Trying to pray, trying to focus on reading, trying. Trying. This doesn't feel right, I can't get into a rhythm or find comfort in the words that used to bring me hope and comfort and peace. I read because I want to, but what I want, what I'm looking for, is relationship and joy. What I find is silence. Distraction. The clock ticking. The sun slanting through the slats of the blinds higher and higher.
What is wrong with me? I wonder.
It didn't used to be this way. I used to pour out my soul to Jesus and that was enough. To be heard was enough. Not much listening was required back then; He didn't wait for me to listen in those days, perhaps; maybe He just spoke through my noise.
I shake my head. It's been like this awhile now. Not just a dry spell. Now it's a dry life. I am frustrated, wondering where I went wrong. Wondering why my first love seems to be far away even though He promises that He is near me always.
The childrens' catechism rings in my head, "Can I see God?" Answer: "No, but He always sees me." But why can't I feel Him? Was it all an act? Am I actually His?
With the silence comes
What am I doing this all for? What has robbed me of joy?
What was it that I found joy in before?
Even the natural beauty of creation, always before a trigger for joy and thanksgiving, even the beauty of His handiwork hardly moves me and how can that be?
I feel lost, alone, directionless. Who am I? Is this what the rest of my life will be like? I know there is so much beauty to be seen and felt and He promises His love is all around - but where is it and why have I lost sight of it?
Then one morning, this, these beautiful, timely words:
"But eventually there comes a time when prayer just doesn't work as it used to. Our intellectual considerations of the mystery of God and our wordy responses no longer feel very satisfying. For awhile we may try to work harder at prayer the way we have always known it, or we may try to find a better method, but no matter how much effort we put into it or how faithful we are, nothing happens. While we have surely experienced times of dryness before, they always seemed to pass, and experiences of intimacy with God would return. But this time is different. This time we seem to have no control over what does or does not happen in our life with God....
"The experience of having our prayers grow cold, as distressing as it is, signals a major transition in the life of prayer and thus in our relationship with God....
"In Christian tradition, there are several signs that indicate we are transitioning into a new phase in the life of prayer:
1) What you are doing isn't working, no matter how much effort you put into it. You find yourself asking, "Is this all there is?"
2) Your desire for God continues to be strong, even though you have no desire for anything external...You hunger for intimacy - to just hang out with God - is all there is.
3) You find yourself enjoying being alone, aware of God's presence without structured activity. In the deepest part of your being, you know that God alone can satisfy the longings of the human heart, and other things fade in importance..."
"This transitional place in the life of prayer can be frightening because it requires us to let go of what we have known in order to open ourselves to something new. It can feel as if we are being ripped from the safety and familiarity of a known space and our roots are dangling in midair.... We are left feeling vulnerable and unsure, like a tender sapling exposed to the wind and the elements."
--Quotations taken from Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation by Ruth Haley Barton.
My heart lifts and I have a sense of peace and communion that I have been longing for. I am grateful, so grateful for this gift. I am reminded that my experiences are not isolated and hope is renewed that maybe this isn't wrong, it's just different and it will lead to something new and beautiful. There is a whole tradition backing up my experiences - so I'm not alone! Saints who have gone before have walked this dry valley. I don't have to try harder (I always knew that, didn't I but what else was there but to seek Him still in the only way I could think of?). As I read this section in this book I am so struck by the almost word-for-word similarity to what I've written in my journal as I grapple with this form of longing to be close to God even if it is in a way I know I can't control.
Prayer changes. I now let myself spend more time quietly listening and slowly reading through a few verses of Scripture at a time listening for His voice in His word, no longer "trying" or feeling pressure from within to make something happen. I remember that He is trustworthy and says He loves me and will meet me, whether I sense His presence or not. Security returns in a new way and I realize now I just wanted to be with Him all along and He was always there, patient with me.