The book I recently published, Beyond the Front Door: Cultivating Rhythms of Abiding in Jesus, says a lot about being still before God, about the practice of silence and solitude.
One of the cautions I give in the book is to understand that you will not always feel something during your times of stillness. The work of God is slow and subtle, and an emotional experience of God is a rare gift. A welcome gift, to be sure, but rare.
I recently read Dark Night of the Soul by 16th century Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross. I wish I had read it earlier. There was so much in his writings that I wanted to add to my book! It is too late for that, but I want, nevertheless, to share with you some of what he is teaching me.
St. John writes much about the beginners on this spiritual journey of knowing God and becoming like Him, and one of the points he continues to come back to is that beginners strain toward feelings of pleasure. They become so attached to the idea of experiencing God through their senses that when no feelings come they believe they have failed.
St. John admonishes us:
Don’t they realize that the sensory benefits are the least of the gifts offered by the divine? God often withdraws sensual sweetness just so that they might turn the eyes of faith upon him.
He notes that anyone who searches for “sensory sweetness” ends up turning their face away from the bitterness of self-denial. Rather than seeking after feelings, we are to simply offer humble praise and reverence to God within ourselves.
I am certainly guilty of feeling as though my time with God was a failure because I did not feel anything. Because nothing seemed to happen. Yet St. John calls this a “negative judgement against God.”
It is a lack of trust that God will accomplish His promised work inside of us regardless of whether we see Him working.
The idea that there is great benefit to God removing any sense of His presence is another idea St. John returns to again and again. When we feel satisfied, we tend to move toward practicing our own inclinations and weaknesses rather than leaning wholly on God. When we lose the feeling of God being with us, we wake up to our deepest desire for Him.
Without the turnings away, they would never learn to reach for him.
I hope this encourages you as it does me.
When we feel as though nothing is happening in our time with God, it is most likely that we are receiving even greater gifts than pure sensory benefit.
When we cannot sense the presence of God, let His seeming absence force us to trust more deeply in His promises and rouse us to reach out for Him.
He is, after all, always there.
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Art credit: John of the Cross by Francisco de Zurbarán; all other photos are mine, Made Sacred copyright 2021