Following Jesus into the Desert

Arts & Faith: Lent - Ivan Kramskoi - "Christ in the Desert"After my baptism, I returned daily to the river and watched. When John said, “Behold the Lamb of God,” we applauded. Some danced. Some jumped into the water and splashed each other like children.

People were so busy celebrating that they didn’t notice Jesus head toward the desert. I wondered why he left and followed.

He walked for an hour and then stopped. I stayed back, hesitant to disturb him. He stood still, eyes closed, and tilted his neck so the sun could fall fully on his face. The hands at his sides slowly rose. I became self-conscious. Was I intruding? I went home.

Days passed, and I wondered about Jesus. No one had seen him. More days passed, and I decided to return to the desert. I don’t know what I hoped to find.

Somehow my wanderings led me to Jesus, who sat with his chest to his knees. He looked thin and tired. His lips were dry and cracked. I stayed back. Had he been praying all this time? I can barely sit through a synagogue service. What self-discipline this man had! And what was he thinking about as he sat there? Did he love solitude so much? Or was he waiting for an answer that was slow in coming?

I wanted to imitate him, so I started praying at a distance. I became aware of stiff limbs before I realized that much time had passed. As I gazed at a full moon, I felt famished. I wanted the comfort of my own bed. What was I doing out here? Why didn’t I leave?

A thought occurred to me: “Yours is a useless life. What you do doesn’t amount to anything. You don’t amount to anything.”

I chewed on this idea for a moment. As fear mounted, Jesus turned. He knew I was there. My mind raced. A voice inside accused me: “You don’t belong here. Leave. You are interfering.”

I wanted to run. But Jesus’ eyes contradicted my inclination. I stayed. It was then that I noticed Jesus sweating profusely. Was he going through a battle of his own? His hands were clenched in prayer, and I followed his example.

“God, I belong to you,” I prayed. “I want to follow your plan, but I don’t know what that is. Show me.”

The image of the ill neighbor I care for flitted across my mind. Then I remembered my mother, who lives with us. I do matter, and it’s a temptation to think I don’t.

“Give me courage,” I prayed. “Give me patience and a kind word when I am exhausted.”

I closed my eyes. Peace overtook me. The next thing I knew, sun was warming my cheek. I had fallen asleep in the desert. As I stretched my stiff muscles, I looked around. Where was Jesus?

I began wandering and looking for him. Why was I seeking him? I should be home. I should be… I caught myself in this thought.

“Be kind to yourself. Test your thoughts.”

I heard a voice and turned to see Jesus. “We’ve had a lot to think about out here, haven’t we?” Jesus smiled. “Let’s head back. We know what we need to do now.”

As we walked together, he talked about his own temptations. And he invited me to talk about mine. When we reached my house, he thanked me. He thanked me!

“I know you’ll accompany me again,” he said. “Not into the desert, but into your busy life of service. This is love, my friend.”

He turned up the road, and I went into my house to receive a puzzled look and a reminder that the roof needed fixing. “And your mother has been calling for you.”

Learn more about the image, Ivan Kramskoi’s Christ in the Desert, in Arts & Faith: Lent.

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Loretta Pehanich is a Catholic freelance writer and the author of 2022: A Book of Grace-Filled Days, Women in Conversation: Stand Up!, and Fleeting Moments: Praying When You Are Too Busy. A spiritual director since 2012, Loretta is trained in giving the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Her involvement in ministry and parish life includes 20 years in small faith-sharing groups and Christian Life Community. Loretta gives retreats and presentations on prayer and women’s spirituality and is commissioned as an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist. She and her husband Steve have four children and 10 grandchildren.


  1. I want to follow your plan Jesus for my life, I am not sure what that is? Lord be merciful to me sinner, and please 🙏 help me right now. I am so lost in you know? I can not get free of it. 😔 forgive me.

  2. Loretta, this spoke to me when I first read it five years ago and your words still speak powerfully to me. Spending time with Jesus gives us the perspective we need to follow what we are called to do with clarity and a willing heart. Thank you once again!

  3. What a gift from God–his only son. He is the supreme being living a humble life on earth, our flawless example of humanity at its best. Thank you for the moving story.

  4. This is exactly where I am, thank you for gently, skilfully, helping me to see for the first time that these wrong feelings are in fact ‘temptation’ .

  5. What a beautiful reflection. Much to contemplate. So much to take away from this. Something I need very much in my life because I, too, wonder of what importance I am to anyone. What do I do that matters? The words– I prayed. “I want to follow your plan, but I don’t know what that is. Show me.” That’s me! I need to find a desert of my own and walk out there. Maybe I’ll find answers??

  6. Very serene, very Jesus-centered, very nice outcome. Who would have thought the arid, hot desert could yield such marvelous fruit!

  7. Even as I read this article and the imagination of me being there led me to the wilderness with Jesus and the assurance of knowing things to be done with the Lord is so very happening and positive – no words to express how I feel…………..

  8. Never thought of following Him into the desert, but that was a powerful experience. Thank you.
    Why is it that we do not recognize that we serve Him best in the life and situations we encounter daily.
    Lord help me to accept the path laid out for me.

  9. The devil says to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God…”
    It is a temptation often used against me by the devil. He tempts me to believe I am NOT what I am. It is easy to start down the path of disbelief. Lord, remind me often that I am Your beloved.

  10. Loretta, with Lent upon us as we attempt to follow Jesus into the desert, your words are both poetry and guidance. The lyrical, inviting quality was a blessing to me today. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to write this just for me. Today, I am grateful for you.

  11. I wish we could hear things like this from the pulpit! We need to be told of the ways in which we can live the Gospel at home! It’s so inspiring. Thank you Loretta

  12. Beautiful reminder that God has placed us where we are and that is where God calls us to serve. We are called to do small things with great love. Thank you for this reflection.


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