From Richard Foster’s Freedom of Simplicity (emphasis and formatting mine):
For the Desert Fathers, the flight to the desert was a way of escaping conformity to the world. The world, including the Church, had become so dominated by secular materialism that, for them the only way to witness against it was to withdraw from it.
They were seeking to revive true Christian devotion and simplicity of life by intense renunciation.
Their experience has particular relevance, because modern society is uncomfortably like the world that they attacked so vigorously.
Their world asked, “How can I get more?”
The Desert Fathers asked, “What can I do without?”
Their world asked, “How can I find myself?”
The Desert Fathers asked, “How can I lose myself?”
Their world asked, “How can I win friends and influence people?”
The Desert Fathers asked, “How can I love God?”
Anthony, the “father of monks” (A. D. 251-356), was about eighteen years old when he heard the Gospel words, “Go, sell what you possess and give to the poor… and come, follow me” (Matt. 19:21). Going out from the church, he immediately gave away his inherited land, sold all of his possessions, and distributed the proceeds among the poor, saving only enough to care for his sister.
After living at the edge of his village for a time, he retreated into the desert, where for twenty years he lived in complete solitude. In the solitude he was forced to face his false, empty self.
He learned to die to the opinions of others. He came out of a bondage to human beings. Violent and many were the temptations he faced.
When he emerged from the solitude of the desert, he was marked with graciousness, love, kindness, endurance, meekness, freedom from anger, and the practice of prayer.
People recognized in him a unique compassion and power.
Many sought him out for spiritual counsel and healing power.
Even the Emperor Constantine sought his advice…
In the final years of his life he retreated again to the solitude of the desert, where he died in his 105th year.
Where are you being forced to face your false, empty self?
How are you learning to die to the opinions of others? (Click here to tweet that)
How are you becoming a person of unique compassion?
Are you asking how you can get more, or what you can do without? How you can make more people happy, or how you can love God?
The desert monks fled from society to escape conformity. I hope that isn’t always necessary. Can you remain in society (and perhaps speak prophetically to it), yet escape conformity?
Further thoughts in the same direction: Crying out to save ourselves