Do you like deserts?
Not desserts, mind you, those are much easier to love. But deserts. Specifically, the desert times of life. Those seasons in our earthly journey when our hearts feel dry and empty, purposeless. When our spirit can grow weary due, perhaps in part, to a prolonged illness or injury, to trials or troubled relationships, or maybe disappointment in a career. Those times when there seems to be no end in sight to the “soul drought.”
I’ve experienced those seasons in my life. I think we all have. There’s a verse I came across years ago during one of these times, and since then, God has engraved it on my heart:
“When Pharaoh finally let the people go, God did not lead them along the main road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land. God said, “If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led them in a roundabout way through the wilderness…” (Exodus 13:17-18a)
Did the same phrase jump out at you that jumped out at me that day? “God did not lead them along the main road…even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land.”
Why on earth would God purposefully make the Israelites go the longer, harder route? Why would he keep his chosen people wandering in the desert? When we travel, don’t we typically opt for the shortest route? Why wouldn’t God do that too?
Because He knows something we don’t. About us. And about the journey.
In the past, when I’ve been in those desert seasons, I’ve asked God why I’m there. Rarely have I gotten an immediate response, mind you, if I get one at all. So I push on, just like you do, through the responsibilities and obligations of life, seeking God’s face, listening for his voice.
One such desert time for me was watching my mom suffer from metastatic gallbladder cancer. Her journey from diagnosis to stepping into Jesus’s arms was brief. Only six months. And traveling that road with her was one of the most agonizing––yet most precious and beautiful––times in my life. Odd how often the most beautiful experiences also involve moments of excruciating pain.
In writing A Beauty So Rare I drew upon many of my own desert seasons, specifically when writing about Eleanor Braddock and her relationship with her father. God showed me yet again (with the benefit of distance and perspective), how faithful He is. How intentional his love is. And how he always has our best at heart, even when our hearts are breaking.
I’ve learned we ought not let our circumstances teach us theology. God is faithful. He’s sovereign. Always. And if we’re in the desert, we’re there because he’s either allowed it, or designed it. It’s not pleasant, the desert. It’s prickly, irritatingly sandy, and it burns. But God has proven over and over to me that I’ll be better for the experience in the end. My own heart grows more pliant in those times, and I become more like clay in the Potter’s hands, which I so long to be on a daily basis.
So when you’re empty inside and feel your loneliest, remember you’re never alone. God sees you. He loves you. These desert seasons are training grounds. They’re heavenly-orchestrated detours intended for our eternal good. And even though it may not feel like it, God is still guiding each and every step, because we’re on our way to the Promised Land!
What treasures have you picked up during your desert times?