Friday, February 19, 2021

What If I Don't Feel Connected to God?


                                                        (Our house, on a snowy evening!)

In my Renewal School of Ministry class we have been talking about "knowing God" as "experiencing God." We talked about abiding in Christ, like a branch that is connected to Jesus the Vine. God-knowledge is not merely theoretical. It is, at its core, experiential.

One of my students asked this question: "What about someone who cannot feel connected to God?" Here are some thoughts I have about this.

Over the decades I have spent countless hours getting alone with God, and listening, and speaking, to him. Many times, I feel the connection with him. But not always. This is not unusual. Christians through the ages speak of "desert experiences," of times that feel spiritually disconnected. Mother Teresa wrote of a time of "lack of sensible consolation, spiritual dryness, an apparent absence of God from her life, and, at the same time, a painful long­ing for Him." (Here.) 

We see the feeling of disconnection in the Psalms. Psalm 10:1 pleads, "Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?" If God is so close, why do we sometimes feel that he is so far away?

As I have read the spiritual writings of Christians over the centuries, I see an ebb and flow of feeling connected and feeling disconnected. I experience this, as well. What do I do? I have learned to not be distracted by my feelings. I know, that is, I believe, God is always present with me and to me. I know God loves me, whether I feel loved at the moment or not. This knowledge motivates me to continue to meet with him. (Here I recommend Henri Nouwen's book Spiritual Formation: Following the Movements of the Spirit. Nouwen is especially good on freeing us from the need to measure our experiences with God.)

What if you cannot feel connected to God? My first counsel to you is: keep meeting with him.

But what if someone keeps meeting faithfully with God, and rarely, if ever, experiences God with them? Here I recommend two resources, written by two of my spiritual directors (not in person, but through their writings and presentations): Nouwen, Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith; and Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society

What if you cannot feel connected to God? My second counsel to you is: find a spiritual director.

Spiritual direction is different than psychological counseling. The latter can be valuable. But spiritual direction concerns, as Nouwen says, the "movements of the Spirit" in the depths of the human soul. (On the difference between pastoral counseling and spiritual direction, see Kenneth Leech, Soul Friend: An Invitation to Spiritual Direction.)

Nouwen defines spiritual direction as "a relationship initiated by a spiritual seeker who finds a mature person of faith willing to pray and respond with wisdom and understanding to his or her questions about how to live spiritually in a world of ambiguity and distraction." (Spiritual Direction, p. ix)

Over the years I have received many spiritual insights from individual meetings with people I respect spiritually, and through the writings of spiritually deep followers of Jesus. These have directed my heart. A spiritual director is someone who knows the way to the living water.

A spiritual director, and the great spiritual direction literature, can potentially identify blockages that create barriers to experiencing connection with God. This has happened to me, many, many times.

One final suggestion, for now. Slow-cook in a book like this: Longing for God: Seven Paths of Christian Devotion, by Richard Foster and Gayle Beebe. In a personal meeting with Roger Frederickson of Renovaré Institute, Roger gifted this book to Linda and me, with this note.