I use quotes around “Dry Spells” because sometimes it’s a few days without rain and sometimes it’s a freaking trek through the Sahara and the only thing you’ve had to eat in three weeks was the guy who died of thirst before you did. Metaphorically.
I don’t know anyone who likes deserts. Sure, we may like looking at them or visiting, but we don’t want to stay there, not without a house or hotel nearby, and not without any certainty that we can leave whenever we like. Deserts are places people get stuck.
Last year, God told me to go to Twin Falls, Idaho. Twin Falls is a desert. Metaphorically.
After leaving St. Louis, and then Denver, two thriving metropolises (metropoli?) full of art, culture, energy, and creativity, it’s kinda hard to set your tent in a place where the most interesting feature is the movie theater. Now add in a jaunt of unemployment followed by an unlivable wage. Then mix with the roided-out return of porn addiction, sprinkle in some festering emotional wounds, and garnish with depression.
That’s a recipe I call “Where’s God?”
When God told me to come here, I forgot that God doesn’t always lead people into the Promised Land. Sometimes, he takes them into a desert, a wilderness, to any place where people just aren’t supposed to be, or if they do dwell there, it comes by the skin of their teeth.
We imagine God only takes us into nice, pleasant places. “Green pastures.” “Still waters.” We forget about “The valley of the shadow of death.”
We forget the Elijah roamed the desert while doing God’s work. John the Baptist lived in the wilderness and Jesus went on a 40-day trip there without food. David knew plenty of uninhabitable places in his day. And so did many Bible heroes.
But here’s what we really forget: it’s God’s doing. It’s not for punishment, necessarily. It’s just part of that person’s walk. When you follow God, a desert may be on your itinerary. That doesn’t mean you failed; it just means that’s the path God has for you. It may be a short walk, maybe a long one, but it is the right path.
I thought God would lead me into prosperity. Hardly. I’m poorer than ever, fighting spiritual evil harder than ever, and re-encountering all my old vices. And yet I knew that God had certainly told me to come here. So if it really was God, but it’s not a land flowing with milk and honey, then it means my understanding of God was too narrow.
This season is knocking the complacency out of me. I can’t forget my prayer time very often because I need it every day. My old “God” strategies don’t work, so I’m forced to find better ones. And while I’d rather introvert to the max, God is bringing me into the community I need to survive.
Deserts do two things to people: drive them out or drive them in. You either drop the faith altogether or you learn to rely on God and understand him better than people who spend their lives in the fertile valleys.
It’s been one whole year since I came to a city I never knew existed and would never have picked for a home had God not spelled it out to me. Yet despite the constant struggle, I am still alive. Though I don’t make a living wage, my bills are paid and my stomach is stuffed. Though I’m poorer than ever, I’m somehow in the nicest place I’ve ever lived. Though pornography is a fight, my wife and I are closer than before. And though I’m still not living as a writer and editor, I’m making massive progress in both fields.
See, that’s the thing about deserts. Yes, they’re dry, but only so we learn to drink from God’s wells, not our own. We haven’t been abandoned just because the fight got harder. In fact, it often means God is doing something greater than before. Something that can only be done in a desert: purifying us.
Remember that. When you’re in a “dry spell” or a bona-fide Elephant Graveyard, stop and ask why. Did you mess up somewhere? If so, turn around fast. But if you’re convinced one-hundred percent God said, “Go there,” then take comfort. God is going to do some wonderful things to you. Painful things, certainly, but wonderful things.