By Aaron Elder
Let’s just say things went far differently than I had imagined. Joanna and I had agreed to move to South Korea to teach English shortly after college graduation and our wedding. I imagined an enjoyable, adventurous year – teaching, yes – but a year exploring life in Korea together. For two days, what I imagined was reality. It was hot and humid, but the air-conditioned hotel room provided relief and we observed the cute kids we’d be teaching and located a comfortable coffee shop.
I don’t remember the exact moment my dreams were shattered – was it being on the 10th floor of a 10 floor apartment complex in the sweltering heat with no air conditioner? Or was it the realization that first Monday morning I was doing a job I didn’t know how to do? Whatever it was, I had just begun the most trying year of my life to that point – by a long shot.
Of course, the bastion of spiritual strength that I was (former president of the university’s most well-attended Christian ministry), I knew how to handle such hard times. I read the bible and I pray and I experience complete and utter peace and joy – it fixes everything. Well it fixes everything until it doesn’t. What do you do when what has always worked suddenly doesn’t? I knew – you do the same thing just more and harder….
What the psalmist expressed in Psalm 13 (NIV) became my plea. God, I’m doing all the right things; how long until you rescue me? How long until the anxiety lifts? How long…?
I’ve listened to a good number of sermons in my day, and while God uses them all, there aren’t many that specifically stay with me. One day, I happened upon a sermon by a good friend – Dave Gibson. He was doing a series on walking through the wilderness. Perfect, I thought, he’ll help me figure out what I need to do to get out of the wilderness. He told a story of hunting with his dad when he was a boy when he became lost in the middle of the woods. As he reflected on that time, he articulated that what would have been most utilitarian in that moment (a map), wasn’t at all what he wanted (or needed). He simply wanted to be with his dad. Even in the middle of the woods, if he could be with his dad, he would have everything he needed.
I had been looking for a way out of the wilderness for months on end. And here was God, in the midst of great inner turmoil, inviting me to simply be with him. To be perfectly honest, things didn’t immediately “get fixed.” In many ways, 14 years later, I still find myself in the wilderness – for what seems like very different reasons. And yet, I find it’s just another invitation to be with dad.