We all have different reactions to these dry and rather barren areas of our world. To some they are full of beauty and comfort, and to others unpleasant and places best to avoid.
But what about the emotional deserts of our lives? These are the empty, seemingly unfertile places that we cannot avoid.
Through distractions and denial we might try, nevertheless, they are part of each of our lives.
It is when meaning has gone out of our lives, or we are very sad that we are in what James Hollis calls “the swamplands” or our soul.
They are often filled with extreme disappointment and broken dreams. It usually seems that they will never end.
These are places where we feel lost – disoriented. Nothing seems to mean anything anymore. It is a time when our prayers remain unanswered and we don’t know where to turn.
Feeling disoriented is difficult for those of us who take pride in figuring things out. We look for sign posts and find none.
Where before we have been able to fix things, now we can’t. And what we are looking at is not what we want to see!
The desert places in our lives are a time of waiting and weeping — crying and grieving all our losses that have taken such a heavy toll on our lives.
It’s a place where we realize we can’t solve the unsolvable.
This is a time of letting go — because there is nothing else to do but that.
When (and if) we finally decide to admit our spiritual tool box is empty, we can turn to God in new ways.
There is something we can do! We can wait, and we can listen within. We can be still and go about our everyday lives as gracefully as possible, doing only what is in front of us to do.
The desert teaches us what we can not learn any other way.
Alan Jones describes the desert as a place of silence, waiting, revelation and transformation in his book, SOUL MAKING: The Desert way of Spirituality.
For the desert times allow us to examine our hearts. Are we willing to pursue the truth no matter where it leads? Are we willing to acknowledge that we may be wrong?
Are we willing to stay open to the amazing mystery hidden in the places that look so barren and even foreboding?
Are we willing to trust God when it seems like we won’t ever get what we want?
Things are not what they appear. For these times are actually a place of complete rebirth. Answers appear when conditions are ripe — and not before.
The Christian tradition of the Desert Fathers began in the 3rd Century A.D with a band of followers who were disillusioned with the Christian churches and sought God, meaning and grace in the desert places of North Africa.
Saint Antony became one of their leaders in the 4th Century and this tradition of silence continues to this day by souls who seek answers and are willing to wait.
Through the legacy of these Desert Fathers and Mothers I have found a richness that has truly blessed my soul. Their unending patience in living the contemplative life has guided me along similar quiet paths.
I have learned to proceed as Way opens. Through my heartbreaks I have found a deeper joy.
So, I offer you this same solace. When life feels empty, you can slow down and know that what appears empty is really filled with grace.
Something new is on its way. And it needs time, darkness and stillness to grow.
It takes patience and willingness to wait – wait knowing the grace of God is leading you into a new way of life.
It also requires your willingness to let go of all that has been, acknowledging that you can’t lure the past back into the present, no matter how you might try. Bargaining doesn’t work.
Since the past is really gone, the present moment will have to do. In its present fullness, it is enough. And it’s all you have.
This moment arrives just as it is. You can only open to it, breathe and allow things to be just the way they are for you, for now.
Everything changes. Nothing can remain the same. Emptiness must fill itself. This is not our job. We are totally unqualified to cause seeds to grow.
In its season the desert blossoms as the rose. (Isa 35.)
No one can coerce it, or hurry it.
The Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years. Forty is a number that symbolically stands for the full completion of something. I think of forty as meaning, “it takes as long as it takes.”
Perhaps the dry places blossom more quickly when we give up complaining about them.
Just breathe, wait, and know something will happen, and that it will be good.
I find this proverb helpful:
“In the end it’s all good. If it’s not good, it’s not the end!”
I bless you in the dry, barren places in life. And I bless you with those new beginnings!