For several years now, the term wilderness has been a word that I have felt a particular kinship with, though I don’t entirely know why. As someone who feels particularly at home in the mountains, maybe it has something to do with the nature and wilderness found there? I just know that the wilderness imagery found in Isaiah 43:19 has a particular weightiness and meaning that speaks to my soul in ways I cannot fully articulate.
“I am creating something new. There it is! Do you see it? I have put roads in deserts, streams in thirsty lands.” – Isaiah 43:19, CEV
Wilderness in Scripture lends itself to a few interpretations. Namely seasons of waiting, wandering, uncertainty, temptation, and more that ultimately point towards our need for surrender, trust, and acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty. Seems to me that wilderness might not be a bad way of describing the state of our hearts and our world these days.
In the sweetest and strangest of ways, it’s in these wilderness and valley seasons when I’m almost forced to remember to look for God’s beauty and glory the most. Because in the wilderness, amidst the trials and the hardships and the confusion, beauty can also flourish. And the beauty, goodness, and truth of the Gospel is often what our soul so desperately needs reminding of when we’re out wandering through the wilderness seasons.
One of my favorite lines in the old hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing is this, “Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee.” Now I must admit that it has long been of my favorite lines, even though I never actually had any clue what a fetter was. But a quick Google search as I was writing this enlightened me.
A fetter is a type of physical restraint that is placed on the ankles of a person in order to prevent them from running and to control their stride. So in the context of this hymn, the writer is creating this image of literally being bound to the Lord and His goodness. Much like how a fetter restricts the wearer from wandering off or running away, when our hearts are bound to God’s so we also are prevented from straying in the most beautiful and loving of ways. If I am going to be bound by anything, let it always be to the Lord’s goodness and mercy.
Friends, when we truly get a glimpse of God’s goodness, of His mercy and kindness, fleeing from Him is one of the last things we could ever want. Because when we’ve tasted and seen of the goodness of the Lord, we realize just how crazy we’ve been to think that we can do this life on our own. In the wilderness seasons, when things feel murky and unclear, it is easy to wander off and stray from the path that God has set before us. The very next line in the hymn says it, “prone to wander Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.” But the prayer in this hymn, bind my wandering heart to Thee, places us in a posture of submission before our Father. Of humility. Of trust and of courage. It’s a prayer that says that even though we don’t know the way through we trust in the One who has already gone before and made a way in all things.
I know for myself that life in this pandemic has rocked me. The emotional toll that this season has had is heavy and it’s up and down from one day to the next. Sometimes from one hour to the next. Never before has the world collectively experienced something of this magnitude. Something that has been stripping away the veil of distractions and exposing what we have truly been binding ourselves to.
In many ways, I can’t help but wonder if life on this side of Heaven will always resemble the wilderness more than a garden. There is certainly no shortage of hardships and trials in this life. But while the world may be in the wilderness, we know that there is a garden in our souls. One that flourishes and grows with the mercy and goodness of the Father as we surrender our plans and our control and our fears to His capable hands. And in doing so, we may just rediscover ourselves and the way through at the same time.
Notable author and naturalist John Muir might have said it best, “Into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.”