There are different kinds of wandering. Of them all, the most painful due to its intense loneliness is what I refer to as stealth wandering. If you have ever spent a season wandering without anyone knowing, you can identify with the kind of loneliness I am speaking. Different from other types of wandering, this kind is not triggered by anything in particular. It slowly evolves over time without a discernible starting point. It develops out of spiritual ruts, fatigue, quiet doubting, desire to please, lack of balance, and, ironically, a keen sense of right and wrong. Let me explain.
Stealth prodigals are stuck in a conundrum. They are well aware at all times of competing; co-existing; opposite thoughts that have taken root in their hearts:
1. Jesus needs to be Lord but other things look good also.
2. I trust in the goodness of God but I trust that bad stuff happens too.
3. Godliness leads to blessing but the ungodly seem to be doing fine as well.
4. God is present but it does not often feel like it.
5. The Church is a spiritual family but a dysfunctional one.
6. People are capable of change but it seems to rarely happen.
Yes, these thoughts are in all of us. Faithful living does not exist without some awareness of them. But stealth prodigals take these competing thoughts to a dangerous place. They develop an intense disillusionment from their complexities. They become paralyzed and overwhelmed by them to the point of deep depression undetectable by most people. And though they feel incredibly guilty they choose loneliness over help.
The pain of stealth wanderers is complicated by pride and fear. They stubbornly believe that resolution should only arise from personal not collective effort. “God and I can get this worked out,” they privately try to convince themselves. But this only makes things worse. And there is also fear. “What if others discover the internal struggle?” “What if my spiritual family begins to view me as unspiritual?” they wonder. So external expressions of faith are maintained disingenuously which, not only is unhelpful, but proves to be more destructive and guilt producing. And anger takes root. Stealth prodigals do not like themselves or their wandering but struggle to break the cycle.
Our churches are full of stealth prodigals. Right now they might be teaching Sunday school, leading a small group, greeting and ushering, playing music, teaching, or quietly slipping in and out. And there is a spiritual battle underway for their futures. The deceptive enemy of our souls continues his assault relentlessly and effectively - convincing them that acknowledgement will only make things worse. But our Heavenly Father’s love and kindness, timely and strong, can come to us in our stubbornness. He sends along a friend, a counselor, a bible study leader, a caregiver, a pastor, a relative, or a surprise visitor that becomes our minister. God makes his appeal through that person who now becomes a part of our story. Others not themselves rescue stealth prodigals.
Hear this good news. I cannot state it strongly enough. Jesus receives all prodigals - even stealth ones. He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).” The fatigue that comes from wandering dissipates in Jesus. And peace and rest of body, mind, and spirit reestablish their rightful place in our existence. There is no wandering that cannot be ended or reversed in Him. There is not a hierarchy of wandering whereby degrees of severity are determined – receiving some but disqualifying others. There are simply wanderers who continue to do so and those who stop. And Jesus is waiting to take us by the hand. He is ready to lead us into new places of healing and life that reconcile us to God. But we must trust Him. This step is not only unavoidable; it is essential. Trust Him.