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Rising Strong in the Wilderness

By August 24, 2023No Comments

I was broken, beleaguered, and trying to recover from the deepest emotional valley of my life. After twenty years of effective ministry at the church I had started in our home, a church that had grown from zip to thousands, under pressure from the board, I had resigned three months before.

Liz and I had spent time in Joshua Tree, California, talking and listening to each other’s heart. We were confused but focused. A few months later, I drove up to a friend’s cabin in the Rocky Mountains. I wrote the following poem,


A Wilderness Poem


Cast out, maligned, discredited,

What I gave myself to,

What I sacrificed for,

Stripped, broken, finished.


Those I trusted, aligned, prayed,

In the darkness counseled,

In the way made plans,

Knifed, unforgiven, betrayed.


Dark, lonely, a wilderness,

With shame accounted,

With blame pondering,

Repentance, tears, new fitness.


The wilderness, Joshua Tree,

The high desert,

The flowers blooming,

Arms upraised; God can see.


Embraced again, rising expectation,

A road in the wilderness,

A river in the desert,

Humility, risk, anticipation.


The wilderness of our shame and failures is not a happy time. Failing is often shaming, sometimes humiliating, and always painful. The shouldas and couldas, the seeds of shame, are always knocking at the door of our heart. Heartbreak takes the wind out of our sails.

But rising strong after a fall is how we cultivate wholeheartedness in our lives. If you love enough, care enough, and risk enough, you will experience disappointment. It’s never easy to face our shame and failures. It’s a lifelong journey that is more attuned to a boxing match than summitting a peak.


It’s Not a Summit But a Boxing Match


Have you ever hiked and summited a mountain peak? I have. I have summited a few 14ers, the term we use in Colorado for a fourteen thousand feet plus altitude mountain peak. It’s exhilarating and fulfilling to reach the top of such a summit after hours of hiking.

But, rising strong in the wilderness of shame and pain isn’t about summiting a peak, but rather, more like a boxing match. A boxing match involves entering a ring with an opponent ready to knock our block off. Rising strong isn’t as much about a one-time victory but the fight itself. It’s about getting knocked down again and again and getting up again. Sometimes it means we can’t get up at all and we need others to come and help us.

Wholehearted living is the willingness to risk again after being knocked to the canvas. It’s the focus to get back up with no guarantees of a positive outcome. It’s the only way to love, find belonging, and grow in joy. Brené Brown writes, “It’s the process that teaches us the most about our lives. There can be no innovation, learning, or creativity without failure.”

Rising strong in your wilderness is a process. It’s the journey on the road less traveled. It’s refusing to quit loving, caring, and sharing. So, when you experience failure and shame, don’t quit! Get back up, face the failure, and walk back into the arena. Risk again, love again, and build new relationships. Such is the essence of rising strong in the wilderness.


Rising strong,

Pastor Steve