Author Sarah Bessey Talks Overcoming Loss and Doubt: "God Keeps His Promises"

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Bestselling Christian author, speaker and podcaster Sarah Bessey spent years living with uncertainty about her faith. But when God called her to burst her "religious bubble," start asking tough questions and take the leap to go on the journey with Him, everything started making sense.

The season of questioning and doubting that many Christians go through, which causes them to wander and stray away from God, is what Sarah coined the "wilderness." It was out of her own questioning and wandering that she formed Evolving Faith — an annual conference, a podcast and an online community that helps "wanderers" — just like Sarah once was — find their way back to God by breaking down Biblical truths about His character and His love for us.

Despite the radical love Sarah now has for God and her passion for spreading the truth about who He is to others, Sarah's wilderness season lasted for years. "I remember people coming to me and saying, 'Hey, remember when you went through that time when you didn't go to church for six years? Can you talk to me about that because that's how I feel right now,'" Sarah tells Woman's World.

Field Notes for the Wilderness by Sarah Bessey
Field Notes for the Wilderness by Sarah Bessey

"At the end of the day, what I began to realize was that there were so many people who needed to feel seen. And yet, there was nothing that we could put in the hands of someone who is saying, 'What do I do next? How do I navigate this?' Because it's a very disorienting thing to suddenly start to question a lot of the faith foundations and bedrocks that you have," Bessey explains.

That's what ended up being the inspiration for Field Notes for the Wilderness — Sarah's new book that guides readers through the “spiritual wilderness,” a place where doubt and uncertainties are welcomed and a place to help readers find answers.

Here, Sarah opens up to Woman's World about her new book, her own struggles in the "spiritual wilderness," how she keeps her faith strong… and what she's learned about God through it all.

Woman's World: What inspired you to write Field Notes for the Wilderness?

Sarah Bessey: I was wanting to say, 'Okay, if I was standing with someone at the threshold of the wilderness, what are the things I would want to tuck in their back pocket for the journey ahead? What are the things that I would want to slide into their hand and say, 'Here's what I've learned the hard way. If this can help make the path a little bit easier for you, I want that.' This book is my way of being there with people in a really tender and complex time in spiritual life.

WW: How might someone know that they’re in a 'wilderness' season in their faith?

Sarah Bessey: One of the things that may not have served women of faith well is the idea that our spiritual formation has been very focused on getting things right and having all the right answers, and having to defend what you believe with a high degree of certainty. That can be helpful developmentally early in our lives, but there comes a point when that script doesn't work anymore.

The wilderness is when the things that used to feel like certain answers, now feel inadequate. The answers we've been given aren't adding up anymore. So then you're faced with that fork in the road, where you ask, "Do I double down on everything I've be taught?" Or you ask, "What if we didn't treat the wilderness — the doubt, questions and even critiques of faith — as a sign of faithlessness but rather, a sign of faithfulness?"

What if we dared to believe that this is an invitation from the Holy Spirit? What if this is actually not a slippery slope or a marker of anything other than spiritual formation? Because now, there's a deepening that's happening there. You've got to let yourself be transformed and changed.

Sarah preaching
Sarah preaches that walking through the wilderness of doubt and searching for answers to our hard questions actually helps us draw closer to God

WW: You talk about loss, abandonment, exclusion and hopelessness — When was a time in your life that you felt these things?

Sarah Bessey: Many people believe if you do everything right, then God will bless you and everything will go great. But you can live for one minute and realize that that's not true. Sometimes the people who suffer the most are the very best people that you know. What does it mean? What do you what do you do with those questions?

This is what pushed me over the edge in my own experience. Early in my marriage, my husband and I experienced a series of miscarriages and struggled with the loss. I had a moment where I was like, "I did everything right. I did everything the way that they said I should do it. I made every mark." Yet, I still found myself laying on the floor crying so hard that my ears filled up with tears.

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So, I thought now what? What is the point of prayer? What is the point of God? What does it look like to be faithful when you're hurting and your heart is broken? Everything I thought I knew about God has just disappeared, like steam on a mirror after a shower when you open the door. It was just gone.

So that rebuilding process took years for me. And it was very slow and it was sloppy. I made a million mistakes. But at the same time, all those things brought me where I am now. We are learning. All you can hope for is that measure of grace to keep trying.

Now for me, I can see that God has been faithful. God has been faithful for over 25 years of my questions, doubts and reorganizing. This is the spiritual formation of being a person.

WW: What “truths" about God have you learned and discovered that keep you trusting Him when you feel lost and discouraged?

Sarah Bessey: One of the biggest things that was a reset for me was realizing how deeply God loves us. Not like in a theoretical sense, but in a visceral mothering sort of way. That healed almost everything.

There's a million ways for people to receive that kind of revelation, and for me, that experience was through having my children. I know that's not everybody's story, but I remember having these moments when we had our children where I would just watch them when they were sleeping, and just feel like I could kiss like the bottoms of their feet, and their elbows. There wasn't an inch of them that I didn't delight in and love.

I had a train crash of realization that God loves like a mother — a good mother. Then I began to see that thread through Scripture, and I began to see that kind of ferocious, constant, never-ending, unconditional love being the actual truest thing about God. And that is the filter through which everything else has to pass — the lens through which you see everything — that will reset you.

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Having children opened Sarah's eyes up to the love that God has for us
Having children opened Sarah's eyes up to the love that God has for us

WW: How did you find God during your wilderness season?

Sarah Bessey: When I began to see my actual, real, ordinary walking-around, everyday life as a place that God was at work. Maybe because the religious tradition I grew up in was like, "Here's all the things that are sacred: going to church, reading your Bible, singing these songs, lighting these candles, and then everything else is secular and separate from God."

But when I realized that so much of what the Holy Spirit was up to in my life and what God was doing was erasing and tearing down every boundary I had drawn between my everyday life and the place where God dwells.

So for me, one of the invitations that we have from God is to notice all the ways that He is hiding in plain sight in our life right now. There's not only one spot where God will meet with you. We construct all these little boxes, categories and names for God — and instead, I would love for people to develop an openness to all the ways that God is already speaking.

Not just Sunday at church, not just when you get it all together, not when you get out of debt, not when you meet a certain health goal, not when you get your kids raised, not when you make a career... But, right now.

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God is loving you and showing you something amazing. I would love us to have our antenna up, and notice that. That's where a true relationship forms.

WW: What can readers expect to gain from shifting their mindset and not be afraid of what God might teach them?

Sarah Bessey: There can be a lot of fear, and what I wanted to do with Field Notes for the Wilderness was to help this be a less fearful season. What does it look like to trust in the goodness, the welcome, the inclusion, the acceptance and constancy of God? What does it look like to be kind and patient — even towards yourself? What does it look like to actually talk about things like healing and belonging? Those are questions that a lot of us are really interested in right now.

You realize that you can't wander away from God's love. It is always for you. It is always for your flourishing, for your abundance and for your joy. There is so much joy on the other side of the wilderness. On the other side of it, you have all the gifts that the wilderness came to give you and you have all these experiences, understanding of the love of God and you even have room for things like joy. You realize how good and beautiful God is. It's a good place to be.

Sarah's new book, Field Notes for the Wilderness is on sale now!

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