I’m just coming off one of the best weekend backpacking trips I’ve ever had. We put together a group of nine guys and headed off for the Dolly Sods Wilderness in West Virginia. The Sods is one of those places that really is truly unique. It’s a bog and heath eco-system on a mountain plateau at about 4,000 feet of elevation. It isn’t like anywhere else I’ve been in the Appalachian Mountains. Actually, it isn’t like anywhere else I’ve been, and I’ve hiked all over the lower 48 except for New England.
The Sods are isolated, not in a New Mexico-no-people-for-miles-and-miles kind of way, but in a mountainous-takes-you-30 minutes-to-drive-10 miles kind of way. It’s a designated wilderness area. No roads, no power lines, no cell-phones. Just marked trails. There is nothing out there.
Around midnight on our second night, I walked off alone to stand by a creek. Yes, I went there just to stand and listen and think. I turned off my light, and tried to become as still as possible. I was thinking how alone and isolated we were. I was thinking that we were in the middle of nowhere.
But my perspective changed. As my eyes adjusted to the complete blackness, I began to see the shadows in the meadow around me. The hypnotic on and off of the lightening bugs was all around me. Soon the sound of the gurgling stream blended into the background, but spring peepers made themselves known. The bullfrog’s throaty croak becomes oddly soothing. The mouse running along the ground scavenging in a cold fire pit becomes my entertainment. The rustling around of the guys in the camp reminds me that I am really not alone. It occurs to me that I was not in the middle of nowhere, but I was in the middle of everything. I really was somewhere very important.
I think I define nowhere and somewhere according to what makes me comfortable. Somewhere is where I have cell phone service and water from the tap. Somewhere is a gas station, and a grocery store, and paved road. Somewhere is defined by what I have constructed around myself to be secure and happy.
Nowhere is where I don’t have all the crutches I normally lean on for security. Nowhere is just a little dangerous, sometimes very lonely, and always uncertain. Nowhere is where your normal means of coping no longer work, and are even kind of laughable. It’s very easy to dismiss these nowhere times and places as inconvenient and painful disturbances to our pursuit of comfort and security. Nowhere places make us think that we’re lost and alone.
Life is full of nowhere places, those times when our security is stripped away, when we are vulnerable and small. It’s easy to become afraid or ashamed or disheartened. But what if those nowhere places are really somewhere? What if they are only nowhere because they don’t match our definition of what somewhere is supposed to look like? What if we agreed to allow our normal securities to fall away without a fight, turned off our lights, and just listened to what God was trying to teach us. What if, instead of fighting to hold on to the false securities of this world, we simply gave them up, realizing that when you are left with only what God has for you, that is the best place to be?
Twice in our married life, I felt my grasp on my plan for my life slipping away. Circumstances beyond our control conspired to put me in a position of thinking I was nowhere, that God had abandoned me. All those things I counted on, that I was certain would give me status, security, and happiness were stripped away. I was fighting to get out of the wilderness, only too realize later that this nowhere was exactly where I was supposed to be. This nowhere was somewhere precisely because it was the crucible through which I had to pass to be shaped into a different, and hopefully more Christ-like version of my true self, the self that was made in the image of God.
So, I guess today’s post is about encouragement. When you are wandering through a wilderness and asking why you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, realize that you are somewhere. You are where God wants you, and if you learn to listen, the you that will come out of that wilderness will be more you than the one that went into it. Nowhere really is somewhere.