In which you’re a pioneer


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.

image source

  • Megan

    Sarah, every time you write something so honest, I can’t help but love it.
    This post could not have been more well timed!
    Thank you so much for sharing yourself and your heart with us here.

  • Annie Barnett

    Love this, Sarah. This resonates so deeply, just beautiful.

  • A.Wolf

    mmm. this is beautiful.

  • James Prescott

    Sarah, this is just beautiful. Poetic, wise, insightful, challenging and true. You combine great wisdom with beautiful poetry. This post has given me pause. I hardly have words to say in response. Wonderful.

  • Rea

    Wow. Beautiful. And terrifying. Love this perspective on the wilderness.

  • Anne Peterson

    That was beautiful.

  • IfMeadowsSpeak

    Maybe this is where I’m at, a pioneer. I don’t know these days. But the way you described going west, makes me want to pack up and go too.

  • Beth Bailey

    Well, now I am crying at work. Thank you for being what I needed today,- “the hands of those who love the Gospel handed you just enough water to drink”.

  • CC

    I felt like time stopped while I read this. Yes. From the deepest part of me, yes.

  • Nicole

    Sarah, thank you. Thank you for the permission and perspective you give to really live.

  • sara gering

    we need voices like yours to articulate the journey, to give hope to the rest of us struggling on the journey and doubting its purpose and direction. thank you.

  • e g bryant

    It’s just incredible that almost 8 years of my life can be summed up in one blog post and I don’t feel minimized or pathetic. Only hopeful. Yes, it was worth the journey, and no, I don’t want those old trunks back.
    WOW! Thank you for sharing!

    • Sarah Bessey

      Thank you!

  • jademichele

    beautiful – i am always surprised by your writing,
    and always being shown things in ways i’d never seen them before .
    thank you for sharing –

  • Mar

    In which you are reading my heart and putting it into words …

    Sometimes the wilderness seems thorny and arid and very very wildernessy, but lately it has also felt at times like a cabin with a stream running beside it … That’s because of “the hands of those who love the Gospel handing me just enough water to drink.” Thank you for being one of those water carriers. It is also because of learning how to prime the pump and hydrate myself ….

    • Sarah Bessey

      That’s a good word, Mar. Good word, indeed.

  • Lacy Ellman

    This is beautiful, Sarah. My vocational emphasis is in pilgrimage, but your words now have me thinking of the pilgrim as a pioneer as well. Love it.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Love that. I think it’s the image of the leaving a trail that appeals to me in the word “pioneer” but I might need to think that over a bit more. And so thankful for people who come alongside the pilgrims.

  • Marvia Davidson

    i’m in the wilderness now, and there there is no romance – save the One that is Divine that calls me out of the yuck and into marvelous Love-Light. i’m reminded by a song sung by rita springer “worth it all.” your post reminds me that there will be beauty for the ashes, and joy will come in the morning. till then … i’ll believe, hold faith, and keep moving forward.

    • Sarah Bessey

      I love that song, Marvia. Beautiful. Thank you for reminding me of it.

  • Ashley Ditto

    This was so lovely. Thank you so much, this was refreshment to my soul!!

    Ashley from

  • Jeannette Altes

    Sarah, thank you for the cup of cold water on the journey….

    • Sarah Bessey

      Bless you, Jeannette.

  • Tara M. Owens

    We enter the wilderness with such naive arrogance, as if it’s a place that Hagar chose, that Isaiah preferred. The wilderness is the place that strips us, allows us to hear God. But it is not easy, and those who preach about it as golden and triumphant are not the ones who have truly crossed over. The ones who have reached the Promised Land? Those are the ones who are back in the wilderness, with us, walking in the day to day, 40 years long, without telling us what we should or shouldn’t do, simply abiding, until we, too, cross over.

    Thank you, Sarah.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Beautiful, Tara. Well said.

  • Leah Colbeck

    What a stunning analogy. And selah – let the journey never be over.

  • JCollard

    In the Orthodox Church, the priest (or Father) often says the phrase, “Wisdom – let us attend!” when something is read that is scriptural. This may not be scriptural, but it is really worthwhile. Wisdom! Let us attend! Mostly though, I’m glad that someone understands what the journey is like, and I’m glad this was written, as it helps to keep me press in in this journey. Sometimes it’s easy to try and bypass the wilderness, and this helps me to engage. Thank you.

  • Jada

    “There isn’t anything very romantic about the terrible truth of your real self and an arduous journey…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.”

    YES! So true….And I’m praying I have the strength to continue blazing the trail…sometimes, I wonder.

    Thanks for this, dear friend!

  • Mama Pushin’ 60

    You so very insightfully reframed my journey. Thank you for helping me visualize the beauty.

  • Linda Stoll
  • Allison Buzard

    Thank you for this! I’ve been reading Exodus and processing my own journey in the wilderness, this brought such encouragement!

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  • Dawn Wright

    Yes. Lots of tears. Lots of dust. Just enough cups of water to keep going. Good word.

  • suznvsmith

    Sarah, I’m always excited to connect with a fellow pioneer. You’re new to my “list of things to read” thanks to a young staffer at our church who complimented me via your post “In which they are overlooked in a sea of hipsters.” Thank you for telling the truth. I love your heart.

  • D.L. Mayfield

    just wanted to let you know that this line has been in my head all day: There isn’t anything very romantic about the terrible truth of your real self and an arduous journey.”

    yeah. the terrible truth hurts so good. love it.

  • Beth

    I love this. So much.

  • barrentoblessed

    Love this. The imagery and beauty within the words resonate so deeply. Thanks so much for sharing.

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