In the desert the most urgent thing is—to wait. The desert does not take kindly to those who tackle it at breakneck speed, subjecting it to their plans and deadlines. It soon takes its revenge and makes them pay dearly for their presumption. Instead, the desert welcomes those who shed their sandals of speed and walk slowly in their bare feet, letting them be caressed and burnt by the sand. If you have no ambition to conquer the desert, if you do not think you are in charge, if you can calmly wait for things to be done, then the desert will not consider you an intruder and will reveal its secrets to you. - Meditations on the Sand By Alessandro Pronzato
The American version of Evangelical Christianity that I have been immersed in most of my life looks at the desert as a bad place. One might respond to to a question about how things are going in God, with "oh, I have been in a bad place, a real desert." Often times what we mean is nothing is going right, God seems so far away, or I am so dry I may just quit this thing. We desire a fast, instant, no work, no mess, instant growth Christianity, and when God doesn't show up on cue we get irritated, agitated, lose heart, and maybe just get lost in a desert.
That kind of desert is not what is being described here. It is not the bad place we find ourselves in. It is the place of being alone - we avoid it at all costs. For many of us being alone reveals our restlessness, and our discomfort with ourselves. Being quiet can reveal just how full of ourselves, our things, and our times we are. Alone is not the same as lonely. But alone often reveals how lonely we are and how full, and satisfied we are with illusion.
We tend to avoid being alone. But the desert is about being alone. In the 3-4th centuries Christianity was being watered down first by being tolerated, they approved, and finally co-opted by the Roman empire. During that time there was quite a number of Jesus followers who specifically sought out the desert. They did so as a means to connect with God and develop a Christ-like spirit.
When we embrace the desert and then discipline our hearts to depend on God, being along can slowly become a place of peace and solitude. Alone does not immediately equal solitude, just as it does not equal lonely. The desert deprives one of whatever we depend on. There is nothing left but just our self. And then we find that we just aren't enough. There is nothing to do but to wait, hope, and trust God. That is the lesson of the desert. it is a hard lesson. It quite frankly may be the battle of our lives.
"Desert" Christianity is as different from American Christianity as marinading a good piece of meat is from microwaving processed patties. Marinading takes time. Not much is happening while it is slowly prepared for cooking. You can not stand in front of the refrigerator and put your timer on for 1:30 minutes and bing it is done. It takes time. Developing Christian character also takes time. Time in the desert, time alone, time developing solitude so we can meet God in the secret place of silence and rest.
Our microwave version of Christianity fits well with our lifestyle. It is a busy one. It fits our deadlines, and our plans. It facilitates filling more of our time with more things, more activities so we don't have to be alone. With our microwave god all we need is a little time and bing it is done. We get what we want. Well ... not exactly. But what we get we think will do .... at least for now.
The problem is that God is more like the desert. His work in us is more like marinating. It is slow, consistent, pretty uneventful, unexciting, but soking through our whole being. He works deep transforming our character, our desires, our life so that we reflect his love brilliantly.
A while ago I was in a spiritual desert place. I actually mused about writing a book titled "The Desert in my Lincoln". A couple years ago I started commuting to work a little over an hour away. For many years I was 10 minutes away from home. I often would go home or meet with friends for lunch. I met with people for breakfast regularly. If something was going on during work I wanted to do, I might be able to scoot away and do what I wanted to do. Everything changed when I began commuting a in my 1996 Lincoln Town Car. As a result I felt isolated and alone. I felt cut off from family, friends, co-laborers in ministry, and things that were familiar. Gone was a lot of my freedom to do what I wanted. I was bound to that Lincoln and where it took me from 6:30 am to 6:20 pm. But I have grown to love my Lincoln, my desert. It cut me off from the familiar, the comfortable, and the pleasant so I could experience being alone. I fought it, but I eventually began to learn to wait. It has transformed me in small ways. I actually now seek out my desert and I seek out new deserts.
Although our deserts may be different there is really only two responses to them. You can try to "tackle it at breakneck speed, subjecting it to (our) plans and deadlines." The other is to" shed (our) sandals of speed and walk slowly in (our) bare feet, letting them be caressed and burnt by the sand." The desert does not deal kindly with the former approach, but welcomes the latter.
If you are on a similar journey, I would love to hear from you. I would love to hear of your journey and the small transformative things you have experienced in your desert. If you are battling in your desert with demons, maybe we can support each other. If you are avoiding it, fighting it, trying to conquer the desert, I know how unkind the desert can be. Lets talk about it.