My favorite Biblical character at the moment is Moses. Not Moses the deliverer, leader and lawgiver of Israel, but Moses the shepherd for forty years in the desert of Midian. It’s a part of his life we often gloss over or forget, but it speaks to my heart, because I too am in a bit of a desert season. (Again.)
Deserts are tough. They’re dry and lonely, and they feel never-ending. To our human eyes, nothing grows in a desert. But they are where God can grow our character. In the bare desert, he has completely stripped us of all the things we falsely find our worth and security in, and he can finally do some intensive work on our character and in our hearts.
Because they make us so dependent on God, desert experiences are precious. But because they are such painful seasons to be in, we often only see the blessings a few years down the line. To encourage you to keep going, here is my Survival Guide for Spiritual Deserts. (And I’m preaching to myself as well!)
1. Don’t compare yourself to others.
Don’t write yourself off as second-rate because you’re stuck in a wilderness while everyone else’s lives are going ahead seemingly perfectly.
It is incredibly easy to create a perfect image on Instagram or your blog, because we can choose what we share and display there. It’s easy to make our lives seem a lot better than they are. I’ve learned, however, that it’s not the presence of problems that differs between people; it’s just their nature. The person you so desperately want to trade places with (based on that flawless image they project) has troubles of their own. Just because they have better photo-shopping skills doesn’t mean they are better than you.
Sometimes you might need to just take a break from social media if that will help ease the temptation of comparing yourself with those around you.
2. Live in the moment.
Resist the temptation to live stuck in the past or longing for the future. I know it’s hard, but wishing you were someone or someplace else will only make you more miserable.
Seize every moment. Grab hold of each day and make the most of it. Strive for joy, which comes in spite of your circumstances; rather than happiness, which comes because of them. And remember that the present, as painful as it might be, is all you can really be sure of: the future you’re hoping for is not a given.
3. Serve in love.
Look for ways to bless those around you–starting at home. Things like washing extra dishes, cleaning the blinds, or offering to cook might feel insignificant, but it will make a huge difference to your family (your mom in particular). Make extra effort with your friends, too, whether it’s taking them out for coffee, or sending an email to remind them how special they are to you.
Try to get involved in your church and community, especially in the lives of those who have less than you, if possible. My family and I spend Wednesday afternoons at an local non-profit in the poorer community of our little town. There I get to work with kids who daily face a lack of running water, absent parents, and rampant alcohol and drug abuse. It works wonders for perspective checks.
Reaching beyond yourself, beyond your own pain and discomfort, is hard, but it often brings healing.
4. Keep looking up.
One of the easiest things to lose in a desert is perspective, but you can’t afford to do so. You have to fight to keep your head on straight.
Refuse to be pulled down by negativity, despair, and self-pity. Remind yourself that God’s time is not our time, and neither are his ways our ways.
I encourage you to fill your heart and mind with things that help you keep your eyes on the Lord, rather than your circumstances–whether that means praying more, reading a Christian book, or journaling about God’s faithfulness. I, for example, have listened to a lot more worship music recently, because I know how much I need the reminders and encouragement it brings.
I’ll leave you with a quote by Bagheera, from the 2016 movie version of The Jungle Book. I know, I know–he’s a panther. A CGI-ed one. But listen to his words to Baloo the acrophobic bear as they climb to the monkey temple:
“Baloo, look at me. Look at nothing but me. You’re doing fine. Just keep your eyes up. High.”
I can hear God whispering that to you and me as we battle through our deserts, focusing all our energy into putting one foot in front of the other and trying desperately not to give up. Listen to what he says:
“My child, look at Me. No, don’t look around you. Don’t look behind you. Look at nothing but Me. You’re doing fine, and together we will make it through. Just keep your eyes up. High.”