Hug a Cactus? Embrace the Desert of Change

I am about to walk a journey into what I call a spiritual desert.  Deserts are dry and unyielding lands that bring to mind pictures of sand, thirst, hunger and extreme heat. Masada

Growing up as an off-road enthusiast in California, I have spent much of my life in the desert…on purpose!  And I love it. BUT…my “love” in this case, is very conditional.  It’s conditional on shelter, transportation, plenty of bottled water and a shady tree in the camp of my choice.  The desert was not a place I associate with danger or fear, rather smores, potato guns and fun.

But there were times when our bikes would break down during an afternoon ride across the sand dunes and let me tell you…the longer you are stranded, the less fun it gets.  It can become “no fun” in 30 minutes as the reality of thirst, heat and danger sets in.

 Now…imagine walking into that place [the desert] by choice except this time: no shelter, transportation, or promise of water or shade.  Sounds pretty intimidating, doesn’t it?  It gets real serious when you realize it’s not about recreation anymore…but survival.  And all of a sudden, intimidating turns into down right scary.

So if a person is questioning their chances of survival…why would someone make a CHOICE to go into such a place?

 Dr. Dan Allender accurately describes this desire: “Change, true biblical healing, occurs when we are wholly dissatisfied with our condition of heart and soul.”  In other words, the pain of staying outweighs the fear of the pain in going.

 Are you wondering why I am placing such a sense of pain and dread on “CHANGE?” After all, most of us would say change is good, right?  But in order to truly change, one has to open the depths of their heart and look fully at the pain of the past.  You have to face the ugliness of what was done to you and what you have done to others.

And in order to change, you must EMBRACE that pain (as opposed to avoid it and move past it in a quick search for relief).

And that’s not all: once you start the process, it can feel like it gets worse before it gets better.  As Dr. Allender puts it, change can “…bring conflict; conflict intensified by the desire to succumb to your old patterns…” and you end up feeling trapped in despair again.

“Biblical change actually opens a new realm of service and worship that, at times, puts one at odds with relationships that were founded on our willingness to be sick, enslaved, and dead.”

 This is not popular advice…and many of us don’t take it. It’s like being asked to hug a cactus.  It is magnified when the past one faces and the change they are seeking is from soul-damaging abuse; specifically, sexual abuse.

 I recognize this is far from easy.  If I’m being honest, I will admit that I have attempted to walk through the healing/change process before and after experiencing the hurt of looking into my past, I stopped.  I felt unstable and even fearful that if I asked the hardest questions, I might loose the reason for my existence, my faith and even the will to live.

Almost a year later, I am ready to try again. I wish I could say it is because I’m positively motivated. But alas, like most of the major changes we try to make, it is preceded by significant anguish and the search for relief.

Yep…PAIN in my motivator; the very thing I seek relief from.  Ironic, isn’t it?

 I know I MUST take this journey because the pain of the status quo far outweighs the risk of the desert ahead of me.  But I wonder if there are any out there reading this who need to take the same journey? Are there any living in silent pain from past wounds who ache for freedom from the internal torment?  Does the fear of dealing with that pain keep you silent?

There is hope.  And it starts with Him: Jesus Christ, the hope of Glory. But relief from the hold of our past cannot happen unless we TRUST Him.  The challenge is: learning to trust God often starts in the desert.

 In closing, I will give the words and invite of Dr. Dan Allender (because I think he borrowed them from the depths of my heart):

“The reason to pursue change is so that I can look at a sunset, read a novel, hold my daughters or son, drink deep from a friendship, sit quietly in prayer, or ponder heaven and simultaneously weep, laugh, and marvel. I want to know God, to experience what it means to be alive in His presence, then return to Him the praise of my grateful heart. If that is your desire-even if it is small and other motives apparently weigh larger in your heart, join me on this journey.  Come walk with me awhile if your heart yearns to be captured by God’s glory.”

 If God’s glory is the goal, I challenge you(as much as I challenge myself) to be thankful for the motivating pain and embrace the desert for what it will product IN YOU: healing, trust and change.

Walking into the sunset,


*Reference: The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse by Dr. Dan Allender