Tips When You’re Walking in a Desert Place

Is it possible that the struggle you’re facing is God’s way of pressing the old life out of you so that you can be better used of Him? Is it possible that the very thing you are asking Him to take away is the thing He will use to make you great in His kingdom? I know what it feels like to have the gates of hell unleashed and feel caught up in the eye of a hurricane. However, there are some distinct lessons that may help you in your moment of need:

1. Change Your Perspective of Brokenness. In Mark Rutland’s “10 Things I Wish I Knew When I Was 21,” he shares that “very rarely real wholeness does not emerge from real brokenness.” We have been taught that brokenness is weakness in our society, but God sees a broken person as someone He can use. As McVey says, “Your sense of failure may be the catalyst God wants to use to bring you a new understanding of the meaning of the Christian life.”

I viewed God breaking me as a sign of his disfavor, his dislike for me. However, when I came to the understanding that there was too much of me that He needed to get out of the way in order to use me, His methods appeared a little more humane and not so cruel. He wasn’t breaking me to destroy me — He was breaking me so I could be reborn. I was reserving parts of myself for myself and giving him a very small piece to use — He wanted it all. If you consider your pain as the birthplace of the new thing He is doing, it feels more bearable.

2. Stay Active: During the darkest moments of my trial, I wanted to crawl in bed and wallow in my own self-misery. I didn’t feel like being around other people or opening up about my struggles. However, what helped me get through some of the darkness was staying connected to others. When I left teaching, and it felt like all of the structure and purpose had dropped out of my life, one of the things that helped keep me going were the launch team events for the new church campus. We had several events during the month to promote the new campus to the community, and I went to every one.

I missed the schedule and the sense of direction I had as a teacher — each event helped take me away from the turmoil I was experiencing in my isolated moments of reflection. Another lifesaver was a mom group I joined on Thursday mornings. Although I didn’t share in detail all that I was experiencing, I let the ladies in my group know that I was going through some hard times — and they prayed for me. The regular routine of studying God’s Word, meeting with other women, and sharing stories helped me look outside of myself and my situation. All of the church events and mom group meetings helped me to keep propelling forward.

3. Look at pain as a gift. Ann Voskamp explains in her study One Thousand Gifts that we should “open our hands to pain.” What it means to “open our hands to pain” is to not run away from it. There are times I have faced a tough situation and God has given me an out, but there are other times that I know He hasn’t right away. You can look for an escape to your situation (and He will not stop you), but in doing so we may miss the very gift God has intended for us. Several times over the course of the last few years, I begged God to change my situation; I considered getting a job (I even went ahead and updated my resume); I released projects too early in an attempt to get out of my period of waiting. However, he warned me in each of my efforts.

Whenever I prayed about the situation, I did not feel released to go. I kept hearing the word “obedience” — and I had to buckle down for more testing even though it was killing me. And that was the point. I would have missed the preparation and lessons of my journey. “Opening my hands to pain” meant accepting my situation for the moment — not acting to avoid God’s instruction and his time of testing, but instead doing what He had for me in the moment (however illogical it seemed to me).

4. We should expect suffering and trials as Christians. It isn’t popular in the American church today to promote suffering or trials, but God is very clear in the Bible when He says that Christians should expect trials and suffering. In 1 Peter 4:12, we are reminded: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”

I was surprised at the trial I faced in attempting to launch into ministry — in fact, the weeks that I would sing, I would often feel so much pressure that I felt like I could barely get through to Sunday. After the Sunday service, I would feel the pressure leave, but I didn’t expect the level of temptation and mental attack that would come on me when I was preparing to help lead the congregation in worship. I had the strangest things happen to me: family members come against me, my kids get sick, an appliance break down, negative thoughts bombard me.

I really was surprised, but I should have been rejoicing in my trials because the more effective I became for the kingdom of God, the greater my trials (not the other way around). In addition, God allows trials to come in our life to mold and shape us. While we view trials as something to avoid, they may be, as Story suggests in “Blessings,” God’s “blessings in disguise.”

5. Rely on Him alone. One of the lessons that was the hardest for me to learn during this time was to simply trust His voice and ignore the well-intended advice of others. There are times when we should seek the counsel of others, and there is a time and place for that. However, there are also times when you know what God is telling you to do. He has confirmed it to you over and over — you know it is His will for you, and there are those around you who will tell you that the direction is not right for you.

They may have the best of intentions, but their advice may not lead you in the right direction. In my toughest moments launching into my ministry, I was advised by wise people I respected to “go elsewhere.” Obviously, these caring individuals had my best interests and emotional well-being in mind, but it wasn’t the right advice for me. Over and over, when I prayed about this advice, I heard (almost audibly) a line from the Hillsong’s Cornerstone: “I dare not trust the sweetest frame.” And I just knew that I had to discount the advice from my sweet friends and continue on in the direction I knew to be right.

6. Surrender. The hard truth for me to accept in my own process was not only that God would allow me to walk through pain so He could adjust my character, but also that some of the choices I made outside of His will added more unneeded pain to my situation. Unfortunately, I tried as hard as I could to perform and achieve my way out of my situation, and when that didn’t work I tried even harder–and I really made a mess in some areas because I was trying so hard to make things happen the way I thought that they should happen. I wasn’t surrendered.

The only way to claw through the pain and get to the other side is surrender to Him. Trust Him. He knows what He is doing. It takes some initial cutting and pruning to get you where you need to be. My healing has not involved Him waving a wand over me and declaring me “all better.” It has involved Him walking with me through some tough conversations, confessions and apologies — not a few. Three years worth. It. Has. Been. Tough.

But I know what He has wrapped up for me inside these awkward, jagged packages of suffering:


And He’s got some for you as well.

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer, and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to love music and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and three children.

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