In the ebbs and flows of the Spiritual life it is easy to become discouraged. Especially in the ebbs. Lose a little focus, become a little sick, find one’s way a little more troublesome, and it’s easy to put it all aside.
Unless, of course, one is so thrown into the mix that there really isn’t other path but straight forward. The discouragements become nothing more than hindrances rather than defeats… because where else is there to go.
I think that’s the benefit of throwing oneself into a situation where faith isn’t an intellectual option. If we constantly give ourselves ways out, or make sure we have our own private security, or wrestle with questions of doubt in relatively safe environments, then we open up the door for retreat.
Make the passage and burn the ships once shore is reached. Throw out doubt by styling a life that shows the contrasts of faith and no faith so clearly that it is impossible to fall away, even in doubt. That I think is the difference between the Disciples and some of the followers of Jesus. They committed. The others knew where to go when things got dicey. The Disciples had no where else to go, and so they waded through it. That or they, at least one, became a traitor. There was no middle ground for them anymore.
Faith is difficult, distressing, conflicting, and troublesome at times. It is also ennobling, glorious, whole, and beautiful. But these elegant vistas are at the beginning and at the end of the trails, leaving all too often a barren wasteland to wander through on the way from here to there.
That is the lesson of the desert. Give everything up and commit. Don’t surround yourself with paths away if you want to grow in the faith. It is not so much that the desert is quiet and still, it is that the desert is the place where no one else comes and so no one else draws you away from the inner drive towards eternity.
We are told left and right what should fill us, what our heart should yearn for, what is the proper and right goal in this present life. We are told this by people who are more likely than not trying to convince themselves of the same, and feel that the more they sign up for their lifestyle the more justified it is.
Only in the stillness of the desert can we really hear our heart and taste our yearnings and discover ourselves apart from what others want us to be.
But, once bathed in the world’s demands even this becomes difficult, as we yearn for the safety of other’s approval.
I’m reminded of Eustace’s dragon skin that had to be peeled off, painfully, layer by layer, until finally he was himself. The peeling off is painful and we’d rather not deal with that pain so any road away is the road we will take, with the most tempting being those we think are alternate routes to the same goals. Finding God becomes replaced with serving God. Knowing God becomes replaced with knowing about God. Stillness becomes replaced with activity and hope is replaced with ambition.
So, there is only to stop and throw ourselves into whatever situation might best remove our substitutions. Some might have to travel the world and find a remote spot. Others must find themselves in the same spot, transforming their present through divine perspective. A few might be called into solitude, or isolation, to find that which can only be learned by staying in one’s cell much longer than initially expected.
Whatever the context, however, the goal of finding ourselves and finding the Spirit who works peculiarly in us is the same. And this goal is difficult and life-giving. But, those who make it to the end say it is worthwhile, so I press onwards, having thrown myself into a situation where God must be real.
I note this because I’m leaving for the weekend and while I’m expecting a fun time, there is this part of me that is increasingly wanting to stay. I am increasingly wanting to embrace those spiritual lessons, and find the peace that comes only through Christ’s presence. I’m wanting to stay near, so as to develop the habits of a spiritual person, and learn how to let go that which seeks to distract my mind and soul.
I note this because while I am eager for the work of God to lead me however and wherever I am supposed to be, I am finding the burgeoning contentment that Paul talks about.
And that is something.