It was 4:00 A.M. As I sat in a dried-up creek bed, awaiting the scouts’ return with a location report, I became aware of a weary participant groaning about her aching legs and the impossibilities of going a step further. Over the years, I’ve learned to discern the difference between a participant’s whining when she needs encouragement but is really able to go on and a participant’s pleas because she is truly at a breaking point where no amount of coaxing will get her through. This woman was at the breaking point.
A dilemma in my spirit arose and continued to grow the longer we sat there in the dark. I knew that eventually the wilderness calls our bluff, and we either lie down and die, dig deeper into our own energy stores, or cry out to God with an earnestness that is deeply authentic and pointed. I was also wrestling with inner conflict because of what I really wanted to tell her: the end was nearly in sight. We had flung our packs in a heap and collapsed beside them, landing a mere 200 yards from our final destination for a solo/rest encampment. Being only minutes away, I desperately wanted to cheer her with this news, but I’ve also learned not to spoil the process of growth that occurs through the powerful teacher “ambiguity.” Real life in Jesus is born out of abandonment to Him and blind faith in Him in the face of adversity. When the odds are against us, we see Jesus shine. I told her that I knew she could do it. I read to her from Matthew 6 where Jesus said:
“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink…But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and [leave the rest up to Him]. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.”
Tears streamed down her face. She had heard the message, but she would need more time to let it sink in and embrace the promise.
By the time the scouts returned from their reconnaissance, everyone was asleep amid the packs abandoned to the tree roots of the dusty forest floor. Reeling with uncertainty, the scouts decided to rouse the group only to inform them that they would sleep here for the night. (There are often humorous ironies that I notice on our trips—like waking everyone to tell them they can go to sleep!)
I had hoped that a few hours of rest would renew the doubtful woman’s vigor, but as we breakfasted around the campfire, tears suddenly began to stream from her tightly shut eyes. Her body shook with the pent up sobs of despair, her only word’s repeated like a mantra, “I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I can’t do this.”
The rest of us were struck with compassion, yet assumed there was little we could do to ease her struggle until one participant walked over to the woman, took her by the hand, and made a declaration, “We must pray through this together.” The whole group circled around our crying companion and began to deliver her through the wilderness in her heart and mind and bring her before the Lord—similar to the men who brought their crippled friend to Jesus and lowered him through the roof. For over an hour we prayed and interceded for her. Finally, with a radiant expression the woman declared, “I do believe I can do this.” We seized that moment to sing praises and lay hands on her legs to ask God for strength both mentally and physically. Then she stood and walked to her pack. We in the group paraded around her, offering to don her burden and split the weight, but she confidently announced that she believed the Lord would enable her to go the distance. She did promise to let us help if the going got too tough.
Singing as we set off, we acquired the destination less than an hour later. When she found out it would be our last one for a day, she knelt and thanked God again as a different kind of tears ran down her face. The substance was the same, but the heart behind them was completely changed. She had traded in despair for delight, ashes for beauty, and her joy had come that morning.
Come along side us as we journey in and out of the wilderness, discovering our Creator in creation.