As I donned my rain jacket and stepped out of the car, my eyes anxiously searched the darkening clouds. Pregnant with moisture, they rolled menacingly toward my hilltop, and fear creased my brow.
Weathering a severe storm was not in my plan for the 24 hours I was intending to spend isolated in a hidden valley.
But the invitation was clear, and I had been craving solitude and eagerly anticipating this wilderness venture. I felt compelled to step away from the safety of my little Chevrolet and answer the invitation.
With renewed determination and purpose, I drew the hood of the jacket over my head and cinched it under my chin. I was anxious to reach my destination before the sky unleashed its fury. The warm wind tried to push me around as I trudged down the muddy road, and it struck me that this trek resembled the emotional and spiritual “mud” I had felt myself slogging through in recent weeks. Pressing on, I noticed that as I dropped off the ridge into the valley, the wind died down and a calm washed over me.
Darkness was settling as I arrived at the campsite, so I quickly secured a nylon tarp to a few trees to provide shelter and scurried to gather a few pieces of dry firewood. With the fire giving warmth and light to chase away darkness, I watched and waited.
What did this night have in store for me?
Would I be safe? Would I stay dry? Would the creek flash flood? What if something happened, and there was no one here to help me? Hundreds of worrisome fears began to flood and overtake the calm in my mind as I waited, unsure of what exactly God had invited me to this night.
Sporadic bursts of showers lasting a few minutes each eventually resulted in my withdrawing to the dry safety of my tarp. I nestled into my sleeping bag, watched my fire continue to dance as I faded, and then drifted off to sleep. Suddenly, about an hour later, lighting flashing across the sky and thunder crashing in the distance startled me awake. Wind ripped through the valley and revived the coals of my fire. Flames sprang back to life and reminded me that in the midst of the impending storm, I was not alone.
I lay there in the dark with my heart pounding in my chest and my eyes open wide as wild fear threatened even more than the storm, and I remembered, “The Lord is my refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, I will not fear, though the earth give way…” (Psalm 46:1-2).
Sometimes, the storm within me feels overwhelming and engulfing as I grieve the ways I have projected false images in order to seek approval from God and people.
That night, I was tempted to think that the storm raging around my shelter was punishment or discipline, just as the struggle of the storm within me can feel like punishment for or condemnation of who I am as it exposes my weaknesses and flaws that I have worked so hard to keep hidden.
As nature’s storm raged on, I became aware of how often I rely on my own power and strength for protection from or victory over struggles. God shed light on the reality of my weakness and need of His protection and strength. In the midst of the storm, He reminded me of His absolute delight in Jerusalem–the city of God–even as the people of Israel continually fluctuated between obedience to Him and outright disobedience and sin. “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day” (Psalm 46:4-5).
Saint Brendan of Ireland once prayed, “Can I trust You to be stronger than each storm in me? Do I still yearn for your glory?”
Hunkered down in my sleeping bag as the storm raged on, God reminded me that the storms around me and in me are actually a part of His transforming process. We have all heard Psalm 46:10, which says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” When I think of being still, I envision the green pastures and quiet waters of Psalm 23. And yet, the picture painted in the entirety of Psalm 46 is one of desolation and struggle. It is in the midst of those places that God remains, and we are not alone. Our strong and loving God is with us.
Morning light streamed through the trees, and I opened my eyes to a lush wilderness, washed clean and filled with new life and growth. The light revealed His eternal truth: God is greater than each storm in me because Christ’s blood has washed me clean!