Adopting 4Rs To Survive the “Deserts of Life”

troubles in life

What comes to your mind when you think of a desert?

A vast, dry land that is hostile to life? A place with hardly any water and hardly any plants or animals can survive in it? A place where it is difficult to survive as a human being?

Have you seen people lost in the desert in movies or documentaries? They have to go through great challenges, dangers, and suffering to try to survive and make it out of there.

Sometimes they will come across an oasis and rush to the water to get refreshed again. Then take a rest there, under the trees, before continuing their journey.

I don’t think anyone would want to be lost in a desert. But even though we are most likely not going to be physically lost in a desert, very often in life, we can be caught in spiritual and emotional “deserts”.

Those are the times when we feel burned out, under pressure, desperate, hopeless, and alone.

We can try to avoid those times, but sometimes they are just unavoidable.

For me, when I find myself in the “deserts” of life, I use the 4Rs to guide me through the difficulties. These 4Rs have really helped me to navigate the “deserts” to find the much-needed “oasis.”

Let me share with you what they are.

1. Resourcefulness

A few years back, I landed in a “semi-arid desert”. Meaning it wasn’t a totally hopeless and desperate situation, but it was still a very difficult and high-pressure time.

My company was going through a restructuring process, and I had to take over a non-performing team. I shook my head in disbelief when I looked at their key performance indicators (KPIs). How did this team’s scorecard get into the red? It was my first time seeing this kind of result. I had no idea how to turn the situation around because I had always been managing performing teams.

I wondered where I should start making changes? How do I find the way out of this “desert” of non-performance and lead the team towards the “oasis” of performance?

I remembered that when in doubt, I should pray to my God for wisdom.

As I sought God, a Bible verse came alive to me. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7)

So I prayed for wisdom, and God answered my prayer in the of a wise, meticulous, and witty Korean boss who was temporarily assigned to support the team. He was truly an angel sent by God!

He provided me with valuable guidance about the path I should take. Now, all I had to do was get the team to follow it.

In one team meeting, the first question I asked them was, “What do you think of yourself?”

The team leader said, “We are nothing!”

That response dampened my spirit.

How can I bring hope to this team who didn’t have any hope in themselves? How can I restore their self-worth and dignity?

I realized that I needed to make a deposit in their emotional bank account. So, I began to provide daily positive reinforcement and coaching. Slowly, their self-image started to show improvement.

Next, we had to work on removing the roadblocks to performance. Over time, the team had developed the habit of being problem-takers instead of problem-solvers. They just took on assignments but nothing much was done about it. We worked hard to clear the backlogged cases, setting boundaries and putting in the processes to make things work.

Within six months, the team and I finally found our “oasis” of performance. Their scorecard turned black. They quickly evolved from a company “dumping ground” to an “advisory center”.

We celebrated our win with joy.

Most of all, I am grateful to God for providing the resources in the form of a mentor, company resources, and the greatest resource of all—wisdom, which enabled me to navigate through this desert.

2. Resilience

What happens when one messes up? Most people’s response will be, “Let’s get out of here quickly!”

A few years after that restructuring, life took a surprising turn, and I landed in a “hot and dry desert”. This time the “mess” was so terrible that I didn’t want to continue. I didn’t have any energy to go on. I decided the best way to come out of this was to quit my job. I told myself, “It’s the natural thing to do.”

It was the first time in my entire life that I had to admit defeat. That is so unlike me. It was one of the lowest points in my life.

But to my dismay, I felt like God was telling me not to quit this job.

Everywhere I turned, 3 words appeared before my eyes, “Don’t give up!”

Everywhere I went, 2 words followed me, “Have faith.”

I felt like God was saying those words to me again and again. Finally, I surrendered to the fact that I was meant to be in this “desert”. The question I asked was, “How do I survive?”

The challenges were greater this time, and I had fewer resources to rely on. That’s when I learned to adopt the second R, which is resilience, in order to find the “oasis” of restoration.

As the saying goes, tough times don’t last, but tough people do.

So I practiced positive self-talk and repeated my “mantra” 101 times daily: Stay on the track in achieving your goals. Be positive and strong. Block out “the negative noises.” Hold fast to God’s voice and believe you can do it.

Meantime, I still prayed very hard that God would take me out of that dry spell very soon.

After a year, God finally showed me the “oasis.”

He restored whatever I had lost in the mess in exceeding and unimaginable measures. I was so relieved and thankful to God.

But life is fragile and unpredictable. What happened next took me completely off guard. That’s when I learned the third R.

3. Relational

My dad passed away suddenly. It was very unexpected.

I was shocked because I spoke to him three days before his death. He had sounded so happy. I was reeling from the news and couldn’t believe how fast my dad had gone home to heaven.

I felt like I was in a “coastal desert.” Temperatures in coastal deserts are generally very liveable, but the land is dry and isn’t able to support much life.

Similarly, most things in my life still carried on normally—my work, my family, and my responsibilities. But suddenly, this huge void appeared like a vast empty desert.

During my bereavement, visits from friends and relatives touched my heart. They were willing to risk their health in the face of rising Covid-19 cases to come and comfort me.

I realized that the third R, which is relational, is so important to get through the deserts of life.

I found the “oasis” of comfort in a community of people. Their support during hard times, especially during the pandemic, really uplifted me.

The phrase might be cliche, but it is still very true: “No man is an island.”

We don’t have to journey alone. We need to reach out to others for help. We need to help others as well.

Finally, let me share the last R.

4. Remember

Remember that there is a higher power than ourselves.

Recently, I found myself in the “hot desert” when I tested positive for Covid-19. Having flu is bad enough; having Covid-19 is worse.

I felt “hot” from all the frustrations of having Covid-19. I suffered from a non-stop running nose, awful sore throat, and constant fatigue. So much so that I almost dozed off in the middle of my online work. I had so many things to do, but my plans went awry because I had to be self-quarantined at home.

I prayed to my God for a speedy recovery so that I could get back to normal as soon as possible.

But He knew that I needed to rest my body.

So, for two nights, I fell into a deep sleep because of fatigue caused by Covid-19.

I never imagined that I would actually feel so refreshed and energized after that. It was as if I had accidentally found an “oasis” of rest in the middle of a hot desert.

By the sixth day, I was refreshed and ready to pick up on all the things where I had left off.

In our journey to find an “oasis” in our lives, sometimes God makes our plans go haywire because He knows what is ahead of us. Who knows better about the dangers and risks that lie ahead of us if not God?

So I learned that it’s important to remember that God is more knowing and more powerful than I am. This simple brush with the disease showed me that I could trust him with all my hardships even when His answers to prayer are not the ones I expect.

When we find ourselves in a “desert” season of our lives, finding an “oasis,” a fertile land full of refreshing water and living things, is imperative. When we do find it, never let go of it.

In my life journey, I have discovered that these 4Rs lead me to my “oasis of hope,” which is in God. Having found this everlasting spring of water, I will never let go of it.

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