The desert is an odd place. In life there is often a preparation to enter it – water, food, layered clothes, etc. There is often no preparation in the spiritual life for the desert and we find ourselves stranded in this place with a real lack of water to quench our thirst.
For an inexplicable reason (believe me – I’ve tried finding the reasons), after becoming married I entered into a dry period of my prayer life. Whatever internal motivation I had before had nearly completely disappeared and I had little to no desire to grow in my relationship with God. Has this happened to you?
I experienced years of what is called ‘a desert experience,’ where the joy I had in prayer vanished. I had an especial longing for the closeness of relationship to Jesus I used to have. I missed the ease that I had to discern God’s will in my life. It wasn’t that I didn’t work on the relationship. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do God’s will. But instead of a spring of water surrounding me like in my youth, all I had was dry sand with which to try to quench my thirst. The times when I struggled through prayer or started a journey of one or another I found no peace by the end, only the same desert in which I started. It felt endless and near hopeless. It was a time of tremendous depravity.
What is the Desert?
Jesus entered the desert and experienced temptations. But it is not only about temptations – it is also where we encounter God. The Israelites encountered God in the desert and received the covenant in the 10 Commandments. John the Baptist came from the desert and prepared the way for the Messiah. And Jesus came back from the desert with his mission. While we cannot know why we are called into the desert, there is a gift in the desert that we cannot hope to gain through other means. The desert is a harsh place which wears us down. When we are reduced in this way, we enter a vulnerability in which God can encounter us if we can remain open.
If you were to ask me how I managed to move from desert to spring water, I can clearly say that it was nothing that I did. Isn’t that weird? I have no formula for you to change your desert experience if you find yourself in one. A bit disappointing, isn’t it? I believe we are called to offer whatever faithfulness we can to God in these times, but make doubts about it – it is an uncomfortable place to be in.
I encourage looking to the saints, especially the ones who have experienced the desert – St. Theresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Calcutta. While no major changes occurred while seeking solace through the saints, I clung to the images that they shared: the dark night of the soul, the periods of desert in the spiritual life. These images gave me hope in God’s faithfulness though I felt so empty in the prayer that I did maintain.
St. Teresa of Calcutta maintained a level of faithfulness in her dark night that I cannot even attempt to credit in my experience. I was a lot less pursuant of God at this time of my life than she was, but I did what I felt I could at the time. I could offer only a little to God and I see now that God accepts even such little gifts as we can muster. I did not doubt, but I did wear a heavy mantle that weighed me down: I could not see even the step ahead in my relationship with God.
In a seemingly random move on Mary’s part, last November she drew me into the 33 Days to Morning Glory consecration. A number of amazing things happened to me in that period and I received such great solace in the desert. It was surprising and a huge relief – no other prayer experiences had brought me back to a font of joy like this had. I did not know it at the time, but it was the end of that desert experience; I can now sense the well spring of peace and joy that used to surround me. My prayer life is much different now; I have changed how I encounter prayer in my life due to the presence now of small children. I have become more creative in ways to make it happen. And it is the type of prayer that is sustaining and nourishing (finally).
If you find yourself in the midst of a desert, know that you are not alone. The saints have experienced it as well as those less-than-saints among us here. It is hard and harsh. It is not fun, it is a burden. And Jesus is still with you. His faithfulness is there beyond the scope of our ability to sense it. Embrace the desert for what it is – completely unsatisfying. I found some relief using The Psalms to vent my frustration to God. But he is there. He is listening. And his love for us continues to know no bounds, no matter how long our desert lasts. And perhaps out of your desert you too will have an encounter that will spur you into a new phase of life and inspire yourself and others.
Copyright 2016 Jane Korvemaker