Like Sunsets in the Desert

by | Apr 8, 2021

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. 
John 20:30-31 

For two years, I lived in Tucson, Arizona, and among my last memories of that time are of sunsets in the desert. I used to ride my bike after work on roads that took me out of the city going west to watch the sun go down. It was breathtakingly beautiful every time. I quickly learned not to ride out too far, however, because as beautiful as the sunsets were, the transition from light to dark was startlingly abrupt. There was no dusk. One moment it was light enough to see and then, in an instant, all light was gone. 

The memory of desert sunsets comes to mind whenever I experience for myself or witness another person’s healing process from injury, illness, or grief. After an initial season of suffering, as healing begins, we have moments, even days, when we feel surprisingly strong and whole. We have energy, and a sense that our lives have possibility again, and indeed, they do. The joy we feel is overwhelming. Yet because we have no reserves of energy to draw from, we are quickly depleted to the point of exhaustion. And there’s no warning–one moment we’re fine and the next we simply must lie down, leave the room, or immediately stop whatever it is we’re doing. The good news is that we’re on the path of healing. The challenge is to be patient with the process. If we rush our return, we can set ourselves back.

Spring has at last arrived, and there is increasing hope for life on the other side of pandemic restrictions. I feel in myself and have seen in others moments intense joy–euphoria even–as we step into the light of this new day. Yet because we have no reserves from which to draw, we can find ourselves suddenly exhausted and even despondent again. We’re like sunsets in the desert. It will take time for us to experience longer stretches of strength and a sense of well being. Regarding the pandemic itself, we also need to be careful. If we push ahead too fast, we risk the gains we have made.  

In the rhythms of our faith, we are, thank God, in the Easter season, with its promise of resurrection, new life emerging from all that has been lost to us. But remember that resurrection is a process, not an event. Like healing, resurrection comes in stages, sometimes slowly, sometimes in quick bursts of energy that are quickly spent. 

This is a good time to read and pray with the stories that describe what it was like for the disciples to encounter Jesus after the resurrection. There aren’t many and they are easily found at the end of each of the four gospels. What’s striking about them is how suddenly Jesus will appear to the disciples and then disappear. One moment he’s with them outside the tomb, in the upper room, on the road to Emmaus, or on the shores of Lake Galilee and then he’s gone. The disciples are overjoyed when they seem and understandably disoriented when he’s gone. Through it all, they nonetheless have the sense that Jesus is moving forward to something new, and so are they.

Like Jesus’ first disciples, we are moving toward new life. At times we catch glimpses of it, and when we do, we are filled with joy and energy. Yet should those feelings wane quickly, remember the desert sunset. Allow yourself to rest and trust that the sun will rise again.