I never expected to be a prodigal daughter. At least, not the kind that wanders into the fields and mountains away from the home I had known. But here I am walking the edges of the wilderness and wondering when I’ll find my way back. Who I am outside the confines of what I once knew- the job, the security, the relationships, the certain answers all of it had to be left behind. 

The terrain is rugged. The paths are not well traveled and I’ve found myself tumbling down jagged ravines that rip open wounds I’d thought I had closed. 

  • The abuse.
  • The ones who walked away and gave up. 
  • The failure.
  • The faith that only shamed.
  • The disappointment.
  • The loneliness. 

A few years ago I had to make a decision that would mean a major life transition. When I shared my plan with a friend I will never forget her advice. 

“You are about to encounter pain, deep pain—and it will well up in any number of ways. It will look like financial pain, identity pain, spiritual pain, community pain, leadership pain. And this pain will make you want to reach for whatever you can to numb it or fix it. Don’t. Stay the course.”

Great. I just bought a one-way ticket to pain. The very thing I’d been running from. But, unexplainably it also felt freeing- like I was running towards love. 

There are no voices giving direction out here. No ten step plans. No titles to appease identity. There is no money. No organizations to run. 

There is you. There is God. And both of those people–and the ideas you had about them–are not what they once were. 

As much as we all had hoped that faith would bring certainty of answers, many of us are left with more questions. “Why this,” and “Why now?” and “God, where are you?” and (perhaps most painfully of all), just “Why?” These questions can consume you. At one point, I held assurance I’d be delivered, but sometimes I’m not so sure. 

If history can teach us anything it’s that we spend so much of our time running from potential dangers and pain that we are not prepared when we encounter more of it. God may have split the Red Sea of your life — but that doesn’t exclude you from the daily dependence you’ll need in the rugged wilderness that follows.  

This is not the kind faith I wanted. I wanted the kind that promises more security and less pain.

So, why is it that I can’t stop feeling the pain of it all?

Each person’s journey is their own. So, it would be quite useless for me to draw you a map and tell you to follow it. But, if I could invite you over and sit with you on my blue jean couch I’d tell you that you are not alone. 

You are not alone if you’ve found yourself disoriented and questioning the rhythms of your faith and life. The Church finds itself on the brink of what Bishop Mark Dyer calls, the “500-year-rummage-sale.” That every 500 years or so the Church decides on what is worth keeping around – the rest gets marked with .25 cent stickers and is sent out to the garage. 

I’ve found this ease the burden of my isolation as I’ve been rummaging around in the basement of my beliefs sorting through what is worth keeping. That there is a collective grief and desire bubbling up within us. We are all longing to return home, but we are just not quite sure what that looks like yet. That’s okay. We are building it together, as we speak. 

What I’ve desired the most is not to be rescued from this place, although that has been tempting a time or two when my stomach starts to growl and the night grows long. The edifices we once built have crumbled. The certainty we once held is no more. But, pain-no matter the kind-is a shared teacher. 

My dear friend, keep on walking. Keep one foot in front of the other. Keep going. When you are unsure of your destination your primary reaction is to simply sit tight and wait. That if you can be still enough and numb enough you will escape your current circumstances and somehow be transported to the other side. But, that’s just not how it works if you want to move on.  St. Augustine, in one of his sermons, shared that we must keep on walking. That though the burden in heavy it is not solved by pretending it is not there. It’s released by walking through. He shares, “That if you are going onward, you are walking.” So what are you waiting around for? Keep walking. It’s okay that you are not quite sure where you are going or how long it is going to take. It might go against common sense, but the way out is not simply getting through, but going deeper in. And going deeper in will well up all sorts of pain. But not to worry, that is where love resides. It is the wounded that become the healers. At least, this is what Jesus taught us. 

So, do yourself justice and grieve what has been left behind. This is the advice no one seems to want to give, but knows when they have lived: faith has less to do with certainty and more to do with abiding and lamenting. Lamenting is not something we’ve made much room for in our comfortable Western churches. But more than ever, now is a time to lament.  It is time to grieve the hopes and dreams no longer. Our beliefs are shaken. Our systems are failing. Now is not the time for bowtied answers. Now is the time to weep. Allow your tears to heal your wounds. Because when we experience grief, we also get to experience the depth of love. 

It’s right when you think you are lost that you are found. This is the irony of the Good News that gets me everytime. Right when I think I have finally understood, I find myself miles away from home. And yet, the deepest caverns you climb into only shows you how deep grace goes.


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Gabrielle Engle

Gabrielle Engle is a preacher, pastor and writer. She’s passionate about cultivating community in everyday life. You can often find her digging in the dirt of her gardens, hosting meals in her front yard, or taking her dog Thurman for a walk in the neighborhood. There’s a good chance she’s cooking up a new adventure to go on and collecting stories to tell along the way. Currently- she resides in Benton Harbor, MI where she is an active member of several non-profits related to youth and education. She also heads up an urban garden in her neighborhood.

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