At Woven, we've started a series of teachings on prayer that have been examining the soul and probing deep within my spirit as well. Over 15 years ago I suffered an experience that shut my prayer life down overnight and forced me to discover a new means and a new language of spirituality. I fought it every step of the way, but here is what I came to learn When My Faith Felt So Dry:
1. I Was Not Self-Aware:
Spirituality without self-awareness is like looking in a mirror and not knowing what I am seeing. Religious activities like worshiping Sunday in and Sunday out without self-awareness has the effect of healing over a wound with a thin layer of skin; if what is beneath is not expressed, the wound may fester while on the outside things *appear* to heal over. In this regard, church participation and worship can actually become harmful, because it serves to mask and keep up appearances rather than get at heart issues. Church is a place of healing. But we undermine this if we are not honest. And the hardest person to be honest to - and the most easiest to delude - is ourselves. Here are a few steps to becoming more self-aware:
- JOURNAL: Just for a season. I know you hate to write, but you don't have to write poetry, or the next great Russian novel. Just commit to it for a month, regularly, and see what you are discovering. Write out in segments: "6-8am: hard to get up. Depressed. So tired. Exhausted. 8-10: Quiet office; miss talking to people. 10-noon: Delivered a report - felt good about it" and so on and so forth.
- PRAY AN EXAMEN: This goes in tandem perfectly with the above. An Examen helps to review the day, learn to recognize God's manifold graces throughout the good and the *seemingly* bad, and to see where God was present. Here is my teaching on the Prayer of Examen.
- TALK TO A SPIRITUAL GUIDE: There are a few people I will qualify as a "spiritual guide": pastor, counselor, spiritual director, therapist. I don't want to be vague about the term, but I do want to emphasize "guide". A good listener will reflect back to you what is going on in your life.
2. I Was Not Physically Healthy Either:
We often forget that we are unities, not binaries - as JI Packer put it, “ensouled bodies" or "embodied souls”, that is to say we are not bifurcated or trifurcated persons - body / soul / mind - that are all separate and distinct from one another; No, we are symbiotically whole and one. To say that I have an emotional or mental problem might just be the half of it; how are my rhythms? Am I healthy physically? A lifestyle of playing video games in front of a screen until sunup is hardly conducive to a happy emotional state. And yet we try to treat these things separately. Eating right, getting exercise and sun - all of these things are connected with our spirituality. To think we can feed our souls but neglect our bodies is platonic dualism and just plain bad practice.
3. My Theology Was Not Big Enough Yet:
In other words, I couldn't fit God in my boxes anymore. He was the God of Abraham, who would leave father and mother and go to an unknown land. I wanted to mooch off living in my parent's basement. He was the God of Creation; I was burned-out from city living. He was the God of New Beginnings: I was terrified of change. I had to reinterpret and reassess myself completely; my calling, my family of origin, my future - and this meant my notion of God had to expand. I have no easy advice here; this one is hard. Literally, to grow I had to trade the skyscrapers of NYC for the Rocky Mountains of Montana for a season. I had to make the hard choice to leave home. I had to make a career change. None of these are easy. And there is no easy way to go about having one's theology and perspective of God expanded. But it is a necessary part of going through a Dry Season - both the reason for, and the answer to it.
A small theology of God is always a beginning point. "Show me your glory" is what Moses said. "Teach us to pray" - the disciples. And while growth pains through spiritual dryness are not fun, it is exactly what is needed to get us past the beginner's novice stage. May you enter into a new fertile season of growth as you travail the desert drylands. I hope to hear your story!