The Best (and Worst) Things to Do When Life Brings You Through a Desert

If I had to imagine what hell would be like, I think it might be similar to driving through Southern New Mexico and Arizona in the heat of August without air conditioning. If you have not experienced this, just trust me on this one—it isn’t pleasant.

I was supposed to be on “vacation”, a long weekend in sunny paradise for a wedding before I started training for my new school year job as an RA and classes got going again. About two hours into the seven and a half hour drive, I learned just how wrong I had been.

No matter how I positioned my seat, no matter how far I stuck my face out the passenger window like an overheated lapdog, the sweat drizzled between my shoulder blades and my entire right side got red from sunburn. All the while, the dusty land spread out before our car like an unending wasteland. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t get comfortable, I couldn’t concentrate on much other than the misery and the shifting radio dial as we caught bits and pieces of stations surrounded by static and silence.

Its never going to end, I kept thinking. Even when we reached our destination, even when the sun went down and I hoped a chill would creep in for some reprieve, it was unbearably hot. Sickeningly dense. Grossly uncomfortable.

I was in the middle of a desert, no oasis in sight.

This experience was of my own doing, considering I had made the decision to go on the trip in the first place. But the interesting thing is, on the eve of that stage in my life, I found myself in a mental desert as much as a physical one.

As I stared down the long stretch of wilderness, a winding road straddled by dry earth, cactus, and canyons, my life in general seemed even more daunting. I was torn by a romantic relationship that pulled my heart in two different directions, the coming school year was a seemingly impossible mystery, and my best friend was moving to the other end of the planet in less than two months.

You know the place: ankle deep in sand, wandering, the sun overhead pelting you with exhaustion and confusion. In this desert you are forced to face many things: the fact that you feel lost and directionless, a period of waiting to figure out where to go next, or a place of struggle and doubt.

walk-through-desertThey come in all shapes and sizes. The wastelands of our lives are where we wait, where we wander and wonder and often just wing it. Sometimes they are the transition from one season of life to the next. Sometimes we struggle through a few weeks and then things get better. But what happens when they don’t?

Today, maybe you are walking through a wilderness of the soul, of the heart. Maybe you are struggling to write, to finish a project you started, to get up and go to work in the morning. Maybe your relationships are lagging, you feel drained by life’s complications or monotony.

And even if you aren’t in a desert right now, someday you will be. As you walk through that valley, as you brave the sun and the sand and the questions, you will come to a series of decisions.

Desert Decision #1: Faint from the heat, or push on.

The first thing that comes to mind when facing something difficult is to stop. It’s simple really—anytime life gets hard, our art or purpose or goal seems unattainable, or complications set in, we start to questions ourselves. We wonder if we took a wrong turn, we wonder if we messed up or did something to deserve the brutal stretches of the journey.

The pressure is on. You can feel the sweat, the sleepless nights, the twists and turns in your head starting to set in. So do you stop? Do you turn around, and run in the other direction? It’s so tempting.

But the thing about a desert is that the minute you stop moving, you die. The vultures are waiting around to pick up on your defeat, waiting for you to call it quits on your dreams, on the people you care about, on anything that matters to you. They want to pick the beauty from your bones.

Your first choice is the most paramount: will you keep going, no matter what?

Even if it is slowly, even if every exhausted step is painful, keep going. Even when you wonder if you are moving in circles, keep going.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Even when you wonder if you are moving in circles, keep going.” quote=”Even when you wonder if you are moving in circles, keep going.”]

Desert Decision #2: Get sidetracked by a mirage, or push on.

I hear it all the time, from my own mouth and from others: I just wish things were different. I wish my life was like (insert name here). The grass is always seemingly greener on the other side. Anything is better than the misery of winding through the desert in a beat-up Ford Explorer.

We are stumbling along and we see something in the distance, to the left or to the right or behind us, that looks faintly like a better life than the one we have now. It pulls us away from the direction we are headed, the goal we have ahead of us. It seems SO good.

looking-mirageBut don’t be fooled. The minute you veer from your story to run after something that seems “better”, you often find yourself chasing a mirage. The perfect life you imagined in the distance, where everything works out seamlessly, doesn’t actually exist. So much time is wasted.

Everyone faces distractions. So many paths we are presented with can seem good for us. But ultimately, you have to stick to what is best. What will make you into the artist, the creator, the engineer, the sister, brother, friend, mother, human being that you want to be?

Don’t stray from what is best in the lure of a faulty replacement.

 Desert Decision #3: Lose all hope, or push on.

Even after you chose to move forward no matter what, even after you stay focused on where you are headed despite the heat, you still may feel alone. You still may feel aimless, stuck, or weathered.

In the desert, we reach the point where we feel deserted. I have wandered through the emotions of abandonment, the ache of loneliness. I have looked up to heaven and cried out to God, “Why have you left me?”

pointing-desertDeserts are notorious for kicking the hope out of us. We look to the endless sand, the unending miles to the destination we can only picture in our imagination. How could we hope to get there?

A friend once told me, though, that when you finally make it through the deserts in your life—and you will—that you will see something miraculous. Driving away from the fatigue of those days, you will look in the rearview mirror and see that God was with you the whole time, walking beside you in the dirt.

[clickToTweet tweet=”We don’t realize it in the moment, but the wasteland shapes us.” quote=”We don’t realize it in the moment, but the wasteland shapes us.”]

We don’t realize it in the moment, but the wasteland shapes us. We decided to not stop and learned how to persevere. We decided to ignore the mirages of an easier path and learned how to stay trained on the goal. We decided to not lose hope and learned how we are never alone. Never.

So in your desert today, tomorrow, or in the years ahead, don’t think of the misery. Don’t think of the temperature, the sunburn, the cottonmouth and the wandering. Think instead of how, with each passing day, you are being refined by the heat into something pure, something hopeful, something…indestructible.


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