Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church Reverend Matthew Ruffner: Lessons from the wilderness

Cross made of logs photo from Gettyimages.

Everything has changed over the past 10 weeks — how we grocery shop, learn, work, celebrate birthdays and worship. It feels as if we have moved from the known into the unknown. It feels like we are in an in-between time. The village elders of our faith traditions would call this season the wilderness.

The wilderness is a time set apart from time. Wilderness seasons are unknown, disorienting, scary and isolating. But the wilderness is also the place of new beginnings; it’s the place of faith and innovation. In the wilderness, we come to find faith in a new way.

The wisdom literature of our traditions, the Torah, Bible or Quran, are full of stories of those who have journeyed wilderness seasons. We should take comfort that we do not wander these days alone; in fact, the wilderness is the place where God, the divine, hovers closest, revealing new pathways of faith, life and love. Here are four lessons from those who have traveled wilderness seasons that I believe can help our journey:

1.  You are a human being, not a human doing. This season has clarified for many of us that we are more than what we produce, more than what we consume and more than our achievements. Our identity is not rooted in those things; our identity is rooted in God.

2.  Seek order amid chaos. It’s tempting to make a to-do-list of all the things you need to accomplish each day (see above). Instead of ordering your days around tasks and work, seek to order your day, so it awakens you to the rhythm of the divine. Begin your day with prayer/meditation. Take an afternoon walk and breathe fresh air. End your day by asking yourself, “What brought me life today? What took life away from me?”
3.  The wilderness is the birthplace of innovation.  The wilderness plays by a different set of rules. Past constraints no longer exist. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t good at something. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t tried something before. In the wilderness, everything is a possibility; anything is a potential solution. Try something new, take a risk in your business or try out that new idea.

4. Renew your purpose. Frederick Buechner said, “Your vocation (purpose) is where your greatest joy and the world’s deepest hunger collide.” Pay attention to where you feel drawn to help during this season because your deepest joy and the world’s deepest hunger may collide.

I pray that whatever we learn this season we learn deeply, for this season is redefining our lives.

Rev. Matthew Ruffner is the Senior Pastor at Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church in Dallas, Texas. Matthew was called to PHPC in April 2015, after serving as Associate Pastor for Mission at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. Matthew has a passion for helping shape the life and trajectory of Dallas through the church. He is involved with Purpose Built Communities in Dallas, which guides neighborhood revitalization by creating pathways out of poverty for the lowest-income residents, and building strong, economically diverse communities. He also serves as an ambassador for Project Unity, a community building program founded after the 2016 police shootings in Dallas to help heal race relationships between law enforcement and citizens.