Lessons in the Wilderness

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By Hannah Lindsey

Last summer I had the opportunity to go on the Wilderness Leadership Expedition (WLE) with the Coldwater Foundation. Initially, I thought I could never do a trip like WLE – a 12-day canoe trip in the wilderness. Going into the trip I felt totally unprepared and it was this feeling, along with all of my insecurity and doubt, that followed me.  

From a storm that took my canoe out on the first day to struggling to carry an off-balance canoe amidst rocks, downed trees, and long stretches of mud, everything reminded me of my weakness and made me feel like a burden to the rest of my team. I decided that the best option was to try to hold in all of the negativity, the doubt, the shame, and the emotions. I didn’t want everyone else to know just how little I knew and just how out of place I was.  

Several days later however, my tired body could no longer hold in the pain. While unspoken, I felt as though I needed to be as good as everyone else and that there was no reason why I shouldn’t be able to breeze through a portage like it was a walk in the park. I was confronted with my weakness and was unable to reconcile it. God stopped me dead in my tracks that day when one of the leaders pulled me aside on the trail and provided a space for me to embrace my inability to go on, as I broke down and gave a voice to my struggle and pain. I can’t describe how good it felt to let it all go and to simply be vulnerable. It was at that moment that a weight was lifted (although I still had to carry the pack). 

I don’t think there was a single day where I didn’t face my own weakness on WLE, and it is because of this that my trip was characterized by the word brokenness. While this word typically has a negative connotation, it has come to symbolize hope and new life. I had been living an independent and self-reliant life for way too long, which was characterized by shying away from vulnerability and honesty, rejecting community and relationship, and hiding in shame, weakness, and inability. The “easy” life I was living – characterized by closing off my heart to avoid the pain of saying goodbye, or experiencing the hurt of separation and pretending like I have it all together so I don’t have to feel failure – was broken down. Instead of making my life easier, I had created unrealistic expectations and was living in a life that was fake, restrictive, and unfulfilling. 

I had been broken. Brokenness on WLE meant bringing me to my knees in a giant mud hole while double packing, forcing me to do nothing but wait for a teammate to come pull me out. Brokenness meant building shelters for the fifth day in a row, battling dark and mosquitos when it would be easier to let other people deal with the hassle. Brokenness meant admitting and owning my weakness, relinquishing one of my packs to a teammate when I couldn’t take another step. Brokenness meant becoming humble and taking the help offered by others, instead of trying to prove how well I could do a task. Brokenness meant waking up every day and crying out to God for strength. Brokenness meant sharing the most intimate parts of my story and allowing the walls I had built to come crashing down. Brokenness meant coming to terms with the me that has been hidden away, longing to come out and not only to know people but to be known by people. 

It took me going on a trip on which everything was stripped away from me to understand that God wants to know me and wants to be known by me, so much so that He is willing to leave all else in pursuit of me. When I speak of brokenness, I can rest in the fact that that which was broken was my physical self – the self that felt the need to measure up, the self that had something to prove, the self that needed to get things in order before coming before God. What I was left with was the raw self – the self that was weak, the self that was filled with emotion and longed to be known, the self that leaned in instead of trying to carry it all. God may have broken me, but He didn’t leave me broken. God revealed that the person I was trying to be was not who He created me to be. When I was trying so hard to hide the flaws and the ugliness I saw, I was actually hiding the beauty and joy He had placed in my life that flourishes in relationship and connection, both with God and with those around me.

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