The Wisdom of the Desert

In the fourth century, a group of Christian hermits fled to the deserts of Egypt, Palestine, Arabia, and Persia in a quest for clarity, to know their true selves, and to achieve purity of heart. These Desert Fathers removed themselves from the world in order to seek a way to God unmapped by others before them. They ditched the cities and all their possession to live a life of detachment and solitude to discover their own inner reality as centered in Christ.

In other words, they leapt into the void in order to see and hear more clearly.

The Void

In her book Spiritual Growth, Sanaya Roman compares the void to a bird aspiring to fly in a higher jet stream. As she leaves the familiar path, she experiences turbulence and little air flow – as conditions between the two paths are more unstable. If the bird perseveres through the chop and uncertainty, she is eventually able to stabilize and fly easily in the higher flow.

The last few months I have been spending a lot of time in the void or the desert.

After my pilgrimage across Spain and hospitalization, I tried to re-assemble my former life. However, some of the pieces no longer fit. The more I forced it, the more evident it became that I had evolved into a different person and needed to honor that. I realized that, although I will always be writer, I was much happier and fulfilled when I was around people – especially when I can use my gifts toward service while collaborating directly with a team.

Lessons From the Old and the Young

So I experimented.

I volunteered at an assisted-living center, working with seniors with Alzheimer’s and other health issues. I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed that work and how much I learned from the residents. I also tutored elementary-school Hispanic children in reading and math and looked forward to being around their contagious energy.

The old and the young taught me many lessons, the most important being how to be fully present and live in the moment. They modeled for me how to let go of expectations and striving and simply be okay with what is.

Returning to Ministry

As a young girl I aspired to be a missionary. A religious studies major, I spent my early 20s in different kinds of ministry – serving at-risk communities and homeless shelters. I even worked alongside Mother Teresa and the Sisters of Charity in Calcutta, India when I was in graduate school getting my theology degree.

As I grow older, I’ve been craving the personal connection with people and feel called to pursue a ministry that affords that experience. So that’s what I’m starting to do. I’m incorporating an earlier part of myself that needs to be nurtured and expressed.

There will always be room for writing, of course. I will write when the spirit inspires. However, I wanted to share an update with you.

The void or the desert feels like a useless place. However, if you can afford to stop for a period of time – if you can just sit in uncomfortable silence and unknowing – it can be life-changing. You might discover forgotten parts of yourself that inspire joy. Or you could access some piece of wisdom that might lead to wholeness and healing.

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34 thoughts on “The Wisdom of the Desert

  1. Wonderful to receive this update. I wonder, how you can manage this need to be with others in a very human give and take in the period of required social distancing. Stay well and carry on. Hope your family remains good. It’s a very tough time.

  2. Thanks for the update Teresa and very happy for you. All the best and thanks very very much for everything you have done over the years!

  3. Beautiful post. I understand that longing for spiritual expression — especially when you so recently probed the heart mightily on your pilgrimage on foot and pushed your body to the brink and so bravely shared of yourself in your online ministries (metaphor) to those suffering depression. Yes: The wisdom of the elderly anchors us and the energy of the youthful infuses us. We are all connected. I wish you well on your path.

  4. I’ve been praying for you, Eric and the kids all along! It’s great to hear from you!! Even so, I knew that the Lord would answer all the prayers from all of those who were praying for you and yours, whether you wrote another syllable or not!

    I worked for several years as an activities director in assisted living, and it is very rewarding. We had a rhythm band that could rock some worlds! We would go to schools and help kids with their reading, but not math. Nope. No math. 😉 And lot of other activity type stuff!!

    It seems that the Lord has taken you in a new direction where he really needed your help. It is sweet to the soul to see you walking in the way that He is calling you…

    May the Lord continue to bless and keep you, Therese!!! And, like, ya’ know, those humans that you live with too!

  5. You do sound so completely different. In almost all your previous writing, you mention something about your depression, etc, and these comments seem so vague… I wonder if the treatments you received interfered with getting your full cognitive skills back? I believe in your last post you said that you were having a very difficult time with that. Looking back at it, are you glad that you had the ect treatments or do you wish you hadn’t? It is so good to hear from you after so long and I wish you all the best…

  6. Welcome Therese how inspiring to hear from you after such a long time its been so long but welcome back .
    You sound so more comfortable in what you are writing and so much more strength coming through as well .
    I hope we will still receive some news of this new journey you are on a journey that is fulfilling you I admire you so much

  7. Therese, it’s so wonderful to hear from you! I’ve wondered about you and what was going on, hoping to hear from you at some point. I know your ministry, in whatever form it takes, will truly enrich others. I can only imagine – those people are blessed to have you in their lives. Thank you very much for making me feel like I’m not alone in my struggles. I’ll always be a big fan of yours and will be lifting you up in prayer – for you, personally – and your ministry.

