Growing in the Gray

The wilderness. That is where it feels like I am, especially lately. The wife of a dear friend I have known for 20 years passed away this week. She was in her late 30s. They have an 8-week-old daughter, their first and now only. Cancer took her within a month of her diagnosis. Two of my friends lost their fathers to COVID within days of each other. A childhood friend passed of COVID a few weeks ago; he was 37.

But my story is not unique. The world of the past 18 months feels like the wilderness—desolate, empty, unknown, and at times, unrecognizable. It has been wild in the worst of ways.

The word “wild” has many definitions, but my favorite is this one: deviating from the intended or expected course. This is the invitation to “wild” that I usually love. The invitation to break free from the monotony of our everyday day lives and do something unexpected. To live free. To dip our toes in the beauty of the path we didn’t intend to travel but is far lovelier.

But this pandemic has been a deviation from the intended course that I have not loved; none of us have. It has been riddled with loss, it has felt isolated, and it has felt, perhaps more than anything, polarizing. Polarization occurs when we are in a traumatized state as a mechanism to make us feel safe. When fear takes over, we take sides and we take them to keep us feeling safe…but it will also keep us feeling stuck.

Recently I read the following quote from one of my favorite psychologists (@theholisticpsychologist): “black + white thinking is a trauma response – it protects us from the unknown, but the unknown is where we grow. (Read this twice).” Let that soak in. We grow in the gray, the wild unknown. I believe the opposite is also true. Most of us do not grow in the status quo known reality of our lives. We need something to jolt us awake.

Is there a possibility that this pandemic has been an invitation to grow? An invitation to love. An invitation to hope in goodness. An invitation to believe in a Power bigger than ourselves. An invitation to turn inward and heal our own trauma. A jarring deviation from our intended path with the explicit purpose to force intention and introspection in our own lives. It has brought us into a collective wilderness. 

We want out because the wilderness is scary, but—and this is what is really hard—real work can be done best in the wilderness.

I think this is why I feel God most in nature. On the top of a mountain, in the middle of a forest, on the shore of a beach, on my kid’s swing-set in the backyard: God meets me in the wild if I will only open my eyes and look for Him.

It is why Jesus went into the wilderness to fast and pray. It is why the Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness. There is work to be done in the wilderness. The pandemic has collectively forced us to come face to face with what we all fear: death. But it has revealed something that is also true: we are not really living.

And so I want to invite you to step into the wilderness. The places that are uncomfortable.The people and narratives you struggle with. The spaces in our hearts and souls we don’t want to deal with. May we grant ourselves grace and hope in the gray. It is holy ground; may we not waste it. 

Lyndsey Amen Ribble lives in San Antonio with her husband and three sons (aged 5,4, and 1). She loves reading, writing, traveling, food (cooking it, eating it, taking pictures of it…), wine, hole in the wall anything, and forming community in unexpected places. She has a heart for bringing restoration to broken people and loving the unloved. She writes about all of these things and attempting to find balance at