Wednesday, 29 April 2009

The Dry Season

To all spiritual lives there come seasons of dryness, when it seems that our spiritual growth is dormant and our desires for God grow stale. These arid times may be ushered in by grief, exhaustion, or pre-occupation with matters that distract us from our inner life. Sometimes a barrenness of spirit sets in for no apparent reason whatsoever.

As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my souls pants for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God? (
Psalm 42)

This personal devotion is created to help you to acknowledge your spiritual desert and be faithful to God in it. Furthermore, I encourage you to maintain the all-important practice that Christians throughout the centuries have advised for those in a dry season: just do it.

Even when we do not feel drawn to worship or prayer, it is a sheer act of faith to continue to do the things that nurture our spirituality--such as reading this devotion! After all, it is God who is at work to instil within us the desire and ability to do God's will (Philippians 2:13). The dry season is a time to trust that God is really at work in your life.

In this personal devotion, you will find both permission to be where you are spirituality and some practical advice to use the dry season as a significant aspect of your life with Jesus.

 

You’re not on your own

In case you are feeling alone in your dryness, bear in mind the countless number of faithful women and men who have gone through their own desert of the spirit. Remember Moses' burning bush? Recall Elijah's retreat from Jezebel after calling down fire from heaven to disprove her idol worship? Don't forget Naomi, whose bitterness of soul was so deep for a season that she even changed her name to "bitterness."

So, if the dry season is so common, why is it that we Christians seldom speak of it? Actually, some traditions do address it openly. For others, it seems to be a sign of weakness or failure to admit that one's experience of God has grown powdery.

Let's go further into the matter of faith and the dry season. Is it really a sign of faltering faith when we lose our enthusiasm?

"But, what will they do here who see that after many days there is nothing but dryness, distaste, vapidness, and very little desire to come to draw water?"

--Teresa of Avila

Teresa has much to teach us about living the faith life in the desert. After all, she lived her life in the Spanish Inquisition! She pictured spirituality as "fetching water from the well," with the prayer, "and please God that it may be found." There are times, she laments, that "the well is dry."

What can we do when the well is dry? We continue sending our buckets down into the well shaft and drawing them up, as faithful gardeners. In so doing, Teresa teaches, we embrace the cross. After all, doesn't it require more faith to continue our devotion to God during these dry spells than when we are full of good feelings and excitement? You may never know the pillars of spiritual strength that you encounter in everyday life, who are faithfully living out their love for God in ways that aren't so eye-catching and spectacular.

Dangers in the Desert

"Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil."

-- Matthew 4:1

While the dry season is by no means an indication that we are doing something wrong, it can be an occasion of intense temptation. It has its own special dangers.

  1. The temptation to believe that God is far away. Without the feelings of enthusiasm we once experienced in our prayer and worship times, it may feel as though there is some huge gulf between God and us. We may wonder, "Does God still love me?"
    The reality may be that God is actually deepening our faith so that we do not base our faith on feelings, but on an inner assurance that God is faithful. Believe that God is at work behind the scenes!
  2. The temptation to be swayed in our beliefs. Spiritual writers throughout the centuries have described this temptation in terms of confusion or irritability. We may become doubtful of doctrine--and easy prey to those who would draw us from our faith. We may become resentful of what we perceive as God's inaction.
  3. The temptation to substitute physical experience for spiritual experience. With the dearth of spiritual vitality, it is common to find that our physical desires may compensate. The dry season is often a time when our desires increase in ways that reflect our own personal weaknesses.

"We hunger for satisfaction, for real fulfilment. Not finding it, we stuff ourselves with food, and stuff our houses with gadgets and furnishings. We thirst for intimacy, to offer ourselves to someone who will receive us, who will know us to our depths and delight in us. When this proves impossible, we turn to sex and pornography in the unconscious hope that they will meet the real need that we hardly even know how to acknowledge as yet."

--David Rensberger, Thirsty for God

Of course, the internet is full of merchants waiting to capitalize on our temptations!

Surviving the Dry Season

There are three things I can recommend you pursue during your dry season.

Continue your spiritual disciplines.

Even though it may seem that your prayers bounce off the ceiling or that your Bible reading is boring, it is now more important than ever to exercise your faith rather than basing your Christian walk on feelings.

This is not to say that you should continue in the same old patterns. It may be time to learn new ways of praying and to give up the compulsions that sometimes rob our spirituality of life. A dry spiritual season often marks a significant shift in our faith from a devotional life based on habit and compulsion to one based on authenticity and freedom.

Put the extra effort into connecting with your church family.

The fellowship of other believers can be a real source of encouragement and comfort. If your circle of spiritual friends has trouble accepting your dryness and novel attempts at devotional diversity, it may be time to enlarge the circle!

Seek out a spiritual companion.

It is during such dry seasons that many Christians turn to a trusted pastor, mature Christian or a counsellor who can help them listen for the movements of the Spirit in prayer.

Here are some reflection questions to guide you in thinking through your dry season experience:

  1. In what ways are you losing enthusiasm in your spiritual life?
  2. List the various persons who can be supportive of you during this time?
  3. With which Biblical characters do you identify most, who also experienced a dry season?
  4. What temptations are you struggling with?
  5. What might your particular temptations be revealing to you about your unique spiritual gifts?
  6. What spiritual practices would be most helpful for you now? Prayer? Bible reading? Silent meditation? Journaling? Attending worship services? Attending a spiritual growth group? Others?

Dark Night of the Soul or Depression?

Physical disease can have an effect on our emotional and spiritual well-being. While it is common for Christians to experience dry seasons in their spiritual life, depression is an illness that has many of the same characteristics.  Though God may allow dry seasons to occur for our spiritual growth, Scripture indicates that God also provides healing for our illnesses.

Dry seasons and depression can look very similar, but have different causes. Take a look at the lists below.

Dry Season

  • Lack of spiritual enthusiasm
  • Questioning and searching
  • Struggles with temptations
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Neglect of faith community

Depression

  • Lack of enthusiasm for all matters
  • Negative self-talk
  • Loss of appetite; over-eating
  • Insomnia or over-sleeping
  • Social withdrawal

If your observations and feelings match more with the second list you may be depressed and I would encourage you to contact a counsellor or Doctor. Depression is very treatable!

(This article is republished (with very minor edits) from Faithnet, without expressed permission and will be removed if they object)

2 comments:

Tiffany Winfree said...

Hello,

I want to thank you for your wonderful writing on this subject. I purposefully went looking on the web for this subject, as I am going through a dry season in my spiritual life. Your blog brought great encouragement, understanding, and clarity to me. It made me feel like I was not alone or condemned for feeling the way I have been. I believe that breakthrough is on the way. Thank you for being a servant of the Lord and allowing him to use you to help others. People like me.

Robert Mason said...

Thanks for your comment, but this work isn't mine on this occasion, it is the work of others, as credited at the end of the piece.

However, I'm glad it was useful to you.