I often find myself sitting to write when God has revealed something new to me, when the Spirit has helped me through a hard time, or after I have come to new understanding of an old truth. Not so today. I write today because I feel that God is far from me. The metaphor of the desert—of being in a ‘dry and thirsty land’—is more real to me now than it has been in a long time.
When I pray, I feel I am talking to myself. When I read the Scriptures, I feel completely disconnected from that world. When I attend worship, I feel like an outsider. I hope beyond hope that I’m not the only Christian to feel this way. And, as I intimated above, it’s not the first time….
But wait. There IS good news in all of this. How? Well, it all comes down to the “I feel…” element of my confessions. I have often told my students that we simply cannot trust our feelings…that our feelings change more frequently than the weather. (Oh, feelings aren’t bad; we just tend to put too much emphasis on them.) How often have we gotten out of bed smiling in the morning, glad for a new day…but leave the house or apartment scowling just an hour later as we head to work? Or, how often have we been feeling down, beat-up, worn…and a phone call comes—from ‘him’ or ‘her’…and suddenly we’re all happy and smiles and “all is well with the world”? Fickle—that’s what feelings are.
How many times have I heard people say upon leaving a worship service, “Well, I just didn’t feel the Spirit there today….” I’ve heard supposedly “mature” Christians (I’m beginning to think that means they’ve lost their ‘child-like’ faith!) talk about how they “feel the Lord moving them” in this direction or that. Feelings--don’t trust ‘em.
I learned long ago not to rely on feelings…and at the same time, I learned the importance of spiritual discipline. In one of our classes in the seminary in Mexico, my students and I decided to develop a practical, imaginative definition of ‘spiritual discipline,’ and here is what we came up with: Spiritual discipline is the constant preparation of the spiritual soil—weeding, plowing and hoeing in expectation of the coming rains; it’s putting one’s self in that path or road that Jesus usually walks so as to increase the likelihood of an encounter. The spiritual disciplines of prayer, Scripture reading, worship, fasting and the like involve doing what is good and right and necessary to prepare the soil of our lives, to put us in that spiritual place to receive God, to hear God…even to be Christ for others in their moment of need. It means praying, reading, worshiping, singing, listening—whether we feel like it or not.
Whether I “feel” God hears me or not, I pray—I speak the words of thanksgiving, of care, of need. Whether I “feel” a part of the Biblical conversation, I read—I open myself to words of life, words of hope, words of grace and guidance. Whether I “feel” the Spirit or God’s Presence, or not, I gather with other Christians for worship—I receive communion, I sing the songs (sometimes only softly, under my breath!), I hear the Word read and proclaimed. And I may walk away from all of these feeling unheard, disconnected or empty. But, my life of faith is not based on feelings; it is based on what I know. I have the promises: And we know that He hears us…I will never leave you or forsake you…I am with you always, to the end of the age…[nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus….
Meanwhile, I tend the soil…I go through the motions…I do what I know is good and right, I put myself in God-pleasing places—and I await the encounter that will refresh me and perhaps even bring feelings to life again within me.
(Note: Attesting to the power and effect of writing…the act of writing, I have found a new sense of faith and purpose for having written this piece! So, when something troubles you, write about it…and see what happens.)