Surviving a Spiritual Funk

A spiritual desert.

A dry spell.

A slump.

A valley.

A case of the spiritual “blahs”.

A bout with spiritual depression.

A season of spiritual silence.

A lingering spiritual “funk.”

Whatever you call it, have you experienced one? Have you ever gone days, weeks, months, or maybe even years without knowing the soul-deep sweetness of repeated “wow” moments in God’s presence? Have you lost that “lovin’ feeling” in your relationship with Jesus? When you speak of passion for God and His Word, do you have to speak in past tense? Does God’s “still small voice” seem way too small, and His “unsearchable” ways way too hidden?  Are your quiet times way too quiet? Does the “overflow” of spiritual satisfaction that you once felt continue to elude you, seeming to always be just beyond your reach? You may taste it once in a while, but has it been a long time since you really feasted on it?

If so, than guess what – we have something in common. I’ve been there too, plenty of times. I know that frustration. I’ve cried those tears. I’ve felt that void. I’ve experienced that loneliness.

Would you think less of me if I told you I went a whole year without any consistent time with the Lord? What about if I told you it wasn’t in my distant past, but recently?

Is it okay to say that as a mature, Bible-saturated believer, I went months without feeling much of anything for God or His Word?

I hope so, because it’s the truth. It’s a chapter in my story that God has not given me permission to edit. It’s a real and vital part of the whole of my spiritual life. Did God cause it? I’m still not sure about all that. Did He allow it and use it to deepen my faith, suffocate my spiritual pride, and make me more like Jesus? Absolutely.

Spiritual “funks” can be caused by a number of things – trials, grief, major life-changes, sin, busyness, depression, chronic physical pain, or simply God’s sovereign choice to back off a bit in order to test and strengthen your faith. My most recent dry spell was caused by a major life change: the birth of my first child. I know that moms are supposed to look back at the first 6 months of their child’s life and feel lots of warm, fuzzy things and talk about how they’d give anything to have their teeny tiny baby back. I am hoping to get there some day, but I’m not there yet. Not even close. I’ll take a walking, talking, some-what self-sufficient preschooler over an infant any day!

I won’t get into all the details, but being a stay-at-home mommy of an infant rattled me to the core and had a major effect on my relationship with Jesus. After years of freedom to take as much time as I wanted to “marinate” in God’s Word and then pour out into the lives of women through Bible teaching, the all-consuming needs of a baby took me by surprise. In fact, they were a total shock to my carefully ordered system!  (It’s not that I wasn’t warned . . . I guess I just chose to ignore the haggard looks and smoke signals of the new moms who crossed my path. :))  Add to that the physical/emotional side effects of the postpartum hormones and sheer exhaustion, and you have quite a recipe for what the old timers called “spiritual melancholy.” Shepherd was about a year old before I started having a daily quiet time again and almost two years old before I started to feel the “fog” of spiritual dryness begin to lift.

I spend a good two years in a spiritual battle. The enemies – “life” and my own unsteady heart; the prize – joy; the weapons – we’ll tackle that in another post.  Some days I fought well. Other days I didn’t even try. Spiritual depression can be paralyzing of we let it. Sometimes I let it.

But thankfully, that’s not all. I’m delighted to tell you that this chapter of my life has a happy ending. This part of my story is redemptive. It doesn’t make me look all that great, but it testifies so beautifully to the sufficiency, steadfastness, grace, and “more-than-enoughness” of my Savior, which is the only reason I’m willing to share it.

If I were to give this chapter a title, it would be one word:  “Faithful.” In all the ebbs and flows of my spiritual affections, God has never changed, He has never left me, He has never forsaken me, He has never stopped speaking, He has never stopped working, He has never ceased to provide – He has never failed me. Not once. Not ever. And He never will.

 Whether I have the ears to hear, the eyes to see, and the heart to feel or not, I belong to a God who is more committed to my holiness, my wholeness, and the perseverance of my faith than I will ever be, even on my best days.

When my heart cries out for an answer to the question, “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me?” (Ps. 42:5);

When, in a moment of gut-wrenching honesty, I dare to ask, “Will the Lord reject forever? And will He never be favorable again? Has His loving-kindness ceased forever? Has His promise come to an end forever?  Has God forgotten to be gracious?” (Ps. 77:7-9);

When the deadening silence and emotional uncertainty gives birth to a question I never thought I’d ask: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1);

When “I cry by day, but [God] does not answer; and by night, but I have no rest” (Ps. 22:2);

When my heart is “embittered” and I am “pierced within” (Ps. 73:21);

I choose to hold on for dear life to the one thing I know will never changethe steadfast character of my fiercely faithful Heavenly Father. Though my flesh and my heart may fail, God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Ps. 73:26)!

