Experiencing a period of grief does not always involve mourning the death of a loved one. Grieving can occur when God requires one to walk away or give up something in order to submit to the call of being chosen. Being chosen is a unique path to righteousness that involves wholeheartedly serving the kingdom of God at the expense of losing one’s worldly possessions or one being cast off as ‘socially unacceptable.’ Surprisingly, this may occur when things seemingly look great from a worldly perspective. For instance, you may have a great job, a nice house and/or car, a stable relationship, and a decent group of friends. But out of nowhere, God asks you to give all of that up to follow Him. Based on societal standards, giving up all you have to follow God doesn’t seem logical because you have all that you could ever need, right? Interesting enough, life may seem great from the outside world, but God sees the unknown destruction that is hidden in your seemingly perfect life without Him. Therefore, in order to save you from pending misfortunes, God allows interruptions and disturbances to tear away at the comforts of your life in order to get your attention. This is when grieving in the wilderness begins.
What is the wilderness?
The wilderness is a period of time when one is separated from the life that one has always known—just like what the disciples experienced when they decided to follow Jesus Christ. This often leads to a dry season where instead of accumulating things, God is stripping away your idols (jobs, money, popularity, houses, cars, relationships, family, etc.) to the point where you have nothing to rely on but Him. At this point, you may encounter opposition from those you love and trust, especially if they refuse to accept or understand your call to serve God. Not only is opposition an obstacle that can cause deep emotional wounds, God also allows many other tests and trials used by the enemy to build up your strength in Christ. During this period, one may struggle through stages of grief that is similar to someone processing the reality of dying, such as denial, anger, bargaining with God, depression, and acceptance. Ironically, going through the wilderness doesn’t often lead to physically death, but it does require that one allows the death of the flesh for one to be reborn in the spirit.
Five stages of grief in the wilderness
The first stage of grief is denial. Denial occurs when one tries to avoid adhering to the wilderness process. In fact, one may find his or herself asking questions such as ‘Is God really asking me to do this? Or, Did I hear Him correctly? Some may even boldly tell God ‘NO!’ because they refuse to let go of the attachment to people or things that are holding them back from fulfilling their God-given purpose. Oftentimes, with denial, the spirit of fear shows up to convince you that taking this narrow path with God leads to loneliness, poverty or simply an unfulfilling life. But many fail to realize that the opposite is true. When God choses you to glorify his kingdom, you are guaranteed a life that is full of favor given through God’s love, protection, mercy, and forgiveness.
16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.John 15 :16 NIV
Surely, denial can increase one’s period of grief as it prolongs the process of ridding the flesh (i.e. sinful habits, toxic relationships, generational curses), which is usually achieved through separation or losing something that is connected to things outside of the will of God. In all, the more one denies the call to be chosen by God, the further one is away from receiving God’s promises that He has designed for one’s life.
Feelings of anger and resentment are greatly exposed in the wilderness as God uses different tests and trials to cleanse your heart of covetousness and unforgiveness. One of the most common things people say during this period is ‘I lost everything…this isn’t fair!’ or ‘Why me?!,’ which are responses driven by being angry with God that He has taken away some, if not all, of your earthly possessions to advance your spiritual journey. I found myself saying this as I embraced my own wilderness period, wondering why I had to temporarily suffer a few losses in order to get closer to God. Truly, it’s not easy having to give up that good job/ business, house, car etc.—-especially when God forces you to let go of these things while others around you seem to be gaining even more of what you lost. But the purpose of enduring this period of lack is to remove the stronghold of covetousness that keeps one stuck in idolization and out of the will of God.
Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.Jonah 2:8 NIV
Anger also rears its ugly head when having to contend with persecution after choosing to separate from certain people to serve God. Your old crew may not like the fact that you choose Friday nights to read the word of God over meeting up for a few drinks at the bar. Resentment and betrayal from family or ‘so-called’ friends may even catch you off guard. But God allows you to endure this to teach you about perseverance and learning to forgive those who hurt you.
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.Colossians 3:13 NIV
Although anger is a natural response in having to experience certain tests and trials, it is important that one does not allow anger to take control over one’s Faith during the wilderness.
Bargaining with God is an attempt to manage the wilderness period like a transaction. ‘If you let me keep this one thing I will serve you’ is a statement that illustrates the bargaining phase when one tries to convince God to allow something to remain in tact even when one is being asked to let it go. Take for instance, God wants you to leave your job to start a ministry. But you are fearful of not having enough money to pay your bills. So you ask God to allow you to keep the job while you start your ministry. Naturally, you may believe that you have the ability to juggle a job and a ministry. In fact, many people do this. But your particular walk of Faith may require that you serve in ministry fulltime! Indeed, God may have plans for you to grow your ministry in ways that no regular 9-5 job can fulfill. But you have to trust God, knowing that although the wilderness process is forcing you to sacrifice some things, God will supply all of your needs and desires.
And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.2 Corinthians 9:8 NIV
Depression or sadness often creeps in during the wilderness when God allows your tests, trials and suffering to tarry. This is when the enemy does the most talking in trying to get you to believe that God has forgotten about you and that he will not come through with His promises.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”Genesis 3:1 NIV
However, tarrying or experiencing a period of waiting is God’s way of building up your spiritual stamina so that you learn how to remain faithful in Him during hard times. You may find yourself saying ‘I’ve been in this wilderness season for so long, things will never change!’ because it feels like many days, weeks, months and years have gone by and you are still facing the same battles! In fact, many biblical figures such as Joseph (Genesis, chapters 37-41), Hannah (1 Samuel, chapters 1-2) David (1 Samuel, chapters 16-31), Job (Book of Job), Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel, chapter 3), Daniel (Daniel, chapters 5-7), and most of all, Jesus Christ (Book of Matthew), had to suffer injustices and opposition for a certain length of time before they reached a moment of victory. The waiting period in all of their circumstances was used to stretch their Faith in God and strengthen their character so that when the enemy tried to intimidate them, they did not bow or stray away from God. Nonetheless, there were moments when many biblical figures did encounter depression and fear when their faith was tested, especially Jesus Christ:
From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli,clemasabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).Matthew 27: 45-46 NIV
It is common to experience sadness and/or depression during the wilderness because you are primarily facing many obstacles that only God can control the outcome. It is important that when going through this process, that one does not allow depression, due to waiting for God to deliver on His promises, to kill one’s Faith in God’s word.
‘I am willing to sacrifice my life to fulfill my purpose in God‘ is a statement that embodies the stage of acceptance in the wilderness. You now see the bigger picture as to what God is doing in your life and you are willing to do whatever it takes to see that God’s promises are fulfilled! It doesn’t matter what the enemy is throwing your way, you continue to move forward with what God has called you to do. Truly, this is the most important stage of grief in the wilderness because it shows that everything God has taught you through moments of adversity—such as learning to forgive and letting go of worldly idols— has started to bear fruit.
It is good for me that I have been afflicted,
That I may learn Your statutes.
The law of Your mouth is better to me
Than thousands of coins of gold and silver.Psalm 119: 71-73 NKJV
Having to let go of life as you know it can be a painful process to bare. No one really prepares you for that great walk of Faith in the wilderness. Actually, many people won’t understand why you may choose to give up your worldly desires to follow God. It will seem like you have gone insane! But it is all apart of being a chosen vessel of God. Truly, in the natural, things will begin to fall apart as you embark upon that spiritual journey to get closer to God. But God has His miraculous way of letting things fall apart only to be put back in its rightful place and in its greatest form.