“This is desert.” Acts 8:26b (New King James Version)
Nothing makes me feel more alone than thinking the worst-case scenario of any situation. An unexpected (and unwelcomed) challenge persistently invited me to attend the “Worry Wart” conference, in which I was the keynote speaker. Why did I accept such an invitation to a worrisome way and let mosttoday’s actual goals go un-checked? I suppose it’s one of the residual effects of anxiety, but today had me debilitated for some reason. Now that I’ve calmed down and returned to reality, here are my thoughts.
Sometimes just one email can launch my anxiety and worry into another universe, and that’s precisely what happened on this occasion. It took me 13.5 seconds to read the email, but the effects cost me hours of worry, fearing the worst possible situations. My weekly habits and goals were lost in a sea of anxiety. My entire outlook on life in real time suddenly came to a grinding halt. My life was frozen. Immovable. Stuck.
And I remembered a sentence from scripture that had been with me for a few weeks: “This is desert.”
Acts is a historical narrative describing the movement of the Church from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, empowered by the outpouring God’s Spirit upon Christians. There were miracles, persecutions, and accounts of interesting encounters like this one in chapter 8. Philip had just been preaching and enacting miracles in Samaria, and Philip’s actions impacted Simon the Sorcerer, who also converted to the faith. An angel tells Philip to go Gaza to which we find this sentence: “This is desert.”
The NIV translation says, “the desert road,” while the paraphrased Message version says, “that desolate road.”
Philip finds a politically powerful eunuch from Ethiopia who has apparently acquired a rather unique parchment: Isaiah the Prophet. Philip asked the Eunuch if he understood the text, and the Eunuch said, “How can I unless someone guides me?” Philip explained and then Eunuch is baptised.
Eunuch – now there’s someone who is potentially alone in their thoughts. This is someone who will never produce a child, possibly never marry, and will be in service to his monarch most likely the rest of his life. Yet, here is a man, alone, waiting for someone to help him understand the Prophet Isaiah.
Then, there’s Philip, who has been instructed to go to a desert (a desert road or a desolate place). He obeys. He assists. He baptizes. Two single characters meet in an unlikely scenario.
I don’t know why this story and phrase, “this is desert” captures my heart, but it does. Maybe it’s the fact that most often I feel alone in my research, and I’m secretly hoping for someone to “guide me” in some of my reading. (To be fair, I have great PhD supervision. I’d be lost without them.) Maybe it’s because a year ago, my ministry was vastly different. Maybe it’s because I feel like I’ve been sent to a desert – a place of loneliness and sometimes the lack of life. Yet, I feel completely confident in God’s call to move to England and research a PhD. I’ve never doubted that at all.
But since I’ve been more aware of what causes my worries and anxieties, I’ve often found myself wanting to go to a deserted place to be in my loneliness. Sometimes it’s the simplest of changes in the environment that really emphasizes my supposed isolation. I’m reminded of when Jesus was instructed by the Spirit to go to the wilderness to fast. It was a season of preparation. The ‘forty days’ – assumes a time of completion.
Every season of ministry for me in the last two decades has always felt like a ‘desert’ to which I am called and for which I am prepared for the upcoming season. Today, though, I don’t offer some great theological insight into this text. I’m just offering my loneliness as a way of telling those who feel lonely that they are not alone.
TO the person who feels loneliness when walking home from being around people all day…
TO the person who feels loneliness in their careers – feeling like you have more to offer…
TO the person who feels loneliness because someone has recently left them – expected or unexpected…
TO the person who feels loneliness because you’re not real sure how to make yourself known to others…
TO the person who feels loneliness because you don’t understand how you are where you are…
This is desert.
I’m finding hope in simply saying this statement. Maybe it’s a reality check for me that keeps me grounded. I’m not sure, but it feels ‘holy.’ (Meaning it feels mysteriously ‘other-ness’ in saying it.)
This is desert.
Not sure how that falls on your ears or hearts today. However it does, let it be and grow where it does.