out in the desert.

kathyescobar faith shifts, healing, identity 12 Comments

One of the things I sometimes hear about people who unravel their faith and end up on the outside of all they once knew is that they are being “rebellious, hard-hearted, self-centered, or mislead.” It’s an interesting observation because usually it comes from people who are feeling halfway decent about God, the Bible, and their faith. They are on the inside looking out, assuming far beyond what meets the eye.

Unraveling, while messy and painful and confusing, is often one of the most sincere and faithful experiences a follower can have.

Going out into the unknown, leaving everything that once brought comfort and certainty, detaching from all that used to bring comfort is not for the faint-hearted.

I read a wonderful article this week from Christians for Biblical Equality about amazing female leaders in church history, and there was a section on the desert mothers (ammas) and fathers (abbas) and their movement that deeply resonated. Here’s what it said:

“The desert was selected as a place to seek and hunger after God. It was also a place of spiritual battle where, stripped of comforts and distractions, the desert Christians confronted dependence on false gods with all their lure…Through a physical detachment from comforts, desert Christians fasted not only from food and possessions, but also from anger, jealousy, power, and greed. By weaning themselves from base appetites, they created enormous space for God. In the desert, surrounded by dust, they found a new freedom and vitality of faith.”

For many of us the desert wasn’t our first choice of destinations when our beliefs started coming undone and we started asking all kinds of questions and began listening to a deeper longing.

Most of us didn’t say, “Hey, let’s head to the desert and confront our dependence on false gods” in the same way as these desert mothers and fathers.

However, that’s often what happens in this liminal-out-in-the-desert space in our faith journey where we hit a wall and end up in the wilderness, where we leave all that we once knew so well.

“The desert Christians confronted dependence on false gods with all their lure.”

For me, I used to be dependent on certainty, conformity, and affiliation which are the main values of what I like to call “Fusing” (that place where everything makes sense in our faith). The lure of certainty–of having pastors and leaders who tell us exactly what’s right and exactly what’s wrong and what the Bible says and what it means and what we need to believe to be okay in the world. Oh, that used to work so well.  That, plus the lure of what it feels like to be connected to a whole bunch of other people who think the same, believe the same, look the same, and are rowing hard in the same direction.

The other false god I worshipped was my image of God as a god of Shame. The more shame I felt, the more God I could get. The more unforgiven I felt, the more God I could seek. The more lowly wretch I leaned into, the more God I could need. The god of Shame keeps a lot of people coming back to the system over and over and over again.

I also ascribed to an “if-then” thinking. If I did ___, then I’d get _____.  It was a performance-based mess.

I’m wondering what false gods some of you might have depended on. 

“By weaning themselves from base appetites, they created enormous space for God.”

When we give up food we are used to eating, we realize our hunger for something more satisfying, something different. What’s often hard, though, is that we don’t know what that is yet. This is why the spiritual desert can feel so brutal. The old tricks won’t work. The old practices just don’t cut it. Finding new ways to connect with God and our souls is not an easy task when they are unfamiliar or feel less-spiritual.

But oh, the beautiful things that can happen in that “enormous space”!

We can learn so much about ourselves.

We begin to be more honest about our feelings.

We see things we never saw before.

We notice things rumbling around in our souls we had no idea existed when we were busy churching or hiding or going through the motions along with everyone else.

There’s room for freedom, mystery, and diversity that was never present before.

What’s been happening for you out in the desert?  What are you learning about God? Yourself? Others?

The part I want to keep playing is to help the desert not be quite so lonely for people. 

To keep nurturing the underground railroad.

To keep reminding each other we’re not crazy, we’re not alone.

When I read this article, I resonated with the idea that the desert mothers and fathers were out there together.

Shaking up dust.



Opening themselves up the elements.

Opening themselves up to God.

Opening themselves up to what could be.

Not completely alone, but somehow with each other in the seeking.

Yeah, a lot happens in the wilderness.

“In the desert, surrounded by dust, they found a new freedom and vitality of faith.”

I think this is what all this faith shifting stuff is all about, really–a new freedom and vitality of faith.

People don’t have to understand.

People don’t have to go with us.

But oh, the most amazing, beautiful, wild things happen in the desert.


ps: last week I forgot to share about a post up at SheLoves Magazine and fits with why so many of us end up in the desert–we know there’s a deeper desire in our own souls and the souls of so many others to be seen. It’s called Making the Invisible Visible.