Why is it that I need the reminding so very often?
I know what is important to me. Yet I push these values to the back burner all too easily, like the monotonous flick of a finger mindlessly scrolling through my news feed.
They hover like pestering flies swirling around me when I’m trying to enjoy a meal on the back porch. But distractions are usually more alluring than a nagging fly, aren’t they? They come in pretty packaging, suited to fit your exact style and taste. Would we be so naive to believe that they come any more conspicuously.
If I presently find myself in a dry place, I am confident I have no one to blame but myself. I welcome distractions and I make room for lesser priorities. When I ignore the responsibilities God has given to me, the invitations to obey, the chances to grow in intimacy, I create a desert space.
The problem is, I like the heat.
If you know me whatsoever, you know that I indisputably love hot, sweltering environments. It’s a weird quirk. My best friend challenges everyone she meets with this lighthearted point of concern: “You have the option of being in 95 degree heat in a sweater and UGGs, or in 30 degree chill wearing a tank top and flip flops. Choose.”
So far, I’m the only one to side with the heat. And I don’t have to think twice about it.
But what happens when I love the hot and dry places in life? The ones that have more to do with the soul than with actual location. What is to come when I settle down in my lifeless oasis and make myself a bed of complacency? Would it really be that bad if I stayed here, safe from the challenges of cold and uncomfortable seasons?
I’ve been there.
I am here now.
This desert for me, though perfectly tailored to my love for all things warm and stroke-inducing, is a place of danger. How do I know I’m in a dry and fruitless place? These are the mile markers the define a dry season:
No pursuit of truth
When I’m in the desert, I don’t make arrangements to get help. I don’t look for guiding lights because I’m content to let distractions quench my thirst if only for a moment. I don’t stay up at night and watch for the stars to appear and reveal a constellation that spells out glory. In other, more commonplace terms, I don’t crack the Bible and if I do, it is for a brief moment without willingness to let it sink in and change me.
Lisa TerKeurst depicts this fruitless chase as a girl running around with a teacup, sloshing out its contents on every side, desperately needing for it to be re-filled but not stopping long enough to allow her Maker to fill it with the soul-enriching ingredients she needs.
How long can you last in the heat without anything to drink?
Prayer is replaced with busyness
Be it music, conversation with friends, extra sleep, or extra screen time – I can surely find something to fill the minutes I could otherwise spend in prayer. Even on a simple car ride when I have some privacy to freely call out to God and tell him my thoughts, I opt for a song or a phone call to fill that gap of time. I think back to college, whenever I had a looming responsibility weighing on me, such as a big paper or a time-consuming project, suddenly everything became more appealing to me: scrubbing the shower, vacuuming my roommate’s carpet, calling my third cousin removed to check on how they’ve been doing. I’ll take anything besides that one thing.
In the desert, I don’t pray because of the distance I sense between me and the Lord, but by not praying, I create only more distance.
Times in the desert are marked by empty promises of, “I’ll be praying for you in that…” A quick statement made to a friend, and then even more quickly, forgotten. For someone who values honesty and following through on promises, these halfhearted efforts are not the kind of fruit I want displayed in my
life. This is desert territory.
Exchanging growth for comfort
This summer heat we’ve had has been paradise. I bask lazily in the sun, content with my summer playlist, a good book, and a glass of lemon water. I need nothing else. Comfort is before me, around me. I don’t give up distracting presences because, frankly, their presence is nice. I know deep down that I could run more freely without the extra weight, but instead I sacrifice growth for what’s self-satisfying in the moment. “I’ll get around to it” and “one day” are common thoughts in the desert.
Obsession with the finite
Last summer I took a trip out West. We rented a car and drove to LA and the Grand Canyon, with Las Vegas as our starting and ending point. One particularly gorgeous evening, we were cruising on the barren, desert roads back into the Vegas city limits. The Nevada heat was dry and heavy as it radiated off of the asphalt. The sky was an transcendent shade of lavender that held notes of a blushing pink. The mountains were painted gray on the background of a smoldering, pastel sky; seated in a perfect circle at the bottom of those giants – glittering like a million scattered diamonds – was Vegas. In all truth, it was one of the prettiest sights I’d ever seen. The sparkle of the city juxtaposed with the raw beauty of a pink desert – wondrous.
But when you actually drive into all those glittering diamonds, what you see is quite different. I’m sure that not everyone has the same opinion on Las Vegas as I do, but what I see is flashiness that gives way to a sharp brokenness – like the certain sparkle that broken glass has, but upon contact with it, you discover its ability to cut you severely. Again, this city is one of the prettiest places I’ve been. But on a deeper level, maybe Vegas isn’t so beautiful and glittering after all. It is exciting and intriguing, no doubt; most unhealthy things are. But the sights and the happenings there are made of a lonely and empty substance – one that cannot quench that desert thirst for very long.
The desert of my soul often mimics the same longing. I am captivated by the lights and sparkle of what I see in the distance, so I obsess over it and align my route to reach it, but when I’m there, I discover only a loneliness and a dissatisfaction at the core. I am entertained for a time, but it’s only a cover-up for deeper, eternal longings for which my heart was designed.
If you find yourself in the desert, there is a way out. Maybe you actually hate the heat and the desert is so uncomfortable to your preferences, you are screaming to escape. You’ll do anything. I love that desperation; it is beautiful, and it is your strength – a power not to be underestimated.
Some of us don’t create our own deserts; dry seasons might have been designed within the route God sovereignly mapped out for you, and I believe he has a purpose for you there.
But some of us make complacent choices that lead to arid land. We choose the dry, barren geography for ourselves and we make it our home until its discomforts become too obvious. Like the band Bellarive penned, “Who am I to accept grace that just falls like rain? Because we all know that I chose to lay my head in this desert. Like a fish out of water, we only know then what it means to be parched.”
Constantly, we are lured by the glittering lights and it gives way to a choice: either you determine to follow the lights to a city full of sinful promises…or you may set your coordinates to a wilderness where truth is waiting and your heart is meant to thrive.
I am perfectly content to live year round in a climate that promises sunny days and a heat index of 110 degrees. But I’ve decided that I’m not so comfortable with this being the place I want my soul to settle.
Truth is too valuable, this life too fleeting for me to make a wasteland my home.
Develop wanderlust for destinations that can cultivate the good things of the soul. These are not places that glitter with a bunch of distractions, but places that shine with pure and real promises.
What does this look like, practically? These are the settings in which you’re inspired to open the Bible and let God inscribe truth upon your heart; the places where you’re surrounded by people whose lives reflect the essence of compassion and humility; the moments in which you have conversations with people who care about the ways you’re growing; the quiet spots where you kneel down and beg God to show you how he can move in your life and the lives of those dear to you.
The desert is no longer your home when these are the landmarks you see passing outside of your window.
You weren’t meant for this place. Move on to vibrant scenery where truth paints its beauty onto fresh landscape, a new place for your heart to reside.