Downs and Ups

Over the last week I’ve confronted some stuff and wobbled, and felt better, and worried about that, etc…

C.S.Lewis talked about the “Law of Undulation”* by which he meant that human beings just don’t notice that their feelings about everything go up and down no matter what they do. I’ve had a bit of that this week.

* in his book, “The Screwtape Letters” which I would recommend to everyone everywhere.

About a week ago I was talking to my wife (Pia) about how we felt about things and about our relationships with God and so on. We realised that in many ways we were feeling very far from him and afraid to go near.

I’ve always had to force myself to go to church – sometimes I enjoy it when I get there (sometimes not) – but the thought of it always makes me negative. Often too I don’t like the thought of praying.

We tend to pray together just before we go to sleep, and we realised that we had become quite slack at this, still doing it but not putting in any effort and just getting it over with.

Meanwhile, I’d pretty much stopped doing any other praying or Bible reading on my own and we hadn’t read the Bible together for ages.

We thought about why this had happened, and I really felt that for me it was because the thought of praying or spending time with God (i.e. remembering he exists) made me terrified. So I’d been squeezing it out because it was unpleasant.

Now, we could spend ages talking about why I feel like this, and perhaps we should, but anyway I’m going to tell you what we did about it instead.

So, in a monumental effort, we admitted all this to each other, and decided we should do something about it, so we agreed to read the Bible and pray together every day when we got back from work, and also to spend time apart doing this, and prepare stuff to say when we were together.

The next day, we sat down on the sofa and tried to do this. To be honest, I was expecting it to be a lot easier than I expected (as it were) because God often does stuff like that. But it wasn’t. It was just as bad as I thought. We didn’t know what to read (so we started with Revelation in the Bible), we didn’t get anything out of what we read, we didn’t have anything to say to each other and we didn’t want to pray. I asked for forgiveness for our neglect of God, and nothing happened. We tried, and I thought God would surely reward us for all this effort by making it easier next time.

But the next day was just as bad, and by the end I felt pretty despairing. I sat there and said to God, “Look we’re really trying – you know how hard we’ve found it to confront this, and how hard it has been to act on it, and now we need your help to make it work.” But nothing happened.

After this we had a conversation about what to do and we decided that the next day Pia would choose a Psalm she liked (she’s got into Psalms recently) and we’d read that. I thought I’d choose a song out of a Christian song book (aaaaaaargh!) and use that as a prayer to help us pray.

So we had something to do the next day; we weren’t completely lost, and actually it felt like God was there. because I had this crutch of reading out something someone else had written I felt freer to pray myself, and I was able to thank God for stuff and ask him for forgiveness and help. The song even allowed me to “worship” a bit I think.

Since then we’ve missed more days than we’ve done, but through forgetfulness and busy-ness rather than fear I think. I’ve found that when we pray I’ve just got more words to say and I don’t feel so terrible. Basically I’m more comfortable with the concept of being “in God’s presence,” whatever that means.

So what’s the moral of the story? Well really it’s that I was a bit silly to be in despair. I was dead right that God would want to take 10 steps towards us when we took half of one faltering step, but it actually took 3 days for me to be able to feel I had made progress, but 2 days for me to give up on him.

Never forget how short-sighted you are.

(Unless you’re not me and therefore not so short-sighted.)

Another moral of the story is that it could be helpful to use “crutches” like reading from a book if you’re finding praying difficult. Check out the wiki – there’s a discussion there on how to get closer to God that is about that kind of idea.

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  1. I also think that what you wrote was encouraging, especially for people like me who also experience times during which it’s difficult to feel close to God. While I know the experience must have been disheartening for you, I am glad to read something like that because I think that people often give the impression that being a Christian is always wonderful, and even in bad times things will be okay because you can feel God’s presence etc., but it’s not really like that. I suppose sometimes God just wants people to try and work things out for themselves, or maybe is testing their faith. Even if he doesn’t show his presence in an obvious way, he is still there, and still cares.

