This piece originally ran as a guest blog for my friend and fellow writer, Chris Canuel. I felt like maybe someone needs to read it today…someone who might be currently praying in the desert.
Maybe that someone who needs to (re)read it is ME.
How do you get out of the spiritual desert? You build a huge, blinking distraction to it.
Or, you can just walk through it, and fully expect God to bring you to the other side.
About eight years ago, I went to Las Vegas on a business trip. The long and short of it was that I had a mini-nervous breakdown.
My colleagues and I stayed in the Luxor – a magnificent pyramid structure on the Vegas strip, smack dab (as we say in the South) in the heart of Sin City. Although there were seminars by day, there were too many hours of free time after the nine-to-five activities.
I don’t always do that well with too much free time.
Vegas is not so much fun for a person in alcohol – or any other, so far as I can tell – recovery. Moment after moment, fleshly appetizers are placed before you. In-your-face, 24/7 sex, drugs, drink, gambling, smoking. Even things that had never tempted me before – such as the gambling – became this enormous tease.
I knew that Vegas was not for me before the plane even touched down. If you’ve ever flown over Las Vegas, you will know what I mean. Here is a visual synopsis of the view from the plane.
Hours of flight over sandy canyons, gorges, and deserts. Everything is some shade of brown– nothing, nothing, nothing, hours of nothing– barren brown, tan and beige. Nothing.
BAM! Super incredibly bright neon, see-it-from-outer space, larger-than life and twice as gaudy, Technicolor VEGAS, Baby! The strip is, quite literally, just a strip that – from the air – looks as though the heavens barfed forth a city-sized strip of neon, glitter, and a strange, Disney-like conglomeration of architectural/cultural mess. Pastel medieval castles, next door to Greco-Roman-columned casinos, next door to the great pyramids, next door to a shrunken New York City entwined by a roller coaster, punctuated by liquor and nudie bars.
It is the anti-nature, if you will.
Before even the first rah-rah corporate event, I was burned out. Too much to see. Everything in sight vying for my attention – and so, none of it really getting my attention. The first night, I stayed in the hotel room and cried while everyone else went out and had Vegas adventures. And I couldn’t stop crying.
Every morning, for privacy, I wandered down to a café in the Luxor, and call my (then) fiancé, a grown woman crying in an enormous, cartoonish pyramid, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people and utterly alone.
“I can’t be here,” I told him. “It’s too noisy. Too much temptation. Too many drunk and high people…so much gambling, porn everywhere…. too much empty, scattered, shallow glitz. I have to come home.”
It didn’t upset me because I believed I would never do such things, but because I know good and damn well that I could – given the right circumstances and a weak moment – and, in fact, have. I try to respect the parameters – the slippery slopes. And Vegas is a very slippery slope.
Each day, I became more and more depressed, the thin veneer of sanity cracking under the weight of trying to appear all the things I was not: Professional, immune to the temptations, and able to cope.
Where I live at home, the Ocean is a scant 10 minutes away, and the Cape Fear River 10 minutes in the other direction. Water, water everywhere. And people I love.
Of course, I survived it – and as a bonus, with my sobriety intact. When I finally, got home, it didn’t seem like such an ordeal. But during the experience, I was miserable.
For the last month or so, I have really been struggling with prayer. Not just having a desert-like prayer life, but a Vegas-like prayer life. Unwittingly, I’ve filled up a dry-spell with diversions to distract my spirit. Sensory overload is not the same as spirit satiation. What happens in my prayer life lately…..it goes nowhere. Or so it seems.
Praying…. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
But anything but Holy Spirit in a hurting soul is not an oasis….only a mirage.
Sometimes, my spiritual walk becomes about too much empty, scattered, shallow glitz. A grown woman crying in church, surrounded by dozens of happy worshippers. Everyone else seemingly bloated with happiness. Don’t they see the barren dryness?
Aridness…brown, tan and beige. So I build great, giant cities – big, awkward pastel and neon structures of distraction, instead of just walking through the desert – exhausted from trying to pretend to be what I am not: A “professional Christian.” Immune to the temptations. Able to cope.
I don’t always do that well when I have too much time, but I know the God of the Universe always makes time for me. I have to come home, and the only route is through the desert.
It’s hard to encounter God, what with the gaudy, neon monuments to my worries and anxieties blinking. Why don’t I remember that in the “uninhabitable” – He inhabits? He dwells in me always, vying for my attention.
And if I am simply willing to just walk through the desert?
BAM! God. Living water, water everywhere. Deserts can’t go on forever.
But the love of my Father does.