JJ in Scotland writes about going through a desert experience in her life. Having gone through a couple myself I started reflecting on those dry times and some of the things I learned. I’m thinking that I might just try to blog out some desert thoughts over the next few days.
The wilderness or desert theme is quite evident in the biblical record – Abraham, Moses, Israel, Elijah, Jesus, and Paul just to name a few. It is my observation that one of the mysteries of our spiritual journey is that we are often led to travel through the deserts (of which JJ writes) where being alone ultimately brings out the thirst, the desire, for God.
I once heard Gordon MacDonald develop this metaphor. He mused about the variety of deserts we might encounter today. We could be drained, dried out, devastated, or disillusioned. Some deserts are lonely places of defeat, or destinations of the disheartened. The desert of discouragement seems to be one in which many church leaders wander. The wilderness of distortion confuses us. And then there is the desolation of depression. We could probably add several others (though they may not all start with the letter “d”).
What seems to make the desert experience frustrating (at least initially) is that we don’t always see it coming, and we don’t always understand how we got there or how we’re supposed to get out. Sometimes we find ourselves in these metaphorical wildernesses because choices made by others impact us – Elijah and Paul could tell us about those experiences. Many times it is due to choices we make ourselves. The easiest of those to understand are the ones that result from choosing sin over righteousness. But sometimes the desert results when we choose to follow God as Jesus and Moses demonstrate. And sometimes, like Job, we just don’t have a clue!
I like what Eugene Peterson says in Leap Over a Wall,
But there are times, no matter how thoroughly we’re civilized, when we’re plunged into the wilderness-not a geographical wilderness but what I’m going to call a circumstantial wilderness. Everything is going along fine: we’ve learned the language of the country, gotten a job, decorated the house, signed up for car payments, made out a schedule that imposes some order on the chaos of time, accepted responsibilities that define our significance, heard people speak our name and determined that we’re identifiable. And then suddenly we’re beside ourselves: we don’t know what’s going on within us or in another who is important to us; feeling erupt in us that call into question what we’ve never questioned before. There’s a radical change in our bodies, or our emotions, or our thinking, or our friends, or our job. We’re out of control. We’re in the wilderness
What I want to say is this: I readily acknowledge that this circumstantial wilderness is a terrible, frightening, and dangerous place; but I also believe that it’s a place of beauty. There are things to be seen, heard, and experienced in this wilderness that can be seen heard, and experienced nowhere else. When we find ourselves in the wilderness we do well to be frightened; we also do well to be alert, open-eyed. In the wilderness we’re plunged into an awareness of danger and death; at the very same moment we’re plunged, if we let ourselves be, into an awareness of the great mystery of God and the extraordinary preciousness of life (page 74).
There are some things we can only learn in the desert.