While I was in Sedona, it snowed. Not just a few flakes. Not just a dusting. No. It was a real mountain blizzard. Fat globs of snow falling from low, dark clouds, coating every tree and rock in a thick, heavy blanket of white. It was beautiful. But it was also the last thing in the world I wanted to be looking at. I had come to the Southwest for SUN, not snow. But, for two days, the sun hid its face, as the snow continued to pile up.
In the end, we headed south to Tucson to visit family and escape the unfortunate weather. When we returned, the sun was shining, and the snow was all but gone. The previously dry creek beds were rushing with water. Trails were muddy, and rocks slippery as the white stuff melted off the face of the mountains. Water coursed down the hills, into the valleys, eroding trails and carving paths into the soft, red rocks.
The moisture made the desert come alive. Previously brown cacti were suddenly shades of vibrant green. Trees were bursting forth into bud. Tiny flowers sprung up on the hillsides. Change was happening all around. The impetus for this change? Ten inches of heavy, wet, dreary snow.
Being stuck in the middle of a snowstorm while on vacation is not pleasant or cheerful, yet witnessing the arrival of spring in the desert? Breathtaking. Sometimes I think life is like that. Hope is born of suffering. Newness comes from trial. Personally, I feel like the last several months have been wrought with struggle. I went on vacation feeling like I was existing in the midst of dark storm clouds. I couldn’t see beyond them, and I didn’t know when or how they would lift. Spring seemed a world away.
I mentioned yesterday that I read a paradigm-shifting book while on this trip. The book was A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World by Paul Miller. Below is a (rather long) quote from the book that fits perfectly with my (literal and figurative) experience of springtime in the desert. Read and ponder.
The hardest part of being in the desert is that there is no way out. You don’t know when it will end. There is no relief in sight.
A desert can be almost anything. It can be a child who has gone astray, a difficult boss, or even your own sin or foolishness. Maybe you married your desert. [...]
The Father turning his face against you is the heart of the desert experience. Life has ended. It no longer has any point. You might not want to commit suicide, but death would be a relief. It’s very tempting to survive the desert by taking the bread of bitterness offered by Satan–to maintain a wry, cynical detachment from life, finding a perverse enjoyment in mocking those who still hope.
God takes everyone he loves through a desert. It is his cure for our wandering hearts, restlessly searching for a new Eden. Here’s how it works.
The first thing that happens is we slowly give up the fight. Our wills are broken by the reality of our circumstances. The things that brought us life gradually die. Our idols die for lack of food. [...]
The still, dry air of the desert brings the sense of helplessness that is so crucial to the spirit of prayer. You come face-to-face with your inability to live, to have joy, to do anything of lasting worth. Life is crushing you.
Suffering burns away the false selves created by cynacism or pride or lust. You stop caring about what people think of you. The desert is God’s best hope for the creation of an authentic self.
Desert life sanctifies you. You have no idea you are changing. You simply notice after you’ve been in the desert awhile that you are different. Things that used to be important no longer matter. [...]
The desert becomes a window to the heart of God. He finally gets your attention because he is the only game in town.
You cry out to God so long and so often that a channel beings to open up between you and God. When driving, you turn off the radio just to be with God. At night you drift in and out of prayer when you are sleeping. Without realizing it, you have learned to pray continuously. The fresh, clear water of God’s presence that you discover in the desert becomes a well inside your own heart.
The best gift of the desert is God’s presence. We see this in Psalm 23. In the beginning of the psalm, the Shepherd is in front of me — “he leads me beside still waters” (verse 2); at the end he is behind me — “goodness and love will pursue me” (verse 6, NIV); but in the middle, as I go through “the valley of the shadow of death,” he is next to me — “I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (verse 4). The protective love of the Shepherd gives me the courage to face the interior journey.