Anne Lamott once quipped, "I like the desert for short periods of time, from inside a car, with the windows rolled up, and the doors locked. I prefer beach resorts with room service."
I get where Anne's coming from. The desert heat is unbearable during the summer months, especially for people who are passing through. I remember when I first met my wife and she found out I was from the scorched desert of Arizona. Her immediate response was, "People actually live there?" Her childhood memory of the Sonoran desert consisted of a family summer vacation which led them through the desert sans air conditioning. A beach resort with room service is far superior!
If you're used to lush green landscape, you're gonna look right past the beauty of the desert. You're gonna see brown...boring...uninspiring...ugly...hot. Beyond all that, there's a certain stigma to the desert. It's the whole "everything alive in the desert is trying to kill me" thing.
Just today I found myself saying, "It seems like God brought me to the desert to die." Then I was quickly reminded of two very important things.
What if I need to die?
For starters, I long to be like Jesus as described in Philippians 2. He emptied himself so that he could fulfill his mission. He gave it all up, even counted it all as loss, in order to set us free and bring us new life in Him. I want to live with the same humility, purpose and passion. So often, though, my attitude doesn't measure up. I find myself caught up in what other people think. I try to please others at the expense of pleasing God. I let circumstances determine my hope rather than trusting in God alone as the One my hope comes from.
"I stand silently to listen for the One I love, waiting as long as it takes for the Lord to rescue me. For God alone has become my Savior. He alone is my Safe Place; his wrap-around presence always protects me. For he is my Champion Defender; there's no risk of failure with God. So why would I let worry paralyze me, even when troubles multiply around me?" (Psalm 62:1-2 The Passion Translation)
Did you catch the way the Psalmist, King David, chose to re-center his soul on God's salvation? Without God at the center of our lives, we are constantly susceptible to other forces telling us who we are and what we are supposed to do. We lose our peace when we lose Christ as our vision. And all the things that should die in us as we become more like Christ return with a loud cry..."What about me?!"
So there is a sense in which I have been brought to the desert to die. While it is a painful experience, I can also see how it has been a good experience. Because in the silence and the darkness, in this harsh and isolating desert, I can see colors starting to appear. Transformation is happening. The desert is blooming.
Life begins again.
The Paschal Mystery is that Jesus Christ lived, died, was resurrected to new life, and ascended into Heaven. While we recognize this truth during the present season of Lent and Easter, we can also recognize the Paschal Mystery in our own lives. In order for something to really live, it must first go through the process of death. The bleak mid-winter always gives way to the new life of spring and summer. Our hibernating spirits awaken once again to the warmth and the joy of a sunny day. We come alive again!
So what if we follow God's leading into the valley of the shadow of death? Don't we know that He is with us? The Passion Translation phrases Psalm 23:4 as follows:
"Lord, even when your path takes me through the valley of deepest darkness, fear will never conquer me, for you already have!"
If God has already conquered me, then fear cannot take me captive. Instead I am free to hope in my God who makes a way where there seems to be no way. And so are you...
My prayer is that you will do what David said in Psalm 62 and allow your soul to rest. To be quiet and still as you wait on God. He will rescue you. He will not leave you in this place of desolation forever. Perhaps there is something in you that must die so that you can fully live and fully function in God's Kingdom as a beloved child.
May God restore you to life and cause your soul to bloom and blossom as never before! May you step into the wonder of God's love and salvation. May you discover your God-given calling and courageously give up the good in order to take hold of the great.
There is life in the desert!