What comes to mind when you think of the desert? For east coast Americans, our only reference is media imagery: bright sun, endless sand, little or no life forms, no food, and no water. Not a place I want to visit, much less hang out!
Just think about it: The Israelites had to pass through the desert to get to the promised land that was flowing with milk and honey. David hid in the desert from Saul (1 Samuel 1) and Elijah spent some considerable time there while in danger, too (1 Kings 19). And, of course, Jesus had his amazing encounter with Satan in the Judean desert (Matthew 4).
I’ve recently been encouraged by remembering that Paul was knocked off his horse and converted in the desert on his way to Damascus, after which he spent three whole years in Arabia (Galatians 1) being prepared for the history-changing ministry God had for him.
Desert experiences are hard. But the really good news is that they always result in sweet fruit.
Real deserts are one thing. But dark nights of the soul (a widely used phrase from a poem by 16th century mystic Saint John of the Cross) are deserts within. Some of the symptoms can include:
- Praying for years for something that hasn’t happened and battling fear or unbelief that God cares.
- Feeling demotivated and disengaged from things and activities you used to love.
- Wondering if long held dreams and goals will ever happen.
- Battling depression and hopelessness.
- Wanting to withdraw from people; having to force yourself to go to meetings, hang out with people; etc.
- Struggling with self-pity and gloominess.
- General feeling of “going through the motions”; lacking joy.
Are you in the desert? If this list describes you all or in part, consider doing what I did recently and see your doctor to discover if there are things beyond your control that are playing a part in your struggles. Then let people know you’re hurting. For some reason, going through dark times is not something about which we Christians talk to each other. We are too often tempted to put on a happy face and feel ashamed to disclose the desert within.
But what freedom comes when we humble ourselves and say, “I’m not doing well. Can you pray for me?”
More tomorrow on my desert journey. The hard time I have been walking through doesn’t compare to that of so many who have struggled far longer and for far more serious reasons. If you’re not struggling right now, thank God…and maybe think of someone you know who could use some encouragement.
Because there’s always hope.