When Your Wilderness Feels Like a Life Sentence

by | Jan 8, 2014 | Encouragement



It’s the word my son received in an email to me from his teacher yesterday. While grasping the strap of his backpack, swinging fifty pounds over one shoulder and lifting a textbook in the other, I told him, “Your teacher gave you an exemption on that project that mysteriously vanished from the inbox on her desk a few weeks ago.”

His shoulders slumped as he leaned into the chair, the news was the tipping point on the weight he was carrying. Holding the tension of the lost project on the back burner of his thoughts, the exemption was now simmering in the forefront. “Thank goodness,” he whispered.

There is a sacred journey we choose as mothers. Do we allow our children to experience consequences of short cuts and dead ends or take the wheel when they aren’t steering properly? My son’s first year of high school has proved to be a lesson in travelling to a new destination without a road map.

I’ve learned as we’ve stopped, turned around, and re-traced our path that my children’s struggles and difficulties are not a reflection of my failures as a parent. Choosing a circuitous route doesn’t always mean I am to step in and control the situation with answers that help them get there faster.

Walking through the wilderness of your circumstance doesn’t mean God has forgotten you. No, it is quite the opposite.

He withholds from you, not because he forgets, but because he wants you to know that living by the bread of accomplishment is meaningless. Every word that comes from his mouth is nourishment that fuels your calling. Choose to eat it daily and know you aren’t forgotten. (Deut. 8:1-4)


For the first time in my life, I felt discouraged by new knowledge of God’s character. 2013 was the year of sadness; endless days of lament. Tears of disillusionment followed the selfish choices of others. I didn’t understand why He would allow innocent people to suffer unjust consequences.

And then I read this: He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. (Psalm 103:10)

This is good news for me, but not the words I want to hear for my enemies, for those who hurt me, if I’m honest.

God is called El Roi or The God Who Sees by Hagar for the first time in Genesis (16:13). You may know the story — when Abraham and Sarah feel forgotten in barrenness they choose to control the circumstance with a surrogate in Hagar instead of waiting in the wilderness, and they all end up in quite a mess.

Instead of shaking his finger and saying, I told you so, God does the incomprehensible. He lavishes them with love and kindness by fulfilling a promise. Not because he wants them to feel better about wrong choices but because he overlooks their sin and remembers their faith. (Hebrews 11:11-12)


Your life and mine, they are not sentences to be carried out. We are exempt from the penalty of our failures when we relinquish control of life outcomes.

He finds you in the wilderness, he sees you, and remembers that you are dust.  (Psalm 103:14)

With dear friends Jennifer, Emily and Lyli.

Subscribe for Shelly’s stories and free resources here: https://shellymillerwriter.com/free-resources/


  1. Rebekah Gilbert

    Oh, how I needed this today. Last year was one of tears for me, too. Not consequently, this is the second article I’ve read about Hagar today. I’m hoping this is the year “He lavishes them with love and kindness by fulfilling a promise.”

    • Lynn D. Morrissey

      Rebekah, I’m praying for that for you, too. Read my post above. I am praying that God will bring you singing from your wildnerness.

      • Rebekah Gilbert

        Lynn, you always know just what to say. You offer such hope for the wilderness experiences (and I am there now more than ever). Thank you…

        • Lynn D. Morrissey

          Oh and he is here now for you more than ever. I love you. Take heart. Praying!!!!!

    • Shelly Miller

      Praying for fulfilled promise in 2014 for you Rebekah. I’m glad you found solace here, that blesses me. Hugs to you today.

  2. ThandiweW

    Amen. Of course, this revelation comes just as I’m beginning to figure this out. I was ready to pack it all in when I read the words of Ezekiel 34:25….’I will make a covenant of peace with them and rid the land of savage beasts so that they may live in the wilderness and sleep in the forests in safety. It was then that I realized that the wilderness can be a beautiful place if we embrace the sometimes unpleasant and painful lessons to be learned there because, as you so wisely wrote, He lavishes us with love and kindness by fulfilling His promises, over and over.
    Thank you for your words and your servant’s heart.
    Never stop chasing Grace and Peace.