  2. Agreeing that very cool to read.
    Ok, that’s all I have to say right now.

    (Except that it’s M and yet again I’ve forgotten to sign in!)

  3. Blimey this text box is small. Sorry – just wanted to chip in about prayer. I wasn’t sure whether to do it under the Prayer article, but as this is more recent I thought I’d stick it here.

    Several years ago, when I had only recently become a Christian, my prayer time started after I was in bed, and as I was always very tired, it didn’t really get very far. Apart from that I only threw the odd thought out to God during the day.

    The next year was quite the opposite. I realised how other people tried to spend a decent amount of time during the day having a “Quiet Time”, and so I started to do that too. My times were often quite loud times, but the main thing is that I did it almost every day because it meant I could put off my essay writing for another hour or so, and I’m a prize procrastinator. And I really appreciated those times.

    But it wasn’t long before it started to become a struggle. Strangely enough, spending time dedicated totally to God, our loving Father and Creator, started to feel like music practice, or going for a run, or any other ‘task’. I wanted to put it off, but felt guilty about that, but felt frustrated when I tried to get back into regular prayer, and fear of work often drives me to throw myself unprepared and unarmed into the frenzy of a day’s activity and leave the prayer till after lunch – after dinner – till the next day…

    I’ve just spent time sitting praying for the first time in weeks. I didn’t wrestle in prayer or pray elaborately, but I just sat quietly and talked to God. And I realised what a relief it was. It’s hard to believe how little I appreciate the opportunity to pray. When there’s something big or I’m at the end of my tether, I’m brought to my knees. But otherwise I’m always too busy or too tired or too content. But as someone said, prayer should be like breathing – a natural giving out and taking in.

    Whenever I read books on prayer, it excites me again for a time. One good book is by Pablo Martinez, a psychiatrist, and it explains how we all have different character types and so, not surprisingly, we all have different ways we find easiest to relate to God (and to other people). For example, I know someone who’s very imaginative and relational, and she seems to experience God intimately in her life and prayers. We shouldn’t feel bad that we find certain ways to approach God easier, but we should try and balance ourselves by trying the other ways.

    I found ‘Prayer’ by O. Hallesby a v encouraging book too. His description of the struggle to pray was so familiar that I had to laugh (on the train), but at the same time his description of how amazing prayer is made it obvious that he knew God intimately, and it gave me hope for what it might be like when I’m older and wiser…

    I think the problem with prayer is like the problem with trying to live a more holy life. You see a glorious goal, but you feel like you never get any closer to it and keep failing and feel discouraged and defeated. Hopefully if we realise we’re not the only one who hasn’t “got it made”, we can get more courage about the future. And when we meet people who have got closer to God than we are, we need to try and see that as a reason to hope for what God can do for us too, rather than a reason to feel bad. It IS important that we make an effort to please God and get closer to Him, but it’s easy to forget His love and His grace and just that we are His beloved children and we don’t need to impress Him into being nice to us rather than angry!! (Sometimes I feel like it’s better not to pray at all than to pray ‘badly’, but it’s not!)

    Also – I think it’s important to cultivate both types of prayer – the special focussed time and ‘constant’ prayer too. I think it’s like with human relationships. I can spend all day at work with a friend or spouse or parent and enjoy their presence, ask them for help, or mention various things, but I need to just spend “time of quality” with them too to get into deeper issues and strengthen our love for each other.

    Sorry – I hope that’s helpful. I’m too tired to remember exactly what I wanted to say, and I hope I don’t sound like I’m saying I’ve got all the answers!

  4. Thanks Midge, great to read this – I’m really enjoying the stuff we’re doing on this site with saying stuff like this – it’s really helping me and I hope others too.

    And, if I haven’t said it before, welcome to GE!

  5. I realised last night that I’ve completely neglected my “quiet time” for the last few weeks without even noticing.

    Heard a sermon yesterday about what we’re called to do (i.e. be Christians in a country where it’s quite easy etc.) is actually really _hard_ and I think it’s things like this that make it like that.

    My life is not in danger every day, so I forget to pray…

    Would I prefer the alternative?

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