We find ourselves in the desert, too, and I'm wondering whether this will be a crucible of personal growth for me or season of dead waiting. So many of my old temptations are removed, and I find myself here mostly free from the deadly calls of materialism and man's approval. I'm grateful for that freedom but left wondering what will happen if and when we return to "civilization." It seems clear that if, here in the desert, I hang on to memories of movie theaters and Starbucks and elevate them to the status of lost gods, my return will send me back even weaker into the same idolatries of the modern world.
The short story of St. Anthony's life (from Nouwen's book) gives some direction to my questions.
After a period of living as a poor laborer at the edge of his village, he withdrew into the desert, where for twenty years he lived in complete solitude. During these years Anthony experienced a terrible trial. The shell of his superficial securities was cracked and the abyss of iniquity was opened to him. But he came out of this trial victoriously-- not because of his own willpower or ascetic exploits, but because of his unconditional surrender to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. When he emerged from his solitude, people recognized in him the qualities of an authentic "healthy" man, whole in body, mind and soul. They flocked to him for healing, comfort, and direction....
The story of St. Anthony, as told by St. Athanasius, shows that we must be made aware of the call to let our false, compulsive self be transformed into the new self of Jesus Christ. It also shows that solitude is the furnace in which this transformation takes place. Finally, it reveals that it is from this transformed or converted self that real ministry flows.
I'd like to "emerge" from my desert that way, too-- healthier in body, mind and soul, transformed into the new self of Jesus Christ. Transformation is a key word here I think, and the crux of another arrow God has been sending to pierce my heart over and over recently:
Therefore I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices-- holy and pleasing to God. This is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-- his good, pleasing, and perfect will. Romans 12:1-2
Do not conform, but be transformed.
I'm left with a few clear applications on my heart. I'm pretty sure to avoid them would be to stick my fingers in my ears and sing "I can't hear you!" at the top of my lungs.
- Banish the thought of "quitting" from my mind, even and particularly during the toughest moments. Dig in deeper.
- Let go of Lima as a place of refuge and escape (more something I've been dreaming of than something I've actually had the time to do).
- Fast from sugar this week. Instead of using sugar as my afternoon "fix," run to prayer. Instead of numbing the pain, confusions, and disappointments, move into them, and let myself be changed in the midst of them.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Psalm 23:1-4