    • Shelly Miller

      Love the way God is wooing you to himself through His word Chelle. He speaks to us so uniquely because he knows us so well. Love you! (and I will never stop chasing, never.)

  3. Rachael

    So true. I remember times in my life when I knew God saw me but was silent. His presence was enough. I was my own enemy and I knew it. The faithfulness and the gentleness and the goodness of the Lord never ceases to awe me on this journey. His promises are all the bread I need for each and every day and I need constant reminders like this, for I often forget, and search for my daily bread in my own accomplishments for the day. Blessings! Love, Rachael @ Inking the Heart (linking with you at Jennifer’s)

    • Shelly Miller

      Rachael, I think that is why the Body of Christ is so vital, we all need reminders. I know I do, often. Thanks for visiting from Jennifer’s link up, lovely to meet you.

  4. Kris Camealy

    Shelly this is so crazy encouraging. I don’t know a soul who doesn’t need this reminder. Thank you for speaking to my heart–always!

    • Shelly Miller

      I’m so glad you were encouraged. Amazing how the daily Bible readings can inspire one to think differently and then write about it. *wink* Love you.

  5. Natalie

    Shelly, I’ve been pondering related thoughts over the past few days as I’ve realized that the thickest and darkness part of the wilderness I’ve been slogging through is in the rearview mirror rather than before and on every side of me. As I approach a life that doesn’t require bushwhacking, I want to live with what I know and what I learned during my days learning more about the God Who Sees, the God who is there, about waiting, and about what it means to walk worthy of the calling to which we have been called. When my road leads back into the wilderness again – and I know it will – I hope I remember who God is and that he sees, he knows, and he’s there. Hope sustains.

    • Shelly Miller

      I am nodding my head with you Natalie. I’m there too, in most of my wilderness being in the rear view mirror. No bushwhacking here either. Love the way you put it.

  6. Lori Tintes Hartmann

    I’ve read this post 2 times because I needed to soak in the reminder of your words. Today of all days I needed to be reminded that no matter where I am at in the wilderness, on this journey of mine, He is lavishing love and kindness on me and sees me through his grace. Wow. One year ago tomorrow, I walked into the toy room of our home and caught my brother in law, whom I loved and trusted with not a single doubt about his character or thought of him showing anything but love and goodwill to our family, doing the unfathomable to my son and grandson. My brother in law came the day after Christmas in 2012 and began doing the unthinkable in my home to my precious little’s until January 9 when I walked in on the horror. 2013 was filled with crying on our knees out to God for help and answers, sadness, shame, heartbreak, fear, nights filled with comforting young boys and walking through the fires of hell. We ended the year with the final court hearing and trying to find closure to our nightmare. I spent every week of 2013 driving my son to a counselor an hour away from our home to get him help and will continue to do so into 2014. We had to get rid of his bed, sheets, blankets…ect and completely redo his bedroom and it took months to get him to sleep alone in there and still it is an issues some nights. It’s a year later and we are still not using parts of our home very often because of being places where abuse took place. We have worked hard to claim back our home as being one of refuse, safety and peace but still he lingers here.

    Right after Christmas this year I began to have nightmares again and couldn’t shake the feelings of shame for not knowing that this was going on in our home. My son and I are both struggling as the anniversary of all of this happening to him comes around. There are times I still question where God is in all of this. I wonder how this man who claimed to serve and love Jesus could cause such hurt onto 2 little boys and their families. I struggle because I believe so strongly in God’s amazing grace and yet I struggle with God giving it to him. I don’t want his sin overlooked. Mine? Yes. But not his. I don’t want him to be lavished with love and kindness. So I seek God on this and ask him to change my heart. I don’t want to stay stuck in this muck so I keep seeking to be free of my hatred towards him.

