Young Christians often experience an initial sense of joy as they begin their walk with God. However, as we progress and mature in our faith, it is not uncommon to encounter periods of emotional drought.
Perhaps you recently returned from a transformative spiritual retreat or a powerful worship service where you felt deeply connected to God, filled with encouragement and overflowing with joy, only to suddenly be abruptly brought to Earth.
How do we navigate the dry spells? How do you bolster your faith when it seems stale or burdensome?
As a culture, we have been so trained to do what feels good that we often can’t face emotional droughts. We chase that dream, get that new job and then… get bored. We lose interest. What do I do when the happy vibes go away – when I don’t feel like doing the dishes, starting my workout, or loving my spouse?
It was all so magical at first, and now… it’s unfulfilling.
Emotions are Good… When Kept in Their Place
If we keep seeking those elusive emotions, we’ll get dumped into a downward spiral. In no time, we’ll find ourselves in a place where all the feels are gone.
Chasing after emotions is a long, wearying, dead-end journey.
When we seek emotional magic as an end in itself, we lose it. There are many ways people do this. Some pursue happiness or fulfillment in food, relationships, work, wine, weight loss, sex, drugs, or rock and roll.
Christians might feel that they need a constant source of upbeat and inspirational music or feel-good-faith talks to keep themselves motivated on a daily basis. Yet this often drives them into that same downward spiral.
Do you feel that something is wrong with you because you don’t *feel* close to God or personally motivated toward kingdom work?
A lack of Feelings is NOT A Lack of Faith
Again, emotions are not bad, but they are not necessarily indicators of faith.
Emotions are like puppies that need training.
God provided many gifts on this earth that can bring happiness in their proper place. But what we wrongfully chase, we become enslaved to. Romans 6:16 says, “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?”
Or, as Paul Tripp noted, “A desire for a good thing becomes a bad thing when it becomes a ruling thing.”
This includes feelings. Surprising to many Christians, it can even include our feelings about our faith. If we are overdependent on feeling close to God, it will drive us away from God.
In fact, periods of emotional drought, lethargy, or what C. S. Lewis called the “troughs,” are often what God uses the most. In his book Screwtape Letters, Lewis describes the dry periods that occur in the lives of every Christian as essential for growth.
Screwtape says: “Now it may surprise you to learn that in His [God’s] efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favorites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else.”
Faithfulness during “trough” periods creates the most growth.
Don’t misunderstand. Christianity is not about the absence of desire or emotion. It isn’t some Eastern doctrine of gnostic self-abandonment. Self-abasement is just as narcissistic, and off-the-mark, as extreme self-indulgence.
How Does it Work?
Emotions can be trained. Proverbs 16:3 “Commit your works to the Lord, and your thoughts will be established.”
We have all experienced this on some level. You wake up Monday morning feeling unmotivated. You didn’t sleep great, your job is unfulfilling, and there’s a strain between yourself and a co-worker. Besides, you’ve needed some me-time. Pretty soon, you’ve worked up a good case for spending some quality time with your couch.
In spite of this, you make yourself show up at work, and strangely, a few hours later, it’s not so bad. You even smiled once or twice. It’s a Christmas miracle.
Put another way, when we put obedience first, the feelings tag along.
Put Your Actions First
Jesus said, “If you love me, obey my commands, and my commands are not burdensome…” (1 John 5:1-5). What does that mean? It means to obey God, even when you don’t feel like it, and your emotions will follow.
That is one of the crucial ways that we grow and mature in Christ.
By God’s grace, it is possible to build up good habits and overcome bad ones, to ignore some feelings and cultivate others, to stay in a difficult friendship. To show up again and again… even when you do not want to.