In the desert you must face yourself, every aspect of yourself, your fears, temptations. You confront your own heart and your heart’s deepest desires, without any scapegoats, nothing hidden. In it you wrestle with the rebellious forces of your nature.
Yet in the desert one also encounters the call to divine encounter. In the desert you encounter your true state and must face it without blaming others or your past. You are invited to shape off all forms of idolatry and distraction and fully engage the divine reality. You enter into a deeper, more complete relationship with the transcendent realm, the presence of the boundless God whose grace is without limits. The desert is the call to go beyond oneself and be transfigured in the presence of the Holy One. The desert mothers and fathers did not go to the desert to prove a point but to prove themselves.
For us the desert signifies not a place but a way. We do not have to literally go to a desert—though we may chose to for a time. But on the spiritual level we do have to go through the desert. The desert is a necessary stage on the spiritual journey. To try to avoid it would be to refuse the fullness of God’s call.
As most of us know, we usually do not have to seek the desert—the desert will seek us. Everyone goes through the desert in one way or another, really multiple times. The forms of desert experience may include failure, suffering, breakdown, divorce, loss of loved ones—any or several of the traumas that life brings. We all suffer.
We will be tempted at times to try to escape or to distract ourselves with activity, food, addictive behaviors, work.
But accepting the utter loneliness and inner fearfulness of the desert experience is vital deep and genuine spiritual growth. If we go through desert experiences involuntarily, they can crush us. But if we welcome them and seek God in them, we can be transformed. God desires not to deliver us from desert experiences, but to join us in them.