Growing up in church, I got the impression that the people who were serious about God had only, always positive thoughts and feelings toward church, prayer, Bible-reading, and God. I thought that my feeling any sort of “high” in the emotional-spiritual department of my life meant that I must certainly be on the right track, getting closer to God, and making God more happy with me. I longed to remain on the mountaintop experiences of ecstatic “spiritual” euphoria. Why can’t I always feel this way?! I sometimes berated myself.
What’s more, I thought that any signs of negativity and numbness toward church or prayer or God were clear signs of my not being serious enough about God. I associated a feeling “low” about God with distance from God. Valleys, darkness, or apathy in my life with God were to be avoided (and/or at least denied!) at all costs.
I noticed recently that my mind has been turned pretty nearly upside down about pretty nearly all of that. I can’t say that I went about intentionally trying to change my mind; I don’t remember ever definitively coming to a place where I saw that it even needed changing. All I can say is that it has been changed. So maybe, hopefully it was God that saw that it needed changing and then went about in his inconspicuous way, changing it.
I’ve been trying to characterize the change, trying to crystallize it in my mind. Naming it often helps me integrate it even more.
So here’s what I think I know:
I have come see that God is always near to me; God is among, before, behind, and through all of my life. God is in all of the stuff of my life. My life is hid with Christ in God. What’s more, God is always at work in me, through me, forming and re-forming me — whether or not I’m paying attention. God is always at work in me, through me, forming and re-forming me — whether or not I give credit where credit is due.
I’ve even become – dare I say!? – somewhat suspect of spiritual highs. I know how fickle my emotions can be, and I have determined to rely on them neither as a way of measuring my closeness to God nor as a force that will definitely carry me in the direction of closeness with God. Furthermore, I am sure that suffering, pain, and “low” times are invaluable conduits of Love and Growth and Change in my life, not necessarily to be sought out, but neither to be categorically avoided out of fear or discomfort.
I have also come to see great value in all of the “normal” moments, days, and years of life I live right around the line, neither joyous nor depressed. God values, is present in, and uses the mundane – the laundry-folding, the showing up at work on Monday mornings, and the relating to the non-celebrity people around me – the stuff that accumulates and then becomes most of our lives. Most of my life is lived in the middle and in the margins, neither down in the dumps nor high in the sky; I have come to see that this must be part of God’s created good intention.
Another way I’ve been visualizing the change is that basically my emotional-spiritual bell curve has become completely inverted. I used to try always to stay “above the line” (in the realm of positive / happy emotions) and always aspiring always to rise to greater and greater heights of spiritual-emotional rapture! Now staying “right around the line” of embracing God in all of the normal stuff of my normal life is desired, even celebrated. Further, sinking way “below the line” into the lowest emotional-spiritual lows are what have produced the greatest growth in me. Suffering, prayer, and love in spite of feeling emotionally down (angry, apathetic, sad, despairing) have been my path toward greater understanding of God and of myself in God. Struggle, spiritual discipline, and compassion while I feel like I’m in a spiritual slump have molded my inner character in ways that spiritual-emotional ecstasy simply cannot.
As a finite being, I am simply unable to exist in perpetual spiritual, intellectual, relational, or emotional ecstasy. For one thing, I have dishes to wash and refrigerator shelves to sanitize. Furthermore, when I attempt to fake a constantly elated spiritual-emotional state, it takes all of the joy out of ecstasy on the occasions when it actually arrives.
When I pine for spiritual-emotional highs, I undermine the incredible joy and value I may find in normal life. When I pine for spiritual-emotional highs, I miss out on the opportunity for pain and suffering to change my very self. When I pine for spiritual-emotional highs, I expose my immature and self-focused love: Perhaps I actually love the high itself more than I love God.
Here’s to our becoming a people who love God more than we love the spiritual-emotional highs God sometimes graciously gives…