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Finding Life in the Desert

I’m spending the first part of a summer study sabbatical in the solitude of the Arizona desert. Looking out upon the desert landscape, with the temperatures approaching 110, the song “A Horse With No Name” from the band America came to my mind. “I've been through the desert on a horse with no name, it felt good to be out of the rain.”


The band explained that the song is a “lyrical exploration of solitude and introspection set in the vastness of a desert.” The song captures the sense of detachment and isolation experienced in such a landscape. It is a place where personal identity loses its relevance as the chorus suggests, “In the desert, you can't remember your name. 'Cause there ain't no one for to give you no pain”.


Those finding relationships tedious or even painful, are tempted to isolate themselves from others. Why? Because, in the desert, alone, there is no one to give you pain. Yet isolation will never bring us healing; it cannot make us whole. For as the song declares, even alone in the desert we’re not truly isolated, we’re still surrounded by life. “On the first part of the journey I was looking at all the life. There were plants and birds and rocks and things. There was sand and hills and rings.”


We began our sabbatical journey by visiting our son in Moab. While the landscape of Moab certainly appears desolate, there is an abundance of life. Hiking in the desert sands, we saw lizards and birds and rocks and things. However, as the song warns, should we remain in the desolation of the desert too long, not only will our skin turn red but we’ll feel the death in the dried up river beds.


Where is the line between seeking out solace by wandering in solitude and becoming lost in desperation? It can be good and right for us to escape the busyness of life for a season of rest; but, as with all seasons, it is important for us to know that every season has an endpoint. No where is this better stated than in Ecclesiastes 3:1, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”


Forgetting that life is full of seasons can make it difficult to move forward out of the desert. Expecting life to remain constantly the same, without change, is foolish and is likely to bring greater despair into our life. The seasons for the newlywed couple are different than for the couple with toddlers. It is different for the single working person than for the retired couple. As tempting as it may be for us to fondly long for a different season, we can only live in the season that we are in.


The song says, “After three days in the desert fun, I was looking at a river bed. And the story it told of a river that flowed, made me sad to think it was dead.” We understand the regret of what once was. However, should our vision be fixed on what once was, we will not be able to see what is. Life is filled with “if only’s” and “what if’s”, but we need to look beyond these past times to embrace and see what the Lord has given us in Christ today.


How can we do this? First, by remembering, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1) Than, as the Psalm concludes, we can, “Be still, and know that I am God!” (10a) In our stillness before the Lord we can find the comfort and peace that we sought in our solace. From our stillness we can leave the desert and re-enter the city knowing that, “God dwells in that city; it cannot be destroyed. From the very break of day, God will protect it.” (Psalm 46:5)


The promises of God enable us to endure those seasons in the desert. The journey may seem long and tedious, but the Lord has promised us rest and refuge in him. What are you facing that you want or need rest from? Rather that striving on your own through the desert heat, look for the oasis and drink the living water that the Lord is offering and rest in him.


Finally, find strength in the promise, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So do not be attracted by strange, new ideas. Your strength comes from God’s grace, not from rules about food, which don’t help those who follow them.” (Hebrews 13:8–9)


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