Leaving the Wilderness

By on April 3, 2012

By Nancie Carmichael –

What quickens my pulse now is the stretch ahead rather than the one behind, and it is mainly for some clue as to where I am going that I search through where I have been, for some hint as to who I am  becoming or failing to become that I  delve into what used to be. 

            –The Sacred Journey, Frederick Buechner

I was flying home from a speaking engagement. It was a clear, crisp day, the visibility unusually good. I leaned my head against the window, drinking in the view. I was tired, and it felt good to relax. I thought of the people I had met on this trip. I had flown to a city on east coast, where I didn’t know anyone. But during this short time, I had made some new friends. One woman in particular made an impression on me. She waited until everyone else had left after I finished speaking. Then she crumpled as she poured out her heart about the difficulties she was going through. As I listened, I was amazed again at the depth of pain that can consume us. I could tell that in spite of her outwardly put-together life, this woman was experiencing the loneliness and pain of the desert, and she appeared to be stuck in her pain. I recognized it, because I’ve been there myself. I prayed for her, hoping she would soon find answers and relief.

I looked down again. We had passed the Plains and were now over the Great Basin, mile upon mile of wilderness. It appeared to be flat, dry, and barren. What brave souls would want to live here?  I wondered. And then, surprisingly, I saw little communities, a solitary house at the end of a road here and there. I wanted to shout down to them, “Hey! Why do you stay there?!  Don’t you know that only a thousand miles away are beautiful, fertile places, where things grow?  Why settle here, where you’re forced to eke out an existence? You just gotta get over those mountains…Get out of that wilderness!” And I’m sure many of them would shout back, “Mind your own business—we like it here. It has its own beauty, you know!”

fall scents for your home

As I flew, I thought of Hagar, Sarah’s handmaiden. She had given birth to Abraham’s son, Ishmael. This caused major problems and jealousies in the camp and finally, Sarah insisted to Abraham that Hagar and Ishmael had to go (Genesis 21). In the wilderness, when Hagar and Ishmael were at the point of desperation and death, God saw their plight and sustained them with water from a well.

If we read further, Scripture tells us that Hagar stayed in the desert. She lived there, found a wife for Ishmael in Egypt, and died there. The Bible says that God was with Ishmael as he grew up in the wilderness.

As surely as there are times to go to the wilderness—to admit to the pain and disappointment that we are in—there are also times to leave the pain and move on. How funny we humans are—we go kicking and screaming into the wilderness of pain or sickness—and then we grow accustomed to it and resist the idea of moving on. I think of Moses, escaping to the back side of the wilderness after he killed the Egyptian (Exodus 2). And Elijah, too, ran to the desert to escape from Jezebel and Ahab (1 Kings 19).

Some would avoid desert experiences at all cost, even deny that they exist. But desert experiences are valuable—indeed, they are an essential part of a fruitful life, where we hear God’s voice and He refreshes us while we are there. But the time will come—if we are committed to growth—when it’s time to leave the wilderness.

Not long ago I went alone to a favorite spot in the mountains. I packed a small can of juice and some crackers in my jacket pocket and hiked off the dirt road. The mountains stretched off in the distance, their snowcapped peaks against the blue sky breathtaking in their beauty. I found an old tree stump. There I set out the crackers and the juice, sang a hymn of the Cross, and had a private communion service. As I prayed, I considered a burden I’d often relinquished but had gone back and picked up again. I was sensing it was time to “leave that wilderness.” Stop letting it define and absorb me. I wrote out the burden, rolled up the little piece of paper, and slipped it inside the tree stump. This time when I left it, I didn’t look back. Paul Tournier wrote, “Life and faith always insist on moving forward—and I cannot move forward without leaving something behind…and possibly the most difficult to let go are treasuries of painful experiences.”

Leaving the wilderness means it’s time to reconcile one self to imperfections. Leaving the wilderness may mean it’s time for forgiveness, to let something go. It may mean it’s time to stop being a victim, to assume responsibility for where I am, who I am. Leaving may mean it’s time to stop being enamored by, consumed by, the austere beauty of the desert.  Paul wrote, “Forgetting the things that are behind, I press on” (Philippians 3:13).

And what does it mean to move on?  It means to walk free—to not be stuck in the pain of the past. It means we enter the place where we can once again turn our focus to others, and to enter a place where we can stretch our faith, armed with powerful lessons learned in the wilderness.

Take a moment to consider:

  • Have you spent time in the desert recently? Are you there now? If so, what have you learned?
  • Have you learned the value of the desert?
  • Prayerfully consider if it is time for you to leave that place and move on. It may help you to record the lessons you have learned there and then write some spiritual goals for yourself. Put them in a sealed envelope, and tuck them away somewhere to be opened and reviewed at a later date.


Nancie Carmichael is a speaker and author of several books, including, “Lord, Bless My Child” (with her husband, Bill), “Selah—Time to Stop, Think, and Step into Your Future”, “Surviving One Bad Year—Seven Spiritual Strategies to Lead You to a New Beginning”. Contact her at [email protected] and visit her website, nanciecarmichael.com.

About Nancie Carmichael

Nancie Carmichael and her husband Bill have been involved with the writing and publishing field for many years as they published Virtue Magazine and Christian Parenting Magazine. They now own a book publishing company, Deep River Books. Nancie and Bill have written several books together including: Lord, Bless My Child; and Seven Habits of a Healthy Home. Nancie has written: Your life, God’s Home; Desperate for God: How He Meet Us When We Pray; The Comforting Presence of God; Selah: Time to Stop, Think, and Step into your Future; and her latest book, Surviving One Bad Year—Seven Spiritual Strategies to Lead You to a New Beginning. Bill and Nancie make their home in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and are parents to five married children and grandparents to ten. Nancie received her Master’s of Spiritual Formation from George Fox Evangelical Seminary in 2012, and in 2005, received an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Western Baptist College. Website: nanciecarmichael.com


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Leaving the Wilderness