In my experience, spiritual dryness is a way of life for most Christians.
There may be many reasons for a season of spiritual dryness but, whatever the reason, it will probably be helpful to know that times like these are normal. They’re part of God’s plan. Loving God while feeling no proximity to Him cultivates spiritual maturity – a purification of the senses, a sanctification of the Spirit. God has to wean us, for a time, from spiritual pleasure. He wants us to seek Him just for Him, and not what He can give us.
Like many other kids born into Christian households, I was born into spiritual boredom. I knew all the stories before they held any meaning, I could pray cleverly and poetically before I cared to do so. Between being a pastor’s kid and attending Christian middle school my spiritual nervous system was overloaded before puberty. But I’ve come to realize that spiritual dryness is a kind of preparation, too. I got dried up on the spiritual warfare stuﬀ, and as God restored me through that process I became a worshipper. Everything about my life centered on worship… until worship gave me no chills either. As I floundered, I moved into leadership roles – everything rises and falls on leadership – but the paint peeled oﬀ of that eventually too. Then education. Then theatre. Then liturgics. Then academic writing.
Each time I’ve gone through a spell of dryness, I’ve come out the other side into a new season of refreshment. And the old things, the things that used to energize me, have been re-incorporated into my life in healthy ways. They haven’t been discarded, just placed into proper perspective as aspects of spirituality rather than the essence of knowing God.
There are many places in Scripture that refer to spiritual dryness as a time of preparation. The Bible has certain sacred landscapes, and the desert is one of them. People like Moses, Elijah, Paul, and even Jesus retreated to the desert for seasons of waiting, prayer, anguish, soul-searching, reflection, etc. It was a proving ground. In those cases – and in mine and yours! – the dry time ended and they reentered their everyday life transformed somehow.
Here, then, is what we’ve all got to understand: the issue is not whether you will experience dryness, but how.
How will you meet this time of frustration, or boredom, or absence, or futility? How will you come to grips with your need to feel good about God? How will you cope with the fact that the dryness will only end when He chooses and not through any eﬀort on your part?
And the million dollar question: What will you do if the dryness never ends? Will you hang up your cross? Will you turn oﬀ? Will your first love then be revealed?
I don’t want to hit you with a bunch of guilt-matrices, I’m just trying to either help prepare you or help reorient you during your time of spiritual dryness. So, to try and be helpful, here are some practical things to consider when you hit the wall:
First oﬀ, it’s important to remember that most of our spiritual breakthroughs are accompanied by a sense of euphoria and optimism. This goes away. When it does, we tend to think that we’ve screwed something up. We have – we screw a lot of things up – but that may not be the cause. To try to “fix” it, we usually either ease oﬀ the gas or drop the hammer and try twice as hard to please God. In either distance or diligence we may inadvertently be moving away from God. We’re either becoming shy and distancing ourselves through apathy, or we’re focusing on all the extra stuﬀ – meetings, disciplines, activities – instead of focusing on God and daily inviting Him to live more fully in us. At some point, we bust, and feel like everything has been blown. Take a deep breath, have a glass of wine, chill for a moment. This happens to everybody. Don’t toss in the towel just yet. You’ve just entered your first dark night of the soul and it’s likely to get a little crappier before it gets a little more like it used to be.
It often is a good idea to find some kind of spiritual director or pastoral counselor who can help you discern what God is saying to you during these times – preferably someone with some gray hair who’s at least reverentially afraid of mortgages. There will be a series of these dark nights, each one diﬀerent than the one before, each one with some new manifestation of the suck. Again, you’re not the only one to go through this – King David did, Paul did, Peter did, Jeremiah did – so remember you’re in good company.
Hold fast, invite the Spirit to keep you steady, and love God no matter what. Eventually, you will come through this. It might take a minute, it might take a year, it might take a lifetime – but when you do, you will have a new joy. And we do need joy – it is spiritual. After all, very few of us would ever get married if we didn’t first fall in love.
Dr. David McDonald is the teaching pastor at Westwinds Community Church in Jackson, MI. The church, widely considered among the most innovative in America, has been featured on CNN.com and in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and Time Magazine. David weaves deep theological truths with sharp social analysis and peculiar observations on pop culture. He lives in Jackson with his wife, Carmel, and their two kids. Follow him on twitter (@fossores) or online at fossores.com