BEAUTY in a barren place

On one level it was the darkest period of my entire life – a wilderness experience. On an issue of principle I had resigned from a ministry that had been a central part of my life for more than thirty years. In those days immediately preceding and following my resignation, my wife and I spent many hours walking and talking trying to make sense of it all. There was a great deal of sadness and not a few tears. But there was also light in the darkness and truth in the silence – the conviction that we were trying to do the right thing, the fact that we felt no sense of personal bitterness towards anyone, the support of friends and colleagues, and – more than anything else – the growing sense that we were learning things about the mystery of God’s grace and guidance at a level of our being that we had never before experienced.

There were truths to which I had long assented intellectually and which I had preached to others over the years that I began to understand at a deep and personal level: that it is possible to be deeply saddened without being in any way unhappy; that tears and laughter are close companions; that trust in a loving God has to coexist with an awareness that there is an inescapable uncertainty about life itself; that faith involves learning to be a believer in the dark; that there are no guarantees as to how things will turn out; that allowing God to be God means accepting that he will sometimes be silent – even apparently passive and inactive – when we are almost screaming at him to do something on our behalf. And there was a growing conviction that I was beginning to apprehend God’s love in a new and deeper way, not simply in spite of the hurt but, rather, in and through the pain; a growing awareness that to be embraced by grace, and to embrace it in return, is to accept not only that you are accepted and loved by God, but that you are cooperating in a process of growth in which every experience, even a journey through a seemingly barren spiritual wilderness, has meaning and can become redemptive

Looking back, the best analogy I can find is to say that it was a little like watching an image on a screen where the focus was becoming clearer, slowly but surely, and the picture that was emerging from the blur was one of an intense beauty, fierce and terrible, but infinitely more desirable than mere happiness or personal comfort.

Chick Yuill is a freelance speaker and writer