The Desert Experience

I believe all religions are different roads to the same destination and take every opportunity to deepen my relationship with God by learning about other faiths. With that in mind, I began a series of meetings with a kindly nun at a nearby convent. After a tentative start, we settled into a routine where I shared stories about my life and the nun offered insights about God’s presence, using biblical references. At one such meeting, I relayed a tale of epic struggle which was consuming my life and was confused by God’s absence. The nun listened attentively, before quietly concluding that I was passing through a desert experience.

Intrigued, I asked her to explain and learnt that desert experiences are periods of doubt and hopelessness, where a person can feel pushed to their limits and God is distant or silent. It can be triggered by any event which causes despair, including bereavement, illness or the breakdown of a relationship. It’s a lonely, barren time and particularly confusing for those with faith, because God seems indifferent and remote. Faith can waver or fall by the wayside as we begin to disbelieve God and succumb to the depressing narrative of the world. As I listened, I realised I’d experienced all the above. However, my frustration didn’t lie in the circumstances of my situation, but in the fact that God appeared to be doing nothing to help.

Nonetheless, encouraged that my experience wasn’t unique, I wanted to learn from others to help navigate my passage. I read a great deal and learnt the desert is not a destination, but a journey from one place to another, where there are no distractions and we’re forced to confront our deepest fears. It’s a desolate place because God seems absent, but that’s an illusion induced by ongoing despair. And it doesn’t have to be debilitating, but can be used to spur spiritual growth.

Bolstered by this discovery, I changed my perspective. Instead of viewing my predicament as a struggle, I saw it as an opportunity to grow closer to God. I stopped dwelling on how much longer I’d have to endure the hardship and instead prayed for patience. I constantly reminded myself of the goodness of God and His faithfulness, resisting the temptation to succumb to depressing thoughts. When turbulence threatened (which it often did), I prayed for peace until the danger passed. I cultivated a discipline to live in the present moment, fighting the urge to dwell on the past or future. I emptied myself of all expectations and surrendered to wherever God led me.

I wish I could report that the struggle soon ended and I emerged refreshed and anew. But the reality is I’m still passing through my desert experience, deploying every spiritual tool to stay afloat. And it’s working. I’m no longer battling with the situation and am observing all inner dramas with a sense of detachment. I accept my desert experience for the mysterious gift it carries, which will one day be revealed to me. Until then I soldier on; confident in the knowledge that God is with me and all will be well.

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