Into the Wild is one of my favorite movies. The film’s nihilistically artistic feel triggers that human longing of wanderlust, and through McCandless we vicariously experience an escape from the world of disillusionment and materialism. But that’s not why I love the film.
A lot of us, like McCandless, want something more, something that we can’t find at Target or the grocery store or the nearest Redbox. Many of us scratch the itch through travel or the great outdoors, only to return a greater void than when we left.
Yet a journey into the wild to discover life’s meaning lies in the people around us and to be reminded to be thankful for what we already have is not practical for the average working global citizen. As a result, many people walk around with a gaping and painful sense of emptiness and lack of purpose.
I’ve encountered a few of these people and have watched them change, and witnessing their journey made me realize how largely I have taken for granted the sense of purpose instilled in me when I was very young.
In recent years, that sense of purpose my parents and the Church imparted to me through the sacrament of baptism has come into question. A few years ago, I remember expressing to a group of females at a Bible study that I was so certain my life was complete in God that I could die tomorrow without feeling like I’ve missed anything. Wow, I felt that way!? I believe I did, but those words no longer ring true me right now. Have I lost something?
Is it time for me to escape reality as I know it and re-ignite the fire that once lit up my life?
Into the Wilderness
An average audience of human beings might consider a movie that ended with the main character that gave up in the face of great hardship and pain a sad but true scenario. But it’s the character who rallies back to life that triggers something deep within us. It’s the character who forgives unforgivable wrong that makes our spirits feel uncomfortable. It’s the character who chooses life in spite of death that brings us to our feet in praise.
We can all be this character. It starts with a journey into the wilderness.
This journey isn’t really an exciting venture. In fact, we can’t even plan or pack for it. There is no neat itinerary or dream destination. We don’t even get to choose if it’s a one-way or two-way trip. It is simply guaranteed to change your life. You will never be the same. It is in the wilderness of pain and loneliness where we meet God.
God is essential. Without Him, we die. Without something greater and more powerful than us to give meaning to our life, we are simply that movie character who gives up in the face of great hardship and pain. And we all know what that can look like.
I read in a book that it is through relationship we experience most of life’s pain and also how we receive the most healing. I think there is more than one human being out there who would affirm the accuracy of this scenario. Here’s the point: we’ve all heard people in real life and the movies declare that they’ve met someone they can’t live without.
I can’t live without God.
That is the realization I need to come to. Without realizing this, God will mean nothing to me. And the only place I will actually experience is this in the wilderness.
In the wilderness, there is no water, no food, no supplies, no other people. You even come up short in your knowledge of the local flora and fauna. Everything you once knew or loved will feel far away. All is stripped away. You will have no choice but to call on God. Or die.
And here’s why we don’t need to plan this life-changing journey: it will happen, whether you want it to or not. You remember the childhood game, hide-and-seek? “Ready or not, here I come!” The wilderness experiences of life are like that.
I’m still in the wilderness.
God doesn’t wait for us to be ready, but he will always be there when everything starts to fall apart. In fact, he’s always there; we just tend not to notice when life is good.
He is waiting for you there in the wilderness, just as he was waiting for Christopher McCandless.