dear hilary: when you go into the woods

Dear Hilary,

My question for you. I have been living in Norway for the past 4 months. I was asked to intern at a church here for 9 months, and I thought the opportunity was exactly what I had been wanting. I completed a ministry school, interned as a small group leader for a ministry school, traveled to France, Haiti and Israel and felt that I was called to the nations. With that being said, since being here there has been unexpected circumstances which lead me to feel so discouraged and confused. My heart longs to return home, and yet there is a fear of simply choosing what is comfortable rather than what is best. Currently what I had thought I would be doing I am not. My heart is aching to do what I love, and yet I feel almost stuck. I am wanting to pursue what is on His heart for me, and I feel unsure of where I am suppose to go from here. I am choosing to live present and make the most of every opportunity by serving, and doing the best with I am given but I find myself again feeling I am not doing what I truly want.

Love,
Feeling Unsure

Dear Feeling Unsure,

Have you ever seen Into the Woods? The Sondheim musical, that is – there’s a recent movie too, but for the purpose of this letter I’m thinking particularly of the original musical. I watched it a little while ago, and I have been thinking, and singing the soundtrack, for weeks now. And it’s not a devotional in the traditional sense and it’s not a Bible verse, but I can’t stop thinking about it when I think about your letter.

There is this song, full of things I’m not sure about, about wishes and making our own right and good, but the refrain, it’s the refrain –

no one is alone, truly, no one is alone.

We often ask God for direction and guidance. We often crave a map, a path, a bit of light on the way. I spent months praying every day for clarity about life after college and months praying for a boy to fall in love with me when all I found was uncertainty. I spent my heart asking, asking, asking, for the clarity. For the suredness to come back (had I ever had it before?), for my way to be obvious. For the feeling in the pit of my gut that said, not this, or maybe this or worse still, I don’t even know how to decide if this or if not … to disappear.

I got on the floor of my bathroom the other night while my husband made us dinner while he sang praise songs. I got on the floor and wept for no other reason than life is still confusing and I am in the woods with you, somewhere I’m not sure of, somewhere new. All after the clear calling to grad school and marriage, all after the work of it and the months of being in it and becoming familiar and even after there has been so much that has felt sure.

And everywhere, there is someone who went into the woods, like you, trusting the One who calls and who now sits on her bathroom floor or in his car with the engine running, and everywhere there is a fighting to believe it: you are not alone. Truly. No one is alone. 

You aren’t failing or falling short because your heart hurts for home. You didn’t mishear a good calling, or make a wrong turn, or disappoint anyone. Hurting for home, for the familiar, for the certain path, is part of how we are made and remade and sanctified, yes, even this longing is caught up in that greater work.

If you go home tomorrow, if you stay for ten years, if you long every day to go home but stay, or if you find the hurt leaves you for a little while – these are not the markers of being in the will of God. Nor are they the marker of pleasing God or living out a calling.

Those things you are already doing because you are in the woods calling out for Jesus. For what is it that we are made for but to learn endlessly how deep and wide the love of Jesus, that it is finally, irrevocably true: you are not alone. Truly. 

You are calling out in the woods, and many miles from you, I’m doing the same, and there are thousands of us calling out, and this is the fullness of every calling: to call out for the Lord in the middle of the woods and to become more and more and more fully assured of Jesus. Believe me, Jesus hears you, loves you, and is in the middle of the woods with you.

You have already done so much that is brave and breathtaking. Trust now that you can pause and ache and wonder, and go where you go, and all the while, you are not alone. Jesus goes into the woods with you, and even now, He is near.

Love,
hilary

2 thoughts on “dear hilary: when you go into the woods

  1. This is something I absolutely needed to read. Being in the waiting/discerning/this-isn’t-what-I-hoped-it-would-be-so-what-do-I-do-now seasons is so hard, and I’ve found myself in the midst of one myself. But knowing that feeling the ache doesn’t mean you’ve somehow abandoned seeking to follow God’s will is a brilliant truth that I am very grateful to be reminded of.

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