The wilderness can be romanticized in literature or sermons, the now-clean and tidy prosperous ones wax philosophic about our place of rediscovery and intimacy with God, like it’s church camp for grown-ups, a place to discover God and your true self, like streets of gold are waiting on the other side of the prairie.
There isn’t anything very romantic about the terrible truth of your real self and an arduous journey.
Like a pampered daughter headed west in a wagon train, you had set out into the wilderness with your trunks and baggage in tow, smug and convinced of your arrival on the other side with your old gods intact. As the journey carried on, you left a trail behind you, a littering of the contents of your baggage, and slowly, sometimes bitterly, your walk through the wilderness became unencumbered. Sometimes you sat by the trail and cried over the poisonous lovely things you were leaving behind.
But every single one of those items left along the trail – your cynicism, your hypocrisy, your lies, your numbing techniques, your apologetics and doctrinal statements, your worldview, your pomposity, your opinions, your carefully constructed personas, your sins, your righteousness, your secrets – all of it became filthy rags and in the end, you were nearly flinging them off the wagon, glad to be rid of them at last.
Every time you found streams in the desert, the hands of those who love the Gospel handed you just enough water to drink. You swallowed the trail dust down with the cool water, and cried with relief before setting out again.
No, the wilderness is not romantic but it’s beautiful and it’s terrifying and it’s intimate. Eventually, there isn’t any thing between you and God any longer. Intimacy isn’t just a tryst in the dark, it’s nakedness in the noonday and the day after that and the day after that, the adventure of truth.
You never arrive at the end. You just stop sometimes and make a home. The West isn’t quite the promised land, there’s work here, too, but now you feel free. You look back now from your standpoint of a few years on the other side of that journey in your snug raggle-taggle shanty in the West, and now you love the wind and the wild, you love your freckles and the sun’s slow weathering of your bare face. You love the song of the stars in your unbound hair more than you loved the contents of those old trunks, more than you loved tidy city streets and certainty.
And yet, you still feel the call in the wind, beckoning you further west, even now. You face the prospect of another journey, and the likelihood of another one on the other side of that, but instead, now, you look forward to the nights alone in the prairie when the voice of God will sing clear in your bones. You wonder, as you pack up your bags again, which of these essentials and important gods, which of these pots and pans and books and dresses, will litter the new trail ahead of you.
Now you’re a pioneer.