The Wilderness: A Journey for Identity
There are days where it can be easy to find yourself in some dark places. We encounter these “dry spells” that leave us feeling empty, unfulfilled, and lost. This is especially prevalent in society today. We live in these spiritual “wildernesses” that prevent us from thriving as God would desire. It is quite difficult to maneuver your way through a wilderness. It is in these unforgiving and vast places that we begin to question our identities—something most find an incredibly sensitive topic. I think this is largely due to a misplacement of our identities in the material things of this world. Many people today attach their identities to being great athletes, talented musicians, high-achieving students, etc. The list is endless. But these are temporary things that can neither fulfill us nor dictate our value. Dr. Paul Wright, President of Jerusalem University College says that “The wilderness is a place where you simultaneously have nothing and lack nothing.”
Now, this statement has a lot of weight to it. When I visited Israel this past semester, I was most struck by the nature of its wilderness. A dry, chalky landscape with very few signs of life and a less-than-forgiving topography makes wilderness undesirable. Despite all of this, there was something uniquely beautiful about the wilderness. It is a place where all the excess is stripped away and what remains is just barely enough. The wilderness serves as a representation of purification and provision. An environment of both struggle and of peace.
What does this exactly mean? As we are faced with difficulties, it is hard not to despair, especially when you find yourself in the middle of a seemingly endless and unpassable land. With nowhere to hide and seemingly nothing to sustain, we begin to feel alone and even forgotten by God. This results in an “Identity Crisis” of sorts. But God is faithful, and He created every individual uniquely in His image. In Deuteronomy 2:7, God reminds Moses that He still sees him, that He has still blessed the Israelites, even as they wander in the heart of an unforgiving wilderness. Verse 7 says, “Surely the Lord your God has blessed you in all your undertakings; he knows your going through this great wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you; you have lacked nothing.” I still remember hearing this as I looked out at the rough and perilous landscape that was laid before me. It was an awe-inspiring moment, to say the least. Just imagining the extent that God loves us, for everything we are is, in a way, a reflection of who He is. It left me speechless.
The night before, I remember hearing a song titled “Sun” that was written by a band called Sleeping at Last. It illustrates this inner struggle for identity and purpose during our spiritual “wilderness.” It refers to us, human beings, as the “apple of God’s eye.” If you were to look closely into your friend’s eye, what do you think you would see? You would see yourself. It is the same as if God were looking you in the eye–He would also see Himself. This is the way God sees us. When He looks at us, He sees Himself in us. Isn’t that a humbling thing to think about? Our identity is not found in the material things, but in our Creator. We serve a God that has directly tied our identity to Him. We may seem lost and confused, but God meets us in our spiritual wilderness and reveals himself. Even in the most desolate landscapes, He works in and through our wilderness and reminds us who we are. In Psalm 63:1-8 (NRSV), David illustrates what it is like to abide in the wilderness. He speaks on the longing to be filled in a dry and desolate land. This is what I believe we seek as well. We long for fulfillment; for a wholeness that only God can provide. It is time to trade in our fleeting, worldly identity for one that is eternal. Do not be afraid to place your identity in Him. God is present in your wilderness, and you were made in His image.