The last few months of my life have been an unexpected time-out. I’ve taken a (somewhat) self -induced sabbatical. This past July I lost my job. Two months later after nervously taking another job, I was unemployed again. Somewhere between all this employment drama, my grandmommy died—and that’s only a very small sampling of the harrowing that was 2016. All of this left me at a point of hitting pause, I desperately needed rest.
At 30, I am discovering I like myself more than ever while also learning I have no idea what I’m doing. It’s an interesting tension to find myself in, and yet that’s exactly what I’m doing—finding myself. This sabbatical is showing me a deeper way of being, a way of unearthing unity within myself.
My sabbatical has uncaged all the wild in my soul. I like to think of it as being Max, from Where the Wild Things Are. These creatures of my soul are more exquisite than I imagined. Often they show up in forms I don’t expect—as dreams, desires, expectations, hopes and fears. These beasts are equally as large and daunting as they are enchanting and make me giggle. But this time has also been lonely. The wilderness. That’s what my spiritual director calls it. I’m not the only one who’s been on this journey.
In Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton, she follows the life of Moses and maps out his relationship with God as an archetype of a spiritual journey. She speaks to the profound loneliness that time in the wilderness brings:
“There is loneliness and then there is loneliness. What Moses encountered was the deepest kind of loneliness– the loneliness of feeling abandoned by God. It was the emptiness of losing the one things that mattered the most, the one thing that gave his journey meaning and Moses was quite sure he couldn’t go on without that. So he just stopped. …He wanted to make sure God knew he had reached his limit. “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here.”” ¹
2016 was a collective moment of hitting our limits, a communal entering of loneliness—with the election, Aleppo, police brutality, all. the. death. And this isn’t touching our personal lives. I know I’ve questioned where God has been, is He really doing something in all this? It’s left us in a stupor of loneliness. How can this be life right now?
Barton continues: “Recognizing and accepting this kind of aloneness for what it is prevents us from being seduced into believing that our restlessness can be satiated “out there” in the realm of activity, success, notoriety, and social connections…. God’s goodness is his greatest glory and that is what we most need.”
Or as Maurice Sendak puts it, in Where The Wild Things Are:
“And Max, the king of all wild things, was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.”²
Wilderness is revealing the paradox of unity. It takes loneliness to bring me to a space of profound desperation, where I recognize the unity I seek does not come through anyone or anything else. No. It must be produced by God. Unity needs to start within me and I am too broken to unify myself.
Jesus put it this way, that ‘whoever wants to find their lives must lose it.’ I must confront these Wild Things. The only cure for loneliness is presence, and now the only presence that counts is God. In this jungle, I’ve found myself becoming more comfortable with
making demands of being honest with God. Like Moses, I am demanding God’s presence before this sabbatical is over. In fact, I’m trusting for a marker of his goodness as a signal to move forward. I need to know He loves me ‘best of all’.
God has joined me in the jungle of my soul and is one by one, taming the wild things. Revealing them to be friendly creatures for me to enjoy, rejoice over and making room for play. As the taming occurs, I’m catching glimpses of unity.
Unity is showing me is renewal in loss.
Unity is in my vulnerability about my needs and expectations.
Unity is found in my brutal honesty about the hard things (like sometimes He doesn’t seem enough).
Unity is learning to recognize His presence through the wild things in me.
He is teaching me that HE is unity, after all, he exists in relationship.
This new stillness of my soul can handle the wildness of His Spirit. We’re still taming the creatures in my heart. We have moments of play and moments of fear. I’m still questioning what goodness really means. It’s not time to return home, yet. I am hoping that as all these creatures are tamed in me, we continue to play and say:
“I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness
while I am here in the land of the living.”³
¹ Barton, R. H. (2012). Strengthening the soul of your leadership: Seeking God in the crucible of ministry. InterVarsity Press.
² Sendak, M., & Schickele, P. (1963). Where the wild things are. Weston Woods.
³ Psalm 27:13