I was recently asked about the times in our lives when we don’t “feel” God… when we don’t experience the presence of God… when our times praying with Him seems to be echoing around without getting through… when reading His word brings no spark… and even worship feels, not like honey on the tongue, but more like chalk. What is up with that?
I have a couple of different directions that I would come at this issue. First, is our dependence on feelings. I talked about this some in the “have a peace” conversation. In our society, we have made feelings the leaders in our lives. It is good that we have recognized and accepted that we (and others!) have them and that they are very powerful, but not good that we now hang everything else on them. We have taken this so far that we now refer to someone who does something when they don’t feel like it as “insincere” or “not authentic.” How is this? Have really come to a point where something that changes as constantly and is as volatile as feelings is the measure of something that is, by definition, a constant? How can something that changes in an instant be the foundation of something that must not change in order to be true, like sincerity (without wax), or authenticity (it is what it appears to be – the real deal)? This is why a husband or wife can make their decision to divorce their spouse “because they really don’t feel anything for them, and they deserve someone who really feels something for them” and make it sound noble!!! I hate this trend. It is lethal to all long term relationships and kills the concept of devotion! Feelings are good gifts from God, but keep them in their place – as the caboose, not the engine.
I have personally and recently been through some times like this – even though I feel like I have tried to follow Christ seriously and even painfully when leaving my last job, I am still feeling fairly isolated. It really had been building for some time over the last couple of years. It is amazing the power of people in our lives! I recently heard a pastor say that God tends to reward faithful leadership with more responsibility, but I feel like, at this point, in my limited understanding (very limited), that I feel like I am working with much less influence than before! Emotionally, I have certainly had some tough days about this, and in the years before. Once, on a trip with some friends and coworkers, I was so distracted by my conversations with God going on in my head and my own discouragement, that one of them afterwords told me I seemed spaced out!
With this in mind, hear that our emotional state is not what determines our relationship with God. Our emotional state is not even a good way to tell if our relationship with God is good or what it is “supposed” to be. Emotions are seasonal… sometimes we are happy, sometimes sad, sometimes hurt, angry, excited, dreading, fearful, ecstatic, etc… they are dependent on a complex system of soul, brain, biochemistry, and circumstances. The only thing we know for sure about emotions is that they change. Whatever you feel now, you will feel something different before long. A dry spell can indicate a problem, but it doesn’t always. Let’s start with some questions that might help solve that mystery for us when we are not “feeling it” with God (and these probably apply to any other intimate relationship too)
Check out 1 Thess 5:12-22; Matt 6:14-15; Hebrews 12:1; Matt 5:23,24
1. Are we forgetting – failing to be grateful?
2. Do we need to forgive someone?
3. Are we in broken fellowship with anyone?
4. Have we neglected the disciplines of relationship with God (reading the Bible, prayer, listening, fasting, etc?)
5. Have we begun to ritualize things too much?
6. Are we entangled in sin – failing to “make no provision for the flesh?”
7. Are we believing lies about ourselves or God?
8. Are you facing a ton of stress in your life about other things?
This is a pretty good list to go through honestly – I think these are all things that can create a wedge between us and our experience of God’s goodness and blessings. If one of these connects – deal with it, and then give yourself some time to reconnect with God. He has not forsaken you, but you may need to experience that time.
Maybe none of these things are true, though – consider Job! Sometimes we go through a time that feels like silence from God; it feels like a connection has been lost. Why would God allow this if one of the 7 above isn’t causing it? I have some thoughts, but these aren’t complete. God is God, and I always shy away from speaking for God in regards to a “why” question. Here are some possible reasons… though I am sure that God’s reasons with you are special and individual and unique, but here are some possibilities.
God wants to use this time to:
1. humble you
2. draw you
3. remind you how desperate you are for Him
4. Test you
5. Reveal Himself as being with you in the desert too
6. give you tools to teach others
7. prepare you for something later in life
Those are just a short list. Final advice:
Don’t focus on the emotional dryness. It is temporary – even if it lasted years, it will fade eventually.
Focus on meditation – think, write, read, talk about it. Let others learn through this, and give yourself the gift of learning through it as well.
Those are some thoughts! Remember, as Screwtape teaches, we are frail beings that answer to the law of undulation… we are up and down, up and down. Little is constant for us except change. Stress affects our souls – as do pain and loneliness… don’t overestimate yourself, frail creature of dust… and don’t isolate yourself. Part of how people get to feelings of dryness are about isolating themselves…
Love endures all things, and thus, never fails. (1 Cor 13)
Let me know if you have anything to add!