The Wilderness & Obscurity. / by Sarah Schwartz

Before I retreated from California to my little Oregon farmhouse for the summer, I managed to slip away from my desk for an hour one Wednesday morning to sip bad California coffee with a dear friend. We caught up on work and loved ones, her beautiful baby boy, and my plans for graduate school. "I'm hoping that once I start classes, I'll feel like I have a little more direction," I confessed, expanding on how I felt stagnant, like I was just working to pay bills, moving but not really getting anywhere. How it seemed like everyone else my age was moving away or getting married or, I don't know, just doing something.

"Sarah," my friend whispered, her beautiful brown Latina eyes wide, the kind of wide they get when she is about to utter something holy. (I've lived enough life with her to know the look.) She wrapped her slender fingers tight around her coffee cup. "Even if you don't, even if you can't see the plan or wrap your mind around the purpose, know the Lord has grand plans for you. So be here. What he is doing is bigger than you know. But you might not see it for a while."

We sat in silence for a moment, leaving space for the words we both knew were not her own. Tears filled my eyes as it sunk in that this ever elusive clarity I had been seeking would continue to remain out of reach.

As summer days dwindle, and my return to my California life draws near, I've been thinking about my friend's words quite a bit, rolling them around in my mind like a kid turning a jolly rancher over and over in their mouth. I received my official acceptance to my graduate program, and have been crunching the numbers every which way, trying to figure out how to complete the program as quickly as possible while still working full time. But the way it's looking, it's going to be a while. Like, a while. I'm finding myself jealous of friends who have the space and resources to throw themselves into programs full time and walk out with a degree in two years. It's becoming more and more clear that the next four to five years of my life will most likely be spent in relative obscurity, slowly chipping away at my studies while working as an administrative assistant. And I'm not quite sure how I feel about that.

It's not a bad life by any means. But for as long as I can remember, I've been in such a rush to go and to do that I hardly know what to do with the thought of standing still for so long. And college certainly didn't help. The whole trajectory of my educational career has been to prepare me to go to some unnamed place to do some vague-but-important thing, and now that I'm on the other side, I haven't the slightest clue how to just be.

While soaking up breezy summer afternoons on the farm, I've been reading a book by Jonathan Martin, entitled, "Prototype". In it, he has a chapter on obscurity, where he says,

"To be obscure, to be off the beaten path, to be in the wilderness feels like abandonment. It seems more like exile than vacation. To be so far off everyone's radar that the world might forget about us for a while? That's almost akin to death...society tells us that if and when we get 'there'---the job or position or degree we've always wanted, the notoriety we've always dreamed of---that's when all the important stuff will start happening.

Not so. All the good stuff happens in obscurity."

Ever so slowly, I'm beginning to catch a glimpse of the strange gift hidden amidst the folds of the wilderness season I've already begun tasting.  I've been spending more time in the quiet, driving to a spot far outside town that looks over the entire valley, so I might better tune my heart to the gentle, small voice of the Spirit. I'm learning to listen, rather than just frantically asking for what's next.

"Obscurity is not punishment. The wilderness is the place where our identity is solidified. The wilderness has its perils. to be sure; yet in a sense, there is no safer place. In the wilderness, we find out who we really are. We find out what we're afraid of...the wilderness also reveals the staggering depth of God's love for us, every bit as much as it spotlights the devils we let camp out on our shoulders. It is a remarkable thing to simultaneously have our brokenness and belovedness revealed in equal measure."

I'm growing more comfortable with the idea of this season, of being fully present and alive to the things the Lord has for me in it; the people he might have me love, the battles he has asked me to fight, and the wounds he has yet to heal. I'm pushing back against the thought that this season is a time filler, a prequel for things yet to come.

I am here. This is my life.

This is my life in the wilderness, being wooed by an untamed God, who, as Brennan Manning says, is infinitely compassionate with my brokenness, and at the same time an awesome, incomprehensible, and unwieldy mystery. A mystery with little sympathy for my time table or mapped out plan, but boundless mercy for the things in me that ache and stand in desperate need of his touch.

"...God draws people into obscurity, into the wilderness, not because He's angry with them, or because they aren't 'successful' enough, but because He wants to go deeper in His relationship with them. Far from being punishment, judgement, or a curse, the wilderness is a gift. It's where we can experience the primal delight of being fully known and delighted in by God."

There are good things for me in obscurity.