In the Desert

Biola University is hosting this amazing Lent Project, and each day they give you scripture readings alongside music and videos, art and poetry. I love it. I love incorporating art into life and faith. Chad and I have started going through it each night together. In the introduction, there are three videos of talks given by theologian Julie Canlis about the meaning of Lent, and the first one really struck me. She describes how important Lent is in our current culture of constant distraction and instant gratification. She suggests we use Lent as a time to ask ourselves these questions about our lives:

Is this what I really want? Is this where I’m supposed to be giving all my time? Is this what I was created for? Why am I so busy? What is my busyness hiding? Why do I compulsively check Facebook? What false self have I created for my friends? Why don’t I care about anything anymore? Why don’t I really trust God? Why am I so desperate to be perfect and to appear perfect?

Julie went on to talk about deserts, meaning those times in our lives and our faith that feel empty or incomplete or disconnected. Desert times are those times when we feel lost or confused or inefficient, not enough. Spiritually, we often refer to deserts as times when we feel far away from God, and many attribute that to a sin that is creating the separation. But Julie says this:

“Deserts are not punishments. They are part of the geography of life in earth. They are part of living in a fallen world. Now our secular world has no patience for deserts. Deserts are always someone else’s fault. They’re due to some kind of miscalculation, or some lack that you should go buy something to make up for. No one should have to put up with deserts, says our consumer culture.”

I love that phrase, they are part of the geography of life in earth. Deserts are part of the natural landscape. And Julie goes on to say that these times of emptiness or disconnectedness really might be opportunities to mature and reflect, not moments of inefficiency. Becoming who you are supposed to be might mean going through a desert. It might mean being refined by tough circumstances. It might mean shaking you out of the comfortable so you stretch for something more. She says, “We have as much to gain by emptiness, as we have by fullness.”

Lent is about removing distractions and idols and the things that keep us comfortable, so that we can focus on the things we need to change. It’s not about depriving yourself for the sake of depriving yourself, but about making room for the things that are most important. It’s about focusing and preparing and changing and repenting. and renewing.

7 thoughts on “In the Desert

    1. We’ve been reading/listening/enjoying this project almost every night together. It’s a really great devotional for Lent, and probably one of the best ones we’ve been able to stay consistent with for more than two days!

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  1. “part of the geography of life in earth” Beautiful. Haunting. The Lent Project on Biola’s website has been fascinating and wonderful. I agree about the incorporation of art and literature and faith. I was looking at some of the organizations that Biola supports and that are involved in this project like the Brehm Center and “Think Christian,” organizations that believe that “Christian” art doesn’t have to be bad, or even specifically “Christian” to glorify God. I haven’t yet watched the introduction, but I intend to this weekend.

    However, the meaning I take from that quote is that deserts are a part of our worldly ecosystem, and while we may not want to live there, they are necessary for the rest of life to function properly. We say all the time that we don’t understand everything that God has created. Just the other night we were marveling at God’s creation of so many stars in far off places. While magnificent, what purpose do they serve? (Or is that purpose enough?) And did there really need to be so many different kinds of spiders? But God is the Creator, and He does have purpose. And while dry, arid, vast stretches of seemingly lifeless space appear meaningless, God has designed them with a purpose in mind. So there is a time for deserts. It’s like the Caedmon’s Call song “Valleys Fill First” (valleys, deserts, they’re similar): Down in the valley, it seems that I’m at my worst, my consolation, is that when You baptize this earth, valleys fill first.


    1. Valleys, desert, wilderness (which is the word many translations use in place of desert for the place Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit to be tempted for 40 days), they are all part of the landscape of earth. They are all natural formations and necessary in their own ways for sustaining life. I really like that parallel of God created the earth with valleys and deserts and wildernesses (along with forests and plains and tropics), and God created us to have lives with times of desert or valley or wilderness.


  2. I resonate with the message you describe. I had been reading a devotion book called “Storms in the Desert”. I believe that is the title, but each devotion helps one see that the desert will grow and mature us. It is packed for moving now, but I will revisit it when I unpack. Thanks for sharing this site and your thoughts.


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