Falling Upward: Wilderness

Steve_Hong_Bday_111

(Credits: Art installation and portrait credit Bethany L. Herron Photographer ; Photographer Event Photo credit SMG Foto

“There is no greater disaster in the spiritual life than to be immersed in unreality.” – Thomas Merton

My unreality was thinking that people would accept me more if I knew more, if I did more. Unreality was ultimately believing that my very being did not matter. In my past, I built a whole persona based on this unreality. When I married my wife, and the officiant commented “Ask Steve about anything, and he’ll give you a ten-point outline on the subject,” I felt pride hearing that comment; that’s what I wanted to be known for. Little did I realize at the time that I was sabotaging my soul, my personhood, and that I was on the road towards disaster.

What began to shake me out of this unreality was something I would never have expected, and that would be a wilderness season, a time of loss I experienced in 2011.

In my past, I’ve gone through multiple wilderness seasons. But I never accepted these “divine invitations” to help shake off unreality. Instead, I’d react the way I’ve always had, and that’s to deny them any way I could. I needed to dull the pain, get busy, get working.

But I could not ignore the wilderness of 2011. The transitions and losses I saw were more than anything I had ever experienced. Starting with my job, here are some of the losses that come to mind:

  • Loss of being able to travel for work
  • Loss of being able to hold down work appointments
  • Loss of my employment itself. This meant…
  • Loss of my old team. The grief of not having face to face closure.
  • Loss of direction, income, security.

These job-related losses had my attention, but in case I missed that God wanted to use this wilderness time to shake me out of my unreality, the losses at home grabbed my attention more than anything else I’ve ever experienced in my life. On that front, I experienced:

  • Loss of a mom in good health, and going to ER was a normal part of my life.
  • Loss of a spouse in good health. She was on bedrest for about a year with no end in sight.
  • Loss of a partner to help take care of my then 6-yr son who was still in diapers and having “accidents”
  • Loss of being able to go walk together, eat anywhere, or plan to go anyplace with my spouse except to the doctor.
  • Loss of the security to know what was going on medically
  • Loss of knowing what was going to happen tomorrow. I wiped out my calendar, had to go on work-leave, and eventually resigned from all my work.
  • Loss of a partner to help me w cooking dishes, laundry, and raising our son. Almost all interaction our son had with my spouse that year was from her bedside.

I could fill up pages with lists of losses from that past season. The point is that my old ways of denying the transition, working harder, none of those worked any more. There was no light at the end of the tunnel. I felt my world was caving in on me on all sides, and that’s what I tried to convey in the art installation above. I was surrendered to the wilderness. God had my attention.

The Pathway from Wilderness to Inheritance

Now six years out of the 2011 wilderness (at the time of this writing), I could not have imagined the strength, the creativity, the innovation, the love, the security that can come out of such a time of wilderness. The very events that this blog touches upon, the picture that fronts this post, all came out of new expressions I could not have imagined prior to 2011. This was a part of my inheritance, something God always had in store for me.

What was the process that led me from that past season of wilderness to the most fruitful, creative, season I’ve ever experienced? I don’t have the space to expand the answer in this post. For now, I’ll just say that the template was drawn from the narrative of wilderness found throughout the entire Scriptures, from the physical wilderness that the Israelites went through, to the laments of the Psalms (which comprise a third of all Psalms), to wisdom literature (where we see bad things happen to good people), to the book of Lamentations itself. Altogether, these Scriptures teach that wilderness is not only normal, it is where we experience God’s presence, his loyal love. I’ll have to expand in another post lest I greatly exceed expected post lengths!

The wilderness. No other time in my life brought me to my knees in surrender. No other time so changed my very psyche. Those of you who have only known me the past 4 years or less don’t know how much I was an addict to work. The wilderness time was God’s invitation for me to detox, to shake off unreality, and then to not only see, but step into the Promised Land, my inheritance.

Falling upward: This post is the third of five motifs I used to express my story of “Falling Upward.” An intro to this theme and links to the other two posts can be found here:

Falling Upward: Work

Falling Upward: Authenticity 

 

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