  8. So happy to see this post and know you’re ok. One of the gifts depression has given me is the ability to take stock and decide what fits and what doesn’t as I emerge from that dark place. It’s something I’m now doing because of Covid too. Now that we slowly go back to “normal” I’m choosing very carefully what I go back to and what I need to leave behind. To everything there is a season. God bless you on whatever path you take. He’s forever with you no matter where you go. Stay well dear Therese.

  9. I am so glad you wrote. I have honestly been praying for you while I lie awake at night struggling with a medication change for bipolar. You have been an inspiration for me. I first read of you in Guideposts. I have your books and have benefited greatly from your candid descriptions of living with mental illness as a woman, wife and mother. I loved your videos and admired your beauty and brains. It seems you have found a need and are feeling it for yourself and others. I hope you will give us glimpses of your journey.

  10. I have been thinking about you lately, so glad you are doing well, thank you for this post and all your writing, it’s something I turn to in these hard times

  11. It’s so good to hear from you, Therese‼️ I have thought of you, often! This makes perfect sense to me! I’m in this exact place myself; and, I praise God…. and the best supporters He has provided….. including you! So happy for you and your family!! And, I certainly understand, it’s a day to day thing. But, I’m thankful and blessed for each better day. And,I praise God for it 🙏🏻❤️🙏🏻 Take good care, Therese 😉 Many Hugs 😊

  12. I haven’t been following you for a while but I think if you often.
    It was so nice to see this update today.
    I’m struggling with sadness and isolation.
    It was consoling. You are a beautiful and generous soul. Sending you my imperfect prayers and much love in your journey.
    This too will pass 🙏🏽

  13. It is so good to hear from you. I have prayed for you and wondered how your world was evolving, especially in this stressful time of pandemic.
    I am reading 📚 the book Adam Beloved of God by Henri Nouwen. It is a beautiful book of self discovery during his time at L’Arche homes in Toronto
    God bless. And be well, celebrate yourself , Pat Schwimer

  14. Dear Theresa, So glad to know you are doing well and have found a dream that had been lost a long time ago. So happy for you. Stay well and bless you and your family. Thank you for all the years of help you and your writings gave me and so many others. 💖 😚 🙏 ☮️

  15. Therese,

    I have really missed hearing from you. I am happy you are taking a new path, but continuing to write
    when you are inspired.

    Blessings and good health to you and yours,💕
    Your JH Friend
    Jane

  16. Dear Therese,

    I’m choking back tears reading your wonderful post and I need to break down and cry because I’m so happy to hear from you. I thank God for you. I’m, Jacquie, the 87 year old we talked briefly about someday having a group of old folks. You thought your Mom might like it. Welcome, I love you!

  17. Great to hear from you again, thanks so much for sharing this. For those of us whose wounds remain a daily reality, it is a blessing to hear from you. In my Catholic faith I turn to the angels of light who offer comfort; for that is what we truly need. Julian of Norwich is one such angel. Where we can rest assured – All Will be well, all manner of things shall be well- Perhaps our lot is to persevere with what we have each day. In service to others . For we know intimately the pain of this world. We are sages in the deeper worlds. Soul pain, chronic depression, reaches into the heart of ones ability to respond. But respond we do! From depth, I feel.
    Paradoxically living each day as a gift. Even if this reality is hard fought. We are blessed in so many other ways.

  18. Dear Therese, there’s bern a void, a dessert created without your posts. Always they were so meaningful because they were written by someone who has walked in our shoes. I’m so happy to hear from you, that you’re ok and finding your way. You’ve been missed. There’s no one like you for us. I hope in your quest to find your way, your path will go full circle and bring you back to us. If it does not, please know you’ve made a difference in my life and so many others. Stay in touch if you can. May God bless you for all you’ve done and for whatever He asks of you now. Thank you♥️

  19. It is so nice to hear from you again Therese. Great to hear you sounding so at peace with yourself and your world and the work you are doing. I pray that this missions work is fulfilling for you and that you are able to find peace and happiness in the ministry that you have found. Please stay safe and well in this COVID-19 crisis as you go about your visits and ministry work. May God richly bless you and your family in the coming days.

