This is the Desert
On the first day of Lent this year, I got the chance to accept a dream job. The next day, my friend surprised me with my favorite muffins for breakfast. Weeks of sudden spring weather have filled my hours with sunshine after some brutal winter days. A few weeks into this Lenten season, and it hasn’t looked much like the dry desert I expected.
Of course, there are parts of my life where emptiness is evident and longing is no stranger; it’s not all new jobs and delicious pastries. But so often, I have a mindset of desolation that distracts me from seeing the abundance that the Lord has so generously poured out upon me. I think I know what a desert should look like, and I turn away from the signs of life that are laid plainly before me.
Last year around this time, I flipped through an old Arizona travel magazine (that was when we were stuck inside, and I just so happened to be itching to go somewhere new.) It was a spring edition from March or April, and its pages surprised me with fields of flowers. Of course, it was still the desert. The flowers weren’t what you might see by a mountain stream or on a forest floor. But nonetheless, there was bright life popping up from expanses of dust and sand. I was struck by a simple reality: in all of its blossoming glory, that was the desert, too.
And, if God created the desert to have a spring, we must not argue with His design.
How often do we have mindsets of desolation and destitution when it comes to receiving gifts from our God? A preconceived notion of what our spiritual lives should look like at a certain point in time can rob us of the reality God draws us towards. In her book Dare to Lead, researcher, lecturer, and author Brené Brown asks, “Why do we insist on dress-rehearsing tragedy in moments of deep joy? Because joy is the most vulnerable emotion we feel.”
To ignore tragedy, desolation, and evil is negligent and deceptive. But to expect the worst at all times is contrary to the Christian worldview. It is okay to walk into the desert and be surprised by the flowers we find there! Times of desolation and detachment are not the first places we expect to discover life and joy. But ignoring the gifts God gives us in our times of trouble, refusing to receive them, and closing ourselves off to joy are not the steps to desert navigation by any means.
Sometimes, He leads us into the desert to teach us the beauty of His gifts. A time of desolation can make a moment of joy shine all the more brightly. Psalm 107 reminds us that God gives and takes away; He can change forests into wastelands and deserts into oases. “God changed rivers into desert, springs of water into thirsty ground, fruitful land into a salty waste, because of the wickedness of its people. He changed the desert into pools of water, arid land into springs of water, and settled the hungry there; they built a city to live in.”
Are you trusting enough to accept the flowers He wants you to see? Are you vulnerable enough to let joy have a place in your desert mindset?
God delights in sweetening our desert days just as He provided sustenance for the Israelites during their desert journey: “That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor… They called the bread manna. It was like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey.” (Exodus 16: 13-14,31) In the midst of the self-sacrifice and penance for which Lent calls, I invite you into gratitude. Consider taking time at the end of each day to find the “flowers” that the Lord has planted in your desert and thank Him. Stare joy in the face, bravely.
Let us learn to see the desert with new eyes, because this is the desert, too.
Kathryn Hurd is a senior studying strategic communications and anthropology at K-State. She's a maker, a walker, a butterfly-spotter, and a lover of a good children's book. You can read more of her words, ramblings, and random interests here.