A couple of people have approached me recently, telling me that that they are going through an extreme period of desolation and asking me what they can do about it to regain a sense of God’s presence.
Honestly, I am not sure what to tell them. Sometimes, it does feel like God has abandoned us and we are alone. Sometimes there are periods of spiritual dryness that we encounter in which we feel like we’re entering the desert and not sure if we’re going to make it out this time.
Nor do I want to offer some trite phrase, like, “It’ll be okay!” Because sometimes it’s not actually clear whether or not it will be okay. Sometimes life is terrifying and we’re not sure what’s going to happen or if anything is ever going to be resolved. And then, if you combine spiritual desolation on top of all that turmoil that life can throw at us, it is like going blind into the desert without knowing if you’re ever come out alive.
So, to those who are clawing through spiritual desolation and are journeying through that desert right now, I would like to present this artwork to you:
It is of Jesus Christ in the wilderness, which occurred shortly after His baptism.
But, unlike other artworks, like this one, which place Jesus in an almost idyllic setting, there is no such fancy here. The desert is stark and cold after a long night. Christ’s clothes are ragged and even His feet look worn out. His face is haggard and gaunt and it is clear that He is suffering immensely after fasting for so long, and soon He will be tempted by the Satan.
But for now?
There is desolation.
In his letter to the Hebrews, St. Paul writes the following:
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. 16So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.
And when I look at this biblical verse and this picture combined, it occurs to me that maybe Jesus does understand the desolation that we can sometimes encounter in our lives.
And perhaps, even though we might feel so, so alone at times, perhaps He is coming with us into the desert and suffering alongside us.
And I realize that this sometimes is not a consolation. Sometimes we want God in all His glory coming down from Heaven and rescuing us from all the snares in the world. And the fact that we encounter difficulties seems to be an injustice and we cry out to God and ask Him how He could let us suffer.
Or, in the words of Jesus on Calvary, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
And I don’t have any easy answers for you. To have faith is to pick up your cross and follow Jesus, and that is not an easy thing to do. In fact, all but one disciple, the Beloved Disciple, fled away from Jesus when they realized that Jesus was to be killed on the cross. If your faith is shaken now, know that you were not the first, nor will be the last. Many saints before you have trod the path through that desert.
Yet also know that Jesus trod the path before you. And He is there, even now.
After all, did He not say that He would be with us till the end of days?