    Thank you for blessing me today with what I needed to hear. I look at it as another step towards healing and letting go. Bless you!

    • Shelly Miller

      Lori, I don’t have lofty answers for your situation, just love and heartfelt prayers on my knees for you and your children. May God’s presence guide your thoughts with deep wisdom, shield your heart from roots that aren’t intended, free you from fear brought on by fleeting thoughts. One thing I am sure of, His blood is more than capable and redemption is sure. Feel free to write me at shelly@redemptionsbeauty.com. I’ll continue to lift you up.

  7. DeanneMoore

    I believe those tears where watering seeds sown on a heart that was broken. I have said it often, “there is nothing God uses like brokenness.” He is also just. There we rest, find “the door of hope” in the wilderness.

    • Shelly Miller

      Love that imagery of the tears watering seeds Dea. Thank you.

  8. Lynn D. Morrissey

    You are so right, Shelly. The wilderness can sometimes seem like a life sentence. I’ve been here a very long time. I used to think when Sheridan was five and went to school that God would release me; but He didn’t. But He does know my name, and my wilderness has an address, and He knows where to find me. The wilderness is a place where He sees us, and if we are willing to adjust our eyes, where we see Him. It’s a place from where fruitfulness will emerge.This passage from Hos. 2 is so meaningful to me: “Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
    Bring her into the wilderness And speak [j]kindly to her.15 “Then I will give her her vineyards from there, And the valley of Achor as a door of hope. And she will [k]sing there as in the days of her youth, As in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt.” I”m not sure how long I have to stay here, but no, God does not forget us. And He will never forget your son. Parenting sensitively as you do is no easy task. But God will give you great discernment, and I know you give your son great love. You never forget him.

    • Lynn D. Morrissey

      Shelly, I reread my post, and didn’t mean to make it all sound negative by any means. It’s not just that future fruit will come–as if there are no current blessings and benefits. The wilderness is a place of solititude and with fewer distraction and many opportunities to go deeper with God. And when we do that, we need less recognition, less accolades, less of ourselves. Yes, indeed, there are some really beautiful aspects to the wilderness.

      • Sylvia R @ sylvrpen

        Amen, Lynn. Amen.
        Singing in the wilderness,

      • Shelly Miller

        I didn’t take it as negative at all, hopeful actually. Thank you for sharing the passage from Hosea. It obviously spoke to more than myself, which I love about the comment section (and your Godly wisdom, always.)

  9. ro elliott

    Isn’t the hardest part…to need and receive God’s grace..and to really realize too…so does our “enemy”. God’s love and compassion doesn’t depend on our actions…He continually needs to heal my vision…this really hit home in a book I just finished…”house in the sky”…. Such a heart wrenching story…a story of forgiveness…that Gods love is everywhere.

    • Shelly Miller

      I pray often that he will enable me to see where I am blind, hear where I am deaf, be alert where I am distracted by the meaningless. You have such a lovely heart for Him Ro. Appreciate you.

  10. Laura Boggess

    Amen, to that, Shelly. I can’t remember where the scripture is–Hosea, maybe? Where God refers to “wooing” his beloved to the desert. He talks about those desert days like a honeymoon. And isn’t this true? These are the times I find the deepest intimacy with my Beloved. The letting go is so hard, and I think you are doing better than I, friend. But I love walking this wilderness with you.

    • Sylvia R @ sylvrpen

      Yes, Laura! It does say “in the desert,” doesn’t it! Thank you. This reminder blesses me, too.

    • Shelly Miller

      Lynn shared that verse from Hosea too. It seems to be speaking to people here in the comments. And Laura, you are good company in the wilderness, but we won’t be here long, I am sure God’s redemption will take care of that.

  11. Rebecca Stanford

    Thank you for sharing such beautiful words. It is something we all need to be reminded of.

    • Shelly Miller

      Grateful you visited Rebecca. Thank you for the kindness.

  12. Sylvia R @ sylvrpen

    Oh, Shelly! Did this ever resonate with me!

