Have you ever read a book or watched a movie where a character was lost in a desert? The plot line is fairly typical. A beloved character is seen wandering around a barren land. At times he stumbles, even falls to his knees, losing the strength to go on as each second ticks by.
“If only I could have a drink of cool water,” he mumbles aloud to himself. He reaches for his canteen or filtered water bottle (gotta bring it up to the 21st century), puts it to his mouth, and tips it. But no water comes out. The vessel, just like the land around him, is completely empty of any refreshing reprieve.
In books and in the movies, usually the character is rescued. Sometimes that comes in the form of being found by someone who had been looking for him, or perhaps by someone who just happened to be passing by (in the desert…). Other times, his rescue comes in the form of an oasis. After struggling for a tremendous length of time, suddenly he happens upon a place in the desert that has water–an underground spring that has bubbled to the surface. His spirit quickens as he sees his rescuer–whether that be a human or a body of water–and hope is once again born into the lost man’s spirit.
I have never visited a desert. If you know me at all, or if you have read anything I have written over the past couple years, you know that a desert would be the LAST place I would ever want to visit. I don’t like heat in the first place, but more than that, my body does not tolerate heat. Give me a pair of snowshoes and a snow covered path in the Rockies and I would be in heaven!
Deserts don’t hold much life. There are some plants and animals designed specifically for that type of climate, but walking through a desert, one would not see beautiful red geraniums, lush green-leafed maple trees, tall stalks of corn or wheat, or red-breasted robins. All of these things need regular water to survive. A desert is dry. The ground is often cracked from lack of rainfall. The sun beats constantly with no leafy trees to shade those who may be stuck in it. The nights can get cold with nothing to insulate to keep the warmth in. I don’t know if many people, when asked what their idea of a fun vacation is, would rank the desert high on the list.
Why all this time spent writing about a place I don’t like?
For the last several months, I have found myself in a desert. No, not a physical desert. In fact, today where I live the wind chill is 5 degrees and there are still some piles of snow around my house. The desert I have been in has been a spiritual desert. My prayer life, my time with God, when that even happens, has felt as dry as the cracked, parched ground of a hot desert. Like our lost movie character, I have been wandering, looking for a way out. I have stumbled often and occasionally fallen from weariness of wandering. I have come across no oasis to alleviate the parched condition of my soul. At times I have wondered if I will make it out of this desert alive.
The happy ending to this post would be a revelation that I have indeed been rescued–that refreshment has come to my weary soul, and I am back in the land of flowing water, beautiful flowers, singing birds, and leafy trees. But I have always been honest in my writings. I would love to say that my spiritual desert experience is over. I would love to say that I have been rescued by Jesus, and that He has restored joy to my soul. I would love to say so many things that happy Christians around me often say.
But I cannot say any of those things. At least not honestly right now.
I could pretend that my desert experience is over, or that it never happened. I am actually pretty good at that when I have to be. In fact, most Sundays if I am in church, I make sure to have on my mask that conveys things to be okay. Sometimes I’ve even managed to put on a happy mask while there. The problem with wearing masks like that, though, is it gets tiring. And to be honest, I don’t need anything else making me tired–physically or emotionally. Two weeks ago, after some not so great news at a doctor’s appointment, I sent an e-mail to the pastor of our church. After revealing the latest prognosis of my illness, I told him how hard it is to attend church and pretend things are “okay”. His response to me was that I didn’t have to pretend–that I should just come to church. “Come miserable if you have to,” he said, “But come.” That’s hard for me to do. I was raised to believe church was a place where no sadness is allowed unless one is there for a funeral. I don’t ever remember anyone crying during a service in the church I grew up in. I do remember people smiling and chatting about the weather, the work week, and other normal, happy things. It almost seems disrespectful to show up at church not happy.
So, where does this leave me, a person still alone in the desert, feeling like I just can’t go on anymore? What do I do with the fact that my knowledge tells me that Jesus is here in the desert with me, but my heart feels so abandoned? What do I do with the fear that plagues: Fear that my illness will progress to the point that my family, especially my husband, finds me a burden? Fear that my grandson is going to grow up and I won’t be able to see it? Fear that the few friends I have will move on, unable to deal with my constant sadness? Fear that if I do follow our pastor’s advice and get myself to church without a mask, that people will feel the need to avoid me?
The desert is a lonely place. It is scary and uncomfortable. I am weary. I am scared.
My mask is off–easier to do when I write but still, it leaves me feeling so vulnerable.