I dug through the contents of Ashley’s bag as she watched and bravely tried to appear confident. Methodically, I gave recommendations of what I thought she should leave behind and asked her about a few key items I thought important, such as rain gear and a light source. When I raised my head to look into her eyes, I recognized a familiar apprehension and uncertainty mixed with intrigue. Ashley averted her eyes and shuffled her feet, mumbling something about wanting to be prepared. She was about to embark on an 8-day challenge expedition, and the unknown of what lay ahead filled her with trepidation about what exactly might be expected of her.
If we were totally honest, most of us would grudgingly admit that we feel pretty uncertain, anxious, and in some cases downright fearful before embarking on something we have never done before. I suppose there are a few people in our world who might welcome the undefined and unknown as a challenge to be overcome, or at least that is the façade we would wear to hide our fears. Whether we are willing to admit it or not, stepping into the unknown can be scary. It thrusts us into situations where we are no longer in control, and we may need to take some risks that have the potential to expose parts of us we would rather keep hidden. However, facing the unknown also has the potential to create space and an opportunity for great transformation and a revelation about God and ourselves.
I recently took a sabbatical--a time of rest from work. In theory, I think most people will read that and think that it sounds lovely. And it is! Yet, the sabbatical was a step into the unknown for me. As I began to make preparations for time away, I noticed uncertainty and fear building and wondered what exactly this time to stop and rest would mean. Suddenly, I understood what Ashley had felt as she prepared to embark on that 8-day journey in the wilderness.
Some days I would look forward to rest with longing and desire, daydreaming about the delight of simply being with God for days on end. Then there were days when fear assaulted me from every direction. Who would I be if I wasn’t working? What if I got bored? What if all my friends forgot about me? Would I lose my value if I wasn’t working? What kinds of things would I talk to God about? I like to stay busy, so not being busy felt intimidating. What would rise up in me when I was no longer meeting the needs of others? Did I even want to go there? In honesty, I think I spent more days feeling anxious and afraid than I did trusting that God was inviting me into something deeply good for me because He loves me.
Why is it that when faced with the unknown, we tend to turn more to fear and control than trusting God’s goodness or accepting that He might actually be inviting us into something we deeply desire but aren’t yet aware of? Sadly, I more often see God as a harsh disciplinarian than my Father God of love. I tend to see things through a lens that leads me to think He is taking something away from me because I have been disobedient or because He’s testing me, and I’m afraid I’ll fail Him. Stepping into the unknown brings up false images of ourselves and God that cause us to shrink back in shame, unable to meet His piercing gaze. These feelings overwhelm us because we cannot see the end result, and so we assume the worst.
Once I finally started my sabbatical, I didn’t find discipline and failure! I discovered God’s invitation to deeper intimacy as I sat with Him, walked with Him, and enjoyed deep and loving friendship with Him. What’s interesting is that this invitation to deeper intimacy with God was the very reason I took a sabbatical in the first place, but the fog of my fear as I prepared to step into something new and unknown made it difficult for me to see His invitation clearly. Yet, He equipped me with the courage to take the step, and He met me in that place with Himself. Ashley also found courage as she stepped into the unknown of a challenge expedition and encountered an invitation into deeper intimacy with God. She, too, learned to trust Him in the midst of challenges she never could have overcome alone, and He reached into the depths of her heart to awaken in her spirit a desire for Him.
Maybe you right now are facing a choice or an opportunity, but the unfamiliar, the unseen is holding you back. Will you accept His invitation into the unknown and trust that He is inviting you into something deeper and better than you can imagine? “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine…to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).