickly due to the fact that I was now without a job (through no fault of my own). I eventually ended up having to apply for the unemployment benefit. Finally, after being out of work for 4 months I took a job doing outbound sales at a local phone store which didn't suit me at all and by all accounts, absolutely knocked the stuffing out of me.

After 6 months there I got a new job at Lake Taupo Christian Camp which was a blessing. What I didn't realize at the time was that the damage had already been done and I had already begun my downward spiral before I even started this new job. A few months into the job God put it on my heart that I was to write a book, which I set about with fervent abandon. Then, me and my flatmate were forced to move due to violent neighbours keeping us awake all night with their domestic disputes. Despite several calls to the landlord, nothing changed, so we left and moved into our new house which was much nicer.

All was going well until 2011 when I began to find myself getting more and more tired. I began to take more and more sick days simply because I was no longer coping. The long hours of writing and the busyness of my job were taking their toll and my downward spiral was now in full swing. Once mid 2011 rolled around, the downward spiral accelerated partly due to God's intervention through social circumstances but also due to some physical health issues that had begun to show themselves. By August 2011, I'd hit burnout and sunk as low as I could sink. Once I hit the bottom, I bounced and began my journey back upwards to health and well being again - not to mention I now had an amazing conclusion to my book. Fast forward a few jobless months later and we were once again forced to leave our living environment and I moved into a place that turned out to be just plain bad - which God used to signal the end of my time in Taupo altogether.

Once I moved back to Tauranga I realized I had been there for nearly 40 months exactly. I was so angry and bitter at how badly things had turned out there and how it had just been one bad thing after another with fortunate breaks in between at times before the next onslaught of bad stuff hit me. This time was my wilderness time. It was awful. It destroyed me completely. It changed me - forever. And this is what I learned about the wilderness.

When God leads you into the wilderness, He will provide for you - but only just. I was fortunate to be blessed with amazing people that genuinely cared for me in my living environment from the time I got to Taupo till about 2 months before I left. The people I lived with played a big part in my recovery from burnout just by caring for me and allowing me to continue to live with them despite the very bad shape I was in. God also provided for me in terms of other good friends both inside and outside of church who were a big help to me. He also provided for me by speaking to my heart in 2009 telling me to start saving money which turned out to be a big help once I was out of work. My most basic needs were definitely met - but only just. Everything else was just plain hard work.

The wilderness is a place of death. In 2011, everything died for me. I lost my job, my health and I came very close to losing my own life as a result of what happened to me. Everything changed from this point on. Friendships that I thought were going to be long term came to a sudden end or were at the very least, fatally wounded and took some time to bleed out. Going through something as severe as burnout deeply changes who a person is. I had always been the super nice, passive guy who wanted to be best friends with everyone. After burnout, this philosophy was completely turned on its head. I began standing up to people and telling them that their behavior was unacceptable and hurting others. Due to this, a lot of people got fed up with the fact that I didn't fit in their pocket anymore and decided they didn't like who I was becoming. I also realized that I was hurting myself by not telling people the truth and not standing up to them when they'd hurt me, which lead to more friendships going downhill as I realized I had to let some people go in order to get well. Doors stopped opening and now started closing. I simply could not get another job in Taupo even once I began to feel well enough to work again. This cycle of doors closing and things dying off continued until I finally learned that my time in Taupo was up and that it was time to leave which wasn't until June 2012.

You can't make the wilderness your home. Most of my bitterness and fury was the fact that due to the good friends and great church I had, I thought Taupo was going to be home. It never was. You can't make a home in the desert. You can't live abundantly in a place of death and dying. You can't live comfortably in a place where your needs are only barely met. I spent so much time working so hard trying to make myself a home in a place that was never meant to be home but a short place to stay in for a season. The harder I tried to make it work, the worse it became and the more despondent I became as a result. The desert isn't there for your comfort. It's a place of spiritual growth forged in hard times. The hard times come from the fact that God wants you there, but the environment itself doesn't want you there. It was pushing with all of its might to get rid of me and get me out of Taupo, yet God wanted me there, so there I stayed, until June 2012 when God clearly instructed me to leave. Once I got back to Tauranga, things started flowing and life began to get easier. The desert was over and good things were coming at last and for once, I didn't have to fight for them.

You don't get over the wilderness overnight. When I arrived back in Tauranga I was emotionally black and blue due to everything that had happened, not to mention severely underweight due to stress and poor eating habits. Only now after being in Tauranga over a year am I beginning to feel like I am finally able to let the wilderness go and put it behind me. It has taken a lot of counseling, a bit more surgery in terms of removing people from my life who were holding me back, a lot of grieving and actually seeing good things happen in Tauranga to help me get to the place where I am now. The wilderness is a brutal environment. It breaks you, it changes you, it forces you to face who and what you really are. It's like having major surgery done on your soul. It hurts, but it's necessary. However, there's also a recovery time before you get back to full strength again. The wilderness hurts - a lot. And, like everything that hurts, it takes time to heal.

When God hasn't lead you there, the wilderness is a dangerous place. The wilderness of Taupo was a place that God called me to, so although it was brutal and hard, He was still there. I have found myself in other places of wilderness in the past - such as several years back when I insisted God give me a job and wouldn't take no for an answer. He said "fine, take it, see what happens." I did - and it was a disaster. God's spirit wasn't with me in that place because I had disobeyed. I found myself in serious trouble health wise just 6 months after taking that job and I was forced to resign. The Holy Spirit later Rhema'd to me that if I had continued to live as I was living, in willful disobedience by refusing to obey His will for my life and taking what I wanted instead - that I would have been dead within two years. That means my book would never have been done and I would never have had the opportunity to make my mark on the world as a result. From that point on, I knew I would never disobey God like that again.

If you find yourself in the wilderness today due to the leading of the Spirit of God, I hope and pray this sheds some light on what may be happening for you. Also remember, if God has lead you there - it won't last forever (there's a good chance that the end will involve the number 40 somehow!!) and if you find yourself in there due to your own doing, perhaps now is the time to do something about it.

Take care.

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