Illustration by Hayley Rawnsley (@desertsblooming)
Written by Hayley Rawnsley, USA
A few years ago I realised I was in a wilderness season. I was a couple months shy of graduating college when a global pandemic wiped away all my post-grad plans. As job opportunities withered and housing situations changed, I started to wrestle with God about His plans and purposes for me.
We often unknowingly enter the wilderness season. Everything’s all fine and good, until things stop working out the way you had hoped for. It’s a confusing and disorienting place to be.
The wilderness season is also often marked by an absence of God’s presence. Your faith feels dry and you’re not sure why. You can’t hear God’s voice clearly. The ways you connected with Him are no longer satisfying.
I want to share the antidotes to these common lies about the wilderness season to help you avoid unnecessary delays on your journey. There are thoughts that can make us feel even more hopeless and isolated if we begin to agree with them. I used to believe some of these thoughts, but as I studied biblical patterns of renewal, Jesus started turning these lies on their heads.
Hopefully you can replace these lies with truth that brings peace and hope to whatever you’re going through.
Lie: I’m here because I messed up.
Truth: I’m here to draw even closer to God.
The wilderness tends to sneak up on you, whether you suffer an unexpected loss, burn out from trying to engineer desired outcomes, or just feel dry and spiritually disconnected. When life isn’t going as you planned, and God seems to be giving you the silent treatment, it’s tempting to think He’s angry at you. Usually the next thought is “I must’ve done something wrong.”
While I watched my peers slowly get back on their feet and settle into their first full-time jobs, each rejection I faced made me question if I’d made a mistake somewhere along the way. I thought following Jesus meant He’d easily open the right doors for me, and having to wait awhile made me confused.
We may never fully know what brings about the wilderness season, but the wilderness isn’t necessarily punishment. Read the Bible and you’ll see many faithful followers end up in the wilderness before stepping into God-given assignments, from Moses, to David and even Jesus. God may have led you into the wilderness because he wants you there.
As I waited on God for direction, I began to see why He led me into the wilderness. In my frustration and desperation, all I had to depend on was Him for peace, comfort and hope.
Though I often found myself expressing my feelings to God, there were many times when I was met with silence. Instead of giving up, I learned to embrace the quiet and wait for His presence to fill me afresh.
Sometimes God “hides” in order for us to seek Him in new ways (Jeremiah 29:13), so we can get to know Him better, follow Him closer, trust Him deeper. He’s not ignoring you because He doesn’t care. God wants your whole heart, and He will use the wilderness to grow a deeper hunger for Him.
The more I opened my heart to God in prayer and surrendered my future, the deeper I felt His love for me. Gradually, I allowed Him to replant my identity in His love rather than in what I accomplished. This made me feel secure and free, even amid my wilderness situation.
Lie: This is a wasted season.
Truth: This is a season of preparation.
The wilderness season often comes with a lot of stripping back of what life used to look like, leaving you with more spare time than you’re used to. It can feel like all there is to do is twiddle your thumbs and try not to give up hope.
If your life doesn’t look “productive” from the outside right now, maybe it’s time to shift your perspective. What “heart work” might Jesus be inviting you to focus on that would be needed for the next season?
One heart shift I noticed Jesus pointing out to me was my lack of quiet moments in my daily life. Let’s face it, most of us don’t know how to sit in silence. If there’s a pause in conversation, we immediately try to fill it, or when we’re alone, we turn on music or scroll on our phones. We may be carrying this tendency into our relationship with God as well.
But what if there’s a blessing that comes only in silence? It’s in the silence where the true alignments of your heart are revealed. It’s in the stillness where you make space for the Holy Spirit, to become more aware of His presence.
As I started to sink into the slow, quiet moments in God’s presence, I began to experience healing and freedom like never before. Fewer distractions made it easier to hear God’s still small voice replace lies about myself I’d believed for many years. His love enabled me to love the parts of myself I saw as weak and imperfect. Gradually, my faith in God’s power and who he made me to be grew, and it became clear that this season was indeed not wasted.
The wilderness season often involves clearing the path of anything—desires, thought patterns, habits—that may be getting in your way of following God to someplace new. It’s in silence where God invites us to empty ourselves in order to receive our true identity, purpose, and authority. Then we will be prepared for whatever comes next.
Lie: Nothing good can grow here.
Truth: The desert will rejoice and blossom.
You probably don’t imagine a desert overflowing with vegetation and life. It definitely seems more like an environment where things wither and die. During the wilderness season, your life may look that way, too. You start to question if anything good can grow again.
We can grow weary and discouraged when we try to make things happen on our own. Thankfully, Jesus offers to come in and help us carry our burdens (Matthew 11:28). He longs to bring His resurrection power into every area of our lives. Part of the beauty of the wilderness season is the deeper understanding of this reality that comes from first-hand experience.
One day God led me to a verse that changed my view of the wilderness season: “The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom” (Isaiah 35:1). It made me realise that renewal is at the heart of the wilderness, and I had a front row seat to watch the desert bloom. Suddenly, my faith in what God could do skyrocketed because I believed He was the only one powerful enough to bring change in my life.
This verse gave me hope that I could endure the wilderness season. Yes, the wilderness was still confusing and uncomfortable, but I knew it was intentional and ultimately for my good. In the following months, I saw the seeds of friendships, spiritual gifts, and new opportunities to use my creative skills sprout in ways only God could dream up.
Being in the wilderness can be an invitation for us to dig “new wells” to find the streams of living water Jesus has placed in us. We actively participate in drawing out the hope and joy in our hearts by persisting in prayer and praise, until we experience refreshment and renewed strength once again.
If you’re in the wilderness season right now, it may be helpful to examine what kinds of thoughts you have about it. They can either turn you towards hope or despair. If you choose to see Jesus’s heart for you in this season, you may just start to see that even in the desert the flowers bloom.