Today, honestly, I feel empty. It feels like the sauna door has been left open too long and my heart feels tepid. Room temperature. It feels like I have so little to give.
Which makes me worry. Because my self-perceived value is so tied to feeling strong. Without emotional energy I feel vulnerable. I risk being exposed. I become ordinary. Flawed.
Because confidence is what we find attractive, right? Neediness is not. It takes energy to speak with authority. It takes emotional reserves to be present and to lead. At least it does for me. Without energy, I’m always one step away from saying something I’ll regret.
There are days like this. Seasons sometimes. My week feels cluttered. I can’t find the patterns and connections that give life its clarity and meaning. I am bouncing between meetings and appointments and am getting to the end of the day feeling disoriented and even a little noxious.
What I need is retreat. But sometimes retreat is a luxury I can’t afford. There simply isn’t the space for it. I probably need better boundaries. But often those boundaries are unrealistic. Sometimes you just need to toughen up a bit.
Part of the desert experience is aimlessness. It involves wandering. Questions remain unanswered. Needs are met with silence. God rarely acts in accordance with my self-interest. There is a greater plan, I know. But apparently it is on a need to know basis, and I don’t need to know.
One of my favorite places to turn to on days like this is to the Psalms. There are Psalms written for every season, be it worship and praise, trust and faith, and even lament. The theologian, Walter Bruggeman, talks about the importance of the Psalms of disorientation in his book Spirituality and the Psalms. Psalms of disorientation are honest, raw, and ragged. They are often Psalms of complaint. They refuse to minimize the sufferings in life.
“The dominant ideology of our culture is committed to continuity and success and to the avoidance of pain, hurt, and loss. The dominant culture is also resistant to genuine newness and real surprise. It is curious but true, that surprise is as unwelcome as is loss. And our culture is organized to prevent the experience of both.”
Isn’t this true? The work of avoidance describes so much of what robs me of my emotional energy. And the rest of it is spent trying to control what cannot be controlled. The desert is a place for releasing these illusions and accepting that today is what it is. It is often the end of our rope. And, as Dallas Willard says, that is God’s address.
And though God is often silent in these moments, He will often draw near. He reminds me that this, too, will pass. That my tendency to place personal value on what I do or say is unnecessary, and, in fact, a waste of time. And that tomorrow brings with it the newness of reorientation. Finding my way back.
And usually that way back is a surprise. It comes in unlooked for, in a way that I’m not anticipating. And, as a result, I see something new. And in the newness comes the return of hope. Because in the desert, God gets bigger. And somehow, through it all, so do I.
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.