“God Uses the Desert of the Soul” – an Excerpt from A Beautiful Disaster by Marlena Graves

The following is an excerpt from “The Way of the Desert and Beautiful Souls,” chapter 1 from A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness by Marlena Graves.


God uses the desert of the soul—our suffering and difficulties, our pain, our dark nights (call them what you will)—to form us, to make us beautiful souls. He redeems what we might deem our living hells, if we allow him. The hard truth, then, is this: everyone who follows Jesus is eventually called into the desert.

Jesus suffered hunger and temptation in the desert. His calling and his trust in his Father were put to the test. He was probably full of angst and despair. He was physically weak and emotionally and spiritually vulnerable. Why on earth would the Holy Spirit drive him into the desert wilderness and allow him to suffer?

Scripture is full of examples of how God used the desert to reveal himself and to spiritually form his people. Abraham, Hagar, Jacob, Miriam, Moses, the Israelites, David, Elijah, Jonah, John the Baptist, and Paul all spent time in the wilderness. They weren’t alone either—the desert fathers and mothers made their homes in the wilderness too.

All these giants of the faith spent time in the physical desert but were also intimately acquainted with the interior desert. Eventually, God sends all who truly seek to know him into a spiritual wilderness. That’s why St. John of the Cross calls this dark night, this desert of ours, a “happy night.” The night is happy because, though it brings “darkness to the spirit, it does so only to give it light in everything; . . . although it humbles it and makes it miserable, it does so only to exalt it and to raise it up.”

N. T. Wright notes, “Wilderness has been used in Christian writing as an image for the dark side of the spiritual journey. Conversion, baptism, faith—a rich sense of the presence and love of God, of vocation and sonship; and then, the wilderness.” The spiritual desert wilderness is harsh, wild, and uncontrollable. Barely inhabitable and yet breathtakingly beautiful. Inarguably dangerous and possibly deadly but also transformational and even miraculous. Solitary and unfamiliar but full of grace and spiritual activity.

The desert is a blessing disguised as a curse—a study in contrasts. While theophanies and divine epiphanies regularly occur there, so do unimaginable times of depression and despair. We hear many voices and sometimes have difficulty distinguishing among God’s, our own, the world’s, and that of devils toying with us, meaning to eat us alive. The desert heightens our senses; paradoxically, we’re acutely aware of both God’s presence and his seeming absence. Truths once obscure, or mentally assented to yet not experienced, suddenly stand out in sharp relief, while the superfluous recedes into the background. In the desert wilderness, miracles happen, temptations lure, and judgment occurs.

The wilderness has a way of curing our illusions about ourselves and teaching us to depend more and more on God. When we first enter, we’re convinced we’ve entered the bowels of hell. But on our pilgrimage, we discover that the desert drips with the divine. We discover that desert land is fertile ground for spiritual activity, transformation, and renewal.


©2014 by Marlena Graves. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.