    First your title grabbed me so I *had* to come read—and then the words, “Walking through the wilderness of your circumstance doesn’t mean God has forgotten you… quite the opposite… He withholds from you, not because he forgets, but because he wants you to know that living by the bread of accomplishment is meaningless. Every word that comes from his mouth is nourishment that fuels your calling. Choose to eat it daily and know you aren’t forgotten.”

    For all you write here has been my lesson in the wilderness where I thought I’d be maybe 40 days, then a year, then two, then… (heh). And more: not just that He hasn’t forgotten, but that He wants me for His own, and closer and closer to Him!

    (And my next post, half done, cites Hagar.) God incidence here, fueling my awareness of His presence. Thank you. Blessings on your 2014, in the wilderness or wherever!

    • Shelly Miller

      God will make sure he knows we are loved and not forgotten. He seems to be doing that with you through sacred echoes Sylvia. I’m grateful.

  13. Amy

    Yes, Shelly. Beautiful reminder. I’m so glad He finds me in my wilderness and remembers me. I have chosen “grace” as my word this year. (Actually it chased ME down!) so this resonates with me. Thank you for your gift of words.

    • Shelly Miller

      We all need to know we are not forgotten don’t we? I’m glad this was a reminder of that truth. And my word chased me down too, which I’m kind of jazzed about. Trust, it’s my word.

  14. Lisa notes...

    I want to be exempt but I don’t always want those who hurt me to be exempt. 🙁 But thankfully God is bigger and wiser and more loving than I am.

    “I’ve learned as we’ve stopped, turned around, and re-traced our path
    that my children’s struggles and difficulties are not a reflection of my
    failures as a parent.”
    That’s a tough lesson to learn, but an important one. I’m still on the path to accepting it.

    • Shelly Miller

      Me Lisa, always learning and learning to accept things. I’m not sure we ever stop, right? Nice to see you here.

  15. Beth

    I’m learning so much more about God’s character as I begin my challenge to read through the Bible this year. I think a part of me avoided the book of Genesis due to trying to get through some of the genealogy parts, but oh how I’m loving every word. This really hit the spot as I ponder some of my reading from the past week. When I read those three words… “he sees you” I find myself looking up and saying, Thank you. Thank you for seeing me.
    Much love to you.

    • Shelly Miller

      It’s such grace when we find joy in what we used to think of as mundane, isn’t it? Glad this resonated with where you are in Genesis Beth.

  16. Linda@Creekside

    ‘I’ve learned as we’ve stopped, turned around, and re-traced our path that my children’s struggles and difficulties are not a reflection of my failures as a parent.’
    Shelly … what a much-needed gift of life these wise words are for wounded parents. A beautiful offering …

    • Shelly Miller

      May they be an offering Linda. Thank you, I’m humbled by your comment.

  17. Diane Bailey

    And sometimes, It’s like you need to sit on your hands to keep from grabbing the wheel and controlling the results. But when they finally get it – they really get it! This is when they get a glimpse of The Father’s love. And they will finally understand, when they have children of their own. I love this piece, Shelly! I love your heart!

    • Shelly Miller

      I got one of those glimpses in the car with my daughter yesterday Diane. Truly grace. Love you too, big.

  18. Lyli Dunbar

    Shelly, my daily reading had me in Genesis today, and it was Abraham offering up Isaac. He is the God who provides….

    Then, I read your post. He is the God who sees.

    He sees. He provides. He cares.

    My spirit is so encouraged after a tough day yesterday.

    Thanks for linking up at Thought-Provoking Thursday!

    • Shelly Miller

      I wasn’t even thinking about those who are reading the bible in a year and starting in Genesis, but I’m grateful for the serendipity and providence. What a gift . . . . for both of us. Hope today is better.

  19. Christy Willard

    The beauty of grace, for sure. I never thought of it as an exemption, but that it is. Found this idea so encouraging today! Thank you!

    Christy @ A Heartening Life


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