For the next couple of weeks, I’d love for us to explore this topic of “surviving a spiritual funk” together. I will be blogging as much as I can about it, and I’d love to hear your stories of God’s faithfulness in your own desert seasons, and the highs and lows of your own fight for joy. If your chapter doesn’t have a “happy” ending yet – if the picture of God’s perfect sufficiency still isn’t crystal clear – that’s okay. The purpose of this series to is help you get there.

God’s Word offers sweet, soul-soothing hope for spiritually depressed hearts. So, pour yourself a warm cup of coffee (or several – this may take a few weeks!), add way too much of your favorite creamer, and let’s “marinate” in all that sweet, soul-soothing hope together.


The Life and Death of Joy

The following scene has become pretty commonplace during playtime around here lately.

Shep ( 3 years old): Mom, come play trucks.

Me: Okay. What truck should I play with?

Shep: This truck. [He hands me his selection, I play for about 5 seconds, then he takes it back.]

Me: I thought that was my truck to play with?

Shep: No, you play THIS truck. [He hands me a different truck to play with and adds my old truck to his personal “stash.” I play with my new truck for about 5 seconds and then he takes it back.]

Me: You took my truck again. What am I going to play with now?

Shep: You play THIS truck. [He hands me yet another tuck to play with and adds my second truck to his stash. I play with my new truck for about 5 seconds and then – you guessed it – he takes it back and adds it to his stash.]

Me: Shepherd, do you want mommy to play trucks with you or not?

Shep: Yes. You play trucks wit me.

Me: Okay, then you need to give me a truck and let me keep it.

Shep: No, these my trucks, mom.

[Insert “the importance of sharing” lecture here.]

As Shepherd took the fourth or fifth truck from me the other day, I was struck by the fact that the scene being played out between me and my three year old is the same scene that plays out between me and the Lord on a regular basis.

I want Jesus to draw near to me. I want Him to interact with me. I want to feel His presence. I want to hear His voice. More than anything, I want to experience the abiding joy of walking with Him day by day.  To put it in the language of my three year old, I want Jesus to “come play trucks.”  There’s just nothing quite like the King of Kings and Lord of Lords stooping down into my little world and showing me glimpses of His glory in the various facets of my incredibly mundane life.  To me, that’s the substance of biblical joy. I crave it. I pray for it. I read books on how to get more of it.

And yet I’m torn.

You see, in order to “play trucks” with Jesus, you have to hand Him your stuff. In order to experience the fullness of His presence and drink deeply of His joy, you have to surrender what you treasure. In order to get those much-needed glimpses of His glory in the everyday “stuff” of life, you have to let go and give Him total control of what you hold dear.

You have to be able to say, “Whatever things were gain me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord” (Phil. 3:7, 8).

Jesus put it this way: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple . . . None of you can be my disciple who does not give up all his possessions” (Luke 14:26, 27, 33).

In these verses Jesus employs the method of exaggeration to make a really important point. He isn’t commanding us to feel hatred toward our family members and ourselves or to live on the streets without a dime to spare. What He’s saying is that our love for anything or anyone in this life ought to pale in comparison with our love for Him. Our love and commitment to Christ is to be so intense and all-consuming that every other affection in our hearts looks like hatred in comparison. Whoa.

Over and over again the gospels show us that when Jesus comes to “play”, He does so on His terms. And His terms include total, unconditional surrender of all that we are and all that we have to His Lordship. In keeping with our metaphor, He gets all the trucks. And even though I know in my head that His hands are the very best place for my “trucks” to be, it sure is hard sometimes to loosen my grip.

Every time Shep asks me to play, he has to decide what he values most: The pleasure of maintaining possession of his stuff, or the even greater pleasure of playing with mom. The reality is, he wants both. But he can’t have both. He has to choose.

And so do we.

The indescribable, life-changing joy that comes from experiencing sweet fellowship with our Savior is a gift for those with open hands, willing hearts, and contrite spirits.

Selfishness is the death of that joy. It cannot live in a stingy heart. It cannot flow through an unrelinquished life.

The bigger your “stash,” the smaller your joy.

So let me ask you, what are you going to do with your trucks?

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