If you’ve ever used any sort of GPS mapping device, you’re familiar with the “re-routing…” display. You missed a turn, weren’t paying attention, or perhaps there was an accident or some other slow-down up ahead, and the software re-routes you, seeking to get you to your destination by the best way possible.
Sometimes life seems to re-route us without warning. We’re moving along, things are going along pretty well, we have a clear sense of where we are and where we’re going, and how to get there—and suddenly, unexpectedly, things change. Sometimes we are re-routed by external events, circumstances beyond our control: the factory closes and the jobs are shipped elsewhere; we get fired or laid off; a family emergency requires more of our time and attention than we thought. Sometimes, we get re-routed internally, by a hard-to-define unease with the way things are for us, a sense that the “fit” between who I am and what I do isn’t a good one, by something we may characterize as spiritual or emotional “restlessness.”
Our GPS systems reroute us fairly quickly—we are only “lost” for a few seconds before the new route appears. When it is God who is doing the rerouting, it’s often a different story.
God may not be interested in getting you from “Point A” to “Point B” as quickly as possible, or as “efficiently” as you might like. God’s re-routings often send us into a time of wilderness. We may find ourselves “off the map” when compared to our friends and peers. We may find we have no good answers to questions like what are you doing, where are you going? In our day, answering “I don’t know” to these kinds of questions doesn’t cut it. After all, many of us have had, or feel that we ought to have had, our lives pretty well mapped out: get a good education, start a good job, climb the career ladder, maybe marry and start a family, save for retirement. It’s just what smart, responsible people do.
And then what seems to be a Divine “Re-routing …” You find yourself in a process you’re not in charge of. You can participate in it, but not take control of it. You’re entering a wilderness.
Not all of life’s re-routings are wilderness times. Most of the time, we “get back on course” pretty promptly. But there are those significant re-routings that become turning-point moments in our lives. We enter a wilderness and, sometime later, emerge. And emerge as a different person than we were when we entered.
The metaphor of life as a journey is as old as humanity. A journey has a starting place, a destination, a pathway or pathways—and a purpose. Something happens to those who journey by means of the journey: we learn, we face and overcome challenges (or fail to), there are adventures and dangers, and, hopefully, a safe arrival. But something happens to us along the way; maybe the goal isn’t the destination, maybe it’s what happens in us along the way.
Being re-routed into wilderness at first is unsettling, disorienting, confusing. It’s not uncommon for everything to be going “just fine”—except for something in our hearts or souls that is restless, anxious, malnourished, seeking. Wilderness can be very tough; when you’re in the wilderness, Job #1 is simply to survive as best you can.
God re-routes us into wilderness seasons for four interrelated reasons: there is a necessary work that needs to be done in us to fashion and equip us for greater fruitfulness. There is a deeper work, an aligning work, and ultimately a releasing work—we are released into greater faithfulness, fruitfulness, responsibility and maturity. Wilderness initially destabilizes and unsettles or even upsets us because God wants our attention. Wilderness isn’t about “punishment” but about being de-centered in order to be re-centered. Wilderness is where and how we learn that what got us to where we are may not be sufficient to get us to where God wants us. So re-routings into wilderness are necessary.
A deeper work: Jesus will see us discipled all the way through, all the way down. Wilderness re-routings strip away some of our pride, self-will. Hidden agendas and motivations are brought to light. The capacity of our souls is enlarged as the not-really-necessary things are stripped away so that the truly important things can have room.
An aligning work: A plumb-line is a devastatingly simple tool, a weight on the end of a string. Held up to a wall, the plumb-line clearly indicates if the wall is in alignment or not. Re-routing times are often plumb-line times, aligning times, when the aspects of my soul that are “out of joint” or out of alignment with God can be addressed. If we allow wilderness to do its proper work, we can emerge more deeply aligned, more truly in tune, with Jesus.
A releasing work: wilderness re-routings are designed by God to be temporary. Temporary does not always mean “quick”! As we allow the Spirit to do the necessary, deepening, aligning work, we begin to catch glimmers of a greater work to which God is calling us. The point of God pulling us aside and going to work on us is so that we are fit and prepared for the next assignment, for renewed and deepened faithfulness and fruitfulness. Wilderness releases us, from our mistaken certainties, false allegiances, and twisted agendas, and into God’s good calling and purpose.
A wilderness can be a place of great beauty. As we slough off some layers of our superficiality, we start to notice more, see more, hear more, appreciate more. And we find ourselves becoming more, only not the “more” that our world is always driving us towards: more money, more stuff, more status, more power. Instead, more wisdom; more maturity; more patience, more kindness, more compassion; more joy, more lasting fruitfulness.