Here we are, full swing into a new year. No matter what last year brought, this one is still fresh and unwritten. A January “honeymoon phase,” with all of 2017 to continue reflecting, making changes, and moving forward. Personally, I’m ready to take this year by storm and am making the effort to do so. Not because I’m building off any amazing momentum from 2016 or previous planning which enlightened me, but because I spent the end of last year in the “desert.”
Since I like to be an open book, I must say, the final three months of the year were my roughest in a while. Even Advent, which focuses on a time of hope, was lack luster with my inability to focus. Most of my difficulties stemmed from a mysterious illness I was plagued with starting the first week of October. There never was a specific diagnosis rendered, despite the amount of blood taken, tests run, or medications implemented. However, there was plenty of one symptom which controlled my life each day: fatigue. Not just “kind of being tired,” “overworked,” or “stressed out” fatigue. No, this was a debilitating battle of being so tired that there were days I couldn’t function. Presentations I offered in which I couldn’t remember the direction I wanted to take things. Conference calls cancelled because I was unable to comprehend what someone was telling me. Writings which never made it on paper because I couldn’t stay awake long enough to finish a thought. Through it all, I began to wonder why this was happening. Sure, I let those closest to me, and a few friends, in on what was going on. Everyone had their own theories from over (and under) active thyroid, to mono, to my arthritis flaring up, to seasonal depression. They were all valid theories, but really, I didn’t care what it was, I just wanted to be fixed. In the end, it went down in my medical history as just a “virus.”
So why are my struggles important to you? Well, I believe, sometimes, God must re-center us. Not just a test, but instead a trip to a place that reminds us of what we were created for in this world. In my case, He had to take me back to the desert. A place I hadn’t visited since my call into ministry eight years ago. I returned to where I found out who I was in order to reconnect with some of the things I had forgotten since I left there. Of course, I didn’t see any of this while I was in the “desert.” It was only while reflecting on why I have become so passionate about what we are planning for this upcoming year that I took notice. I had to be taken to a place where I was reminded of my own unique gifts; talents others don’t possess, and a life plan meant for no one else but me. I guess in a way you could say it was the only way He could get my attention. We never stop learning and God knows the best environment we can be fed in. If we are unwilling to pay attention to His voice daily where we are, He has to find a way to help us hit the “reset” button to see what matters most.
Now before you say, “Greg, maybe there isn’t any specific meaning in all of this, it’s possible you just got sick, lots of people do.” Bear with me for one moment. Yes, that is true. However, this is where we need to be in tune with our faith and the relationship God wants. I have been sick many times, and I’m sure there are many more illnesses to come. Still, it’s our ability to reflect in prayer, meditation and discernment which gives us insight into the times we are taken beyond just another ailment. It is this type of reflection which allows us to learn and grow, and at the same time, see what it all means. A normal sickness we shrug off, get better and heal. This time around, I was given the opportunity to see why this desert period was important for me. I have written before about Jesus’ temptation in the desert and what it meant as a test for what His entire life would lead to. In the same way, we are called to journey to a place where things don’t make sense and we are forced to look deep into ourselves while fending off our own insecurities.
God is not the only one taking us to the desert either. Sometimes we take ourselves there; those times we slip into self-pity when things don’t turn out the way we expect. Maybe it’s the broken New Year resolution, a birthday which wasn’t as special as you wanted, an anniversary a loved one forgot, or a dream job that doesn’t come through. When any of these things happen, we can tend to become depressed or bitter because it wasn’t as magnificent or “story book” as we had hoped. These are desert times we put ourselves in. It’s when we are ultimately tested to make the best of a situation. Find the lesson, enjoy the person we are with, or rely on the strength of God to carry us through. Not letting our time be ruined but instead use it to remind ourselves how blessed we are to have dreams, goals, and special occasions in our life. Love and joy are never more prominent or revealed as when they shine through the dull, dim and dark moments of our life. In desert times, we become refreshed in the living waters of what we believe instead.
For the record, I am feeling better now (knock on wood) nearly back to 100%. Am I upset I missed Advent because it wasn’t as fulfilling as I wanted? No. I have come to see that I didn’t miss it. I was just stuck in the grueling journey that, just like for Mary and Joseph, seemed like it would never end. And when it finally did, they were met with dejection and the reality the baby would not be born in the Inn they would have desired. So my new year ideas are born not from a comfortable place, but in a meek and humble cavern of my heart. Surrounded by the things and people I love. Even more importantly, I now have the eyes to appreciate them while seeing God’s hand, not just guiding me in the past but paving the way for what this year will bring. An opportunity to trust His providence while I work day in and day out to do my part. I have a deeper appreciation of my call, coupled with an intense passion to change the lives of all those put on my path. If you have been taken back to the desert, pray on it, tell the Lord you are ready to move on, and look to the beauty of what awaits you with an unwavering, joy-filled faith.
I leave you with this for your own desert period now or in the future:
- If you’re in the desert, live off the land. Accept the hand you are dealt, but find what you can use as a positive motivation during this time.
- Instead of moaning, open your heart to hear how God is showing you a way out. Pray for the courage to take small victories and discern who you are becoming in the trial.
- Be grateful for the visit to the desert and who you are. Times like these make us strong enough to excel far beyond what we ever thought we were capable of.