Is it ok for a Christian to sit in a spiritual desert? That time in a believer’s life when one feels distant from God no matter how hard he seeks him, the spiritual desert, is a term that’s often thrown around but not often addressed. It doesn’t feel good to be there but is it really a bad place to be?
I recently have been captivated by reality shows where average people have to figure out how to survive in the wilderness and make it back to civilization. One show which was particularly interesting was Discovery Channel’s Man, Woman, Wild. The main premise is the survival expert husband is teaching his wife how to survive by purposefully getting stuck in the wilderness together. Not only was it interesting to see the different tactics they used but also how they leaned on each other in the process.
Lovingly calling each other “Captain Husband” and “Sergeant Major Wife,” they navigate through the situation in logical steps. They followed a widely used survival acronym, S.T.O.P.:
Stop and Sit to collect your thoughts
Think about your options
Observe what you have with you and what you need to get back home
Plan your actions and begin the process step by step
As I watched the show, feeling like I was in my own wilderness spiritually, I realized I should ask myself some of these same questions.
Stop and Sit
How did I get here? What dampened my passion for the Lord? At what point did I stray from the beaten path?
When I did this, it became fairly obvious. For one thing, I’ve been working really hard for the Lord and I’m tired! Looking back at all I’ve done to serve God by giving of myself to others in the past year, I’m exhausted. Additionally, I’ve been in a huge period of transition with my job, my husband’s job, and other big life decisions which really take a lot out of a person. Finally, my church has faced major tragedy, causing a wave of emotional tumult and spurring a lot of change there. My spiritual food has taken more work to obtain and I’m feeling rather worn out.
What are my options for getting out of here?
I’ve been a Christian for almost 16 years and I’ve invested myself in ministry of some form or another for the past 11 years, so it seems I should know what my options are. The thing is, the traditional Sunday school answers just don’t work sometimes…
Read my Bible, check…
Write in my journal, check…
Pray, go to church, engage in fellowship with other believers…check, check, check…
…and it just becomes like a habit which means nothing. It was this point of getting stuck in a habit when I became lost. Having exhausted all other options, I needed to lean into a believer who could help carry me. In my case, my husband had my back. Other times in my life it’s been a good friend or a spiritual mentor.
In the wilderness shows, they always ask themselves, “Am I safe?,” “How likely will I be found here by a boat, plane, person?”, and “Do I have the means to get food, water, and shelter here?” If the answer was “no” to any of those questions, then they usually decided to move their bodies to a place where the answer was more likely to be “yes.”
This is when I asked myself, “Is it safe for me to be in this wilderness?” If I were questioning the existence of God or my salvation or falling into temptation because of my surroundings, then I would definitely say, “No, I’m not safe here.” However, I know God is with me, I have salvation through Christ, and I’m not living in blatant sin. So, I really think my wilderness is an ok place for me right now.
This doesn’t mean I can stay here. Just because I’m not in immediate danger and have access to food, water, and shelter–spiritually speaking–doesn’t mean I should just sit here and wait for a ravenous lion to take me as prey. I still have to find a way out but, realizing that for the moment, I’m ok and I can take my time to work out a different plan.
Talking to my husband helped me toward this realization. I was raised by spiritual leaders to believe that reading my Bible and journaling every day is so vital to my growth. However, sometimes we need to mix it up a bit. My husband agreed and suggested, by putting that expectation on myself, I’m just going to be disappointed when I miss a day or don’t feel inspired by it that day. However, if I set a goal, like reading one book over an undetermined time, I might be more encouraged. Or, taking some time to read a book written by a Christian addressing the issues I’m most struggling with to get a fresh perspective.
Settling into the desert is dangerous whereas being ok with learning what God is teaching you in the desert is life giving. In the aforementioned conversation, my husband suggested I start reading the Psalms.
Of course! Isn’t that what I would tell people who were in my situation? In the midst of being overwhelmed by the bareness of the land around me, I missed that most obvious opportunity. David was so articulate about his desert experiences with God and his journey past them, so what a great way to be encouraged.
I also started reading a book by a woman who was working her way out of a spiritual rut. It gave me a lot to think about and a different perspective into God’s character. Then, I also decided to take off the pressure of reading the Bible every day or journaling every night but just committing to a few times each week for a time.
Finally, I asked my husband if we could start praying together again. In all the scheduling changes, it’s something we’d gotten away from and returning to it was so refreshing.
One Foot in Front of the Other
As soon as I began implementing this plan, I started feeling more encouraged. I still feel like I’m in the desert but my feelings aren’t what matter. I can think that my husband is angry with me but if I still feel the shame of his anger after he assures me that he’s not angry, then I’m a fool. Similarly, I can feel distant from God but that doesn’t mean that God is actually any further from me than the height of my intimacy with Him.
If you feel like you are walking through a Spiritual desert, here are a few words of encouragement:
- STOP. Ask yourself the questions above.
- Lean. Find a fellow believer that you can lean on for encouragement and accountability in your plan. Pray with that person. (If you don’t know who to turn to, reach out to a church community or contact me and I will help you find someone.
- Trust. Have faith that God is with you even if your feelings lead you to believe otherwise. Know that God’s truth is unfailing and trumps all feelings.