  20. This is something that I want to do. I feel that if we help others it gives us a sense of purpose & peace & promotes happiness in ourselves.

  21. Dear Therese, it is so wonderful to hear you are ok after so long. You do not have to write if it is no longer your purpose. You are free to choose. I have prayed for you. I found comfort in your vulnerable words last year when my daughter was in major depression and suicidal. Reading your insights helped me to understand the depth of her illness and sit in the hole with her. She is also a writer/creative and seeks solitude a lot and I believe is in her own head too much – not a safe place for her.
    I believe ‘the self’ is not enough to live well for. Yes exercising, eating right and going to the doctor when ill matters, but the self will not bring joy. It makes so much sense that getting busy for others- sharing your gifts with the old and the young have got you out of yourself and into the body of Christ. God has used others to show you how to be fully present in the moment and live! And so glad you have lowered those unfair sabotaging expectations. You sound more balanced- not as isolated and introspective. You are giving yourself a break, it is enough that God loves you and there is important work for you to do! I believe we are all made to work and to love others. Self respect (and better sleep) comes from doing good works. The world needs everybody to be caring for others- family, neighbours and strangers- all the body of Christ. Prayers for you all to find His comfort and purpose 🙏

  22. Dear Therese:

    So good to hear from you. You have been in my thoughts. Wishing you all the best in this next chapter of your life. Stay well & thank you for all your honest posts these past few years. They were a wonderful comfort to me when I needed them most.

    God bless you & your family.

    Gratefully yours,

    Helene

  23. Beautiful Therese ⚘🌻⚘
    It’s so wonderful to hear from you. Every word you wrote makes so much sense, we can’t avoid the void or fill it with distractions that are detrimental in the long run. That pain of facing being stuck in our inner void isn’t as bad as we think, once we’ve realised with quiet contemplation all the answers are within us, and always were. Negative emotions are not as devastating to our psych once the penny has dropped that we actually have control over how we think, what we choose to think about changes our whole outlook and chemical balances. For too long I’ve felt all I consisted of was the mental health labels given by health care professionals, but the all consuming shame was not mine. It belonged to my extremely abusive parents they made me want to die until I cut contact 4 years ago. So much pain followed I was hospitalized twice. One day I wrote in my journal know one knows how much I suffered, and a voice inside me said; God does, God knows and he is here with me. Now I’m studying his word. No one can deny the healing has been so powerful. You are an inspiration, a beautiful gentle soul, just like Mother Theresa who has also been my guiding light through her words, wisdom and selflessness.
    Joyce Meyer said:
    Don’t be feeling sorry for yourself sitting at home saying I’m so lonely. There’s no need to be lonely get out there and help those people who are feeling a lot lot worse than you, and never has a truer word been said. Thank you Therese we are truly blessed to be on this path beside you xxx

  24. Therese,
    As many others have said, I’m so relieved to see an update from you. I’m glad to hear that you are pursuing things that give you meaning and make you happy. I’ve thought of you from time to time and know that your own mental health journey is just as important as everyone else’s.
    You will always remind me that I am not alone in how I feel, and that I can create a fulfilled life for myself like you have.

    Stay well,

    Kelli

  25. Lots of information and benefits that I can take from your writing.
    I hope that in the future it will get even better and better, so that everyone can get a lot of information here.

  26. I read your 2015 article in Everyday Health about weaning off antidepressants and wanted to come here to say thank you. Now I’ve read this blog article as well. It resonates with me. Glad you are in the present and comfortable shedding things that don’t fit anymore. Thank you for both pieces you’ve shared. Grateful for you.

  27. Hi Therese,

    I found your content online when I was 1st diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder earlier this year. I’m 38, a mother of 3, Catholic woman living in Australia. At that time my world had just turned upside down and I was in the deepest pit of depression. I experienced my 1st major manic episode for 4 months from February until June. It lasted so long as I had not yet been diagnosed and my husband and I had no idea what was happening. I did A LOT of damage to say the least.
    When I came across your writings and personal testimonies, I felt less alone. I was inspired to not give up on hope, to ride with the tides that come with the disease, to trust in Jesus alone. Thank you.

    I pray you are well. I look forward to an update from you, whenever you are led by the spirit to write and share your words.

    May the peace of Christ be with you.

    1. Marie, may God bless your treatment path. There is an excellent book by Dr Kay Jameson called The Inquiry Mind.
      It us a memoir if her journey with bipolar. So touching so enlightening and real.
      Stay the course and love yourself
      Pat

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