God’s Faithfuless in the Desert
Editor’s Note: This article is a part of our annual Rooted Student Series, where high school, college, and graduate students share their voices, wisdom, and experiences in learning to be disciples of Jesus. This entire week (and a few more times though the month of August), we will share articles from students to encourage parents, youth pastors, and fellow students in their own walks with Christ.
Last summer, I moved across the country to pursue a graduate degree in the limited (and, according to some, impossible) field of English literature. The summer before I left was full of last visits and excited promises to write, and while I was tremendously nervous about teaching freshmen as a Teaching Assistant, I quelled my anxieties by reminding myself that my acceptance into the program was a clear sign from God to trust in his works. So, I left the colossal tangle of forests of my home in the deep South for soaring and distant desert mountains in the Southwest. I hoped I would find the opportunities immediate and exciting, the people honest and authentic, and the studies fulfilling and invigorating.
A year later, I can honestly say my expectations were not fulfilled. When people ask me how it is out there, I usually quip “hot!” to avoid explaining how the landscape feels isolating, even in the middle of the city. I don’t mention how the acquaintances I made remained distant as our work increased, and the graduate work I anticipated was more exhausting than invigorating. And when I met my advisors and learned the specialty I wanted to pursue was pretty much impossible at that institution, I struggled to make sense of my situation. How could I have been steered this direction, where every open door slammed shut right before I got there? What on earth could this experience be worth to me? I took the risk and had uprooted myself from everything I knew and loved for a strong calling. Why did my opportunities seem to sour when I had them in grasp? Did I misinterpret the signs I was so confident in a few months ago?
The sun did not stop for me to plan, though, and slowly teaching began to feel more natural. As some of my students worried and confided their first-year college conundrums to me, I heard about everything from rude roommates to serious realizations of mental illnesses and the death of family members. It seemed only natural to adjust plans and extend deadlines, something that this past spring made especially necessary when classes migrated online. I could listen and respond, or I could harden my heart and stick to my previous syllabus and schedule.
Nevertheless, I still worried as I got more and more bad news about my stipend, my goals, and my future. It was in this frazzled, anxious state of mind that I reopened my Bible reading plan to Proverbs 30. For those less familiar, its structure is reminiscent of God’s confrontation of Job: “Who has gone up into the heavens and come down, who has scooped up the wind in his palms? Who has wrapped all the waters in a cloak? Who has raised up all ends of the earth? What is his name, or the name of his son, that you should know?” (30:4). The author goes on to ask only that “falsehood and lying words keep far from me. Privation and wealth do not give me. Provide me my allotted bread” (30:8), familiar sentiments echoed in the Lord’s Prayer.
To read these verses was a release of a year of tension. As Robert Alter notes, Proverbs 30 is the penultimate chapter of the book. The author has spent twenty-nine other chapters rigorously detailing the ways to live a moral life only to now, at the near end of it all, announce himself as “a brute among men” (30:2). In my own little room, where I studied ancient texts late into the night and worried about my own chances in fitting into Academia, I felt the command to relinquish understanding. I did not have to know why I was called here. I only had to be Christ’s example to the people I cared for, even if being Christ’s example didn’t cure my uncertainties about the future.
Furthermore, if I was to minister to those I cared about, I had to extend just as much grace and mercy to myself as I did my students, whose fears were not so removed from my own. Proverbs 30:1 opens with the cry “I am weary, O God, I am weary, O God. How can I prevail?” Every time I opened class, I would ask how people were doing, and I would always hear the same thing: “I’m tired. I’m exhausted. I just want a nap.” All year, I caught myself texting friends from home that I was so tired, but I had to stay up a little longer. Eventually, I just answered my students with a weary, “Same,” when they complained.
It took me months of being stretched and spent to reach the breaking point of my pride, as I did not want to realize that my own abilities cannot fuel me like the grace and love of God can. Without His example and presence in our lives, we have no lodestone to guide us in our choices, our self-control, and our interactions with others. Grace is what sustained me in my own studies, and grace is what directed my teaching philosophy as I extended deadline after deadline, even to hours before grades were due.
Likewise, a dangerous aspect about deserts, both spiritual and physical, is that the landscape seems to be something other than what it is. Mirages play tricks on your eyes, casting a pool just at the horizon no matter how far you walk. Distances stretch miles longer than they looked from foothills. Sometimes, the ways you think about God are challenged and even refined during hardships. The unshakeable fact that God’s grace remains present in all that you do, wherever you are. Trusting in the knowledge you have of God from your spiritual harvests, “mountain top experiences,” and daily walk with the Lord rather than what you make think of Him in the desert will carry you through the doubts and anguish you feel during your spiritual hardships. After all, it did Jesus during his temptation in the desert: rather than falling prey to compelling arguments, he remained steadfast in his own knowledge of God (Matthew 4:7).
I would like to say that now, almost a year since I moved, I know God’s plan for this stage of my life. It would fit nicely into expectations of what makes a good narrative. This is not one of those success stories, however. There are still days that I feel like I am in freefall: the days I receive a lower grade with little to no feedback, the days I realize Plan C still won’t work, the days I remember all that is before me in my program in addition to my duties as an instructor and student. The difference between now and when I began is that I know that there is a point for which I cannot prepare, just as situations rarely have a “solution” to solve. Trusting in God in deserts does not look like asking for the sand to become a secret oasis—instead, it often becomes trusting that His path will end at one.
My situation may seem overly specific—you may have graduated already, transferred to a better fitting school, or perhaps are a first-year student yourself. My advice may even seem naïve or simplistic, as I write to just believe in God’s plan as you flounder for faith in an apparent dead end, lonely and frustrated. I know I still struggle with accepting ignorance when I feel pressured to know everything about my future. The beautiful thing about God’s grace is that it is all-encompassing and moves in mysterious ways. I may learn my purpose here after I have moved away. I may never learn it. All I can do is take my blessings and commit my spirit into God’s hands, rooted in faith.
Follow Rooted’s annual student series on the blog this week and throughout the month of August, and check out all our student series articles from over the years here.