I wrote last week about my doubts that arose when I didn’t receive any obvious manifestations of the Holy Spirit and God felt distant whenever I tried to pray. Much to my dismay, there wasn’t a quick fix to my faltering faith. I’m writing a follow up post as part of a synchroblog this week: What Saved My Faith? Synchroblog details are at the end of today’s post:
When God felt distant throughout my early 20’s, I felt like my faith was completely breaking down. The only way to save my faith was to ask the question that I thought would mean losing it:
“Why has God abandoned me?”
What did my lack of charismatic experiences mean about my faith or about God?
I couldn’t figure out a way to make prayer work until I acknowledged that I’d hit a dead end. I had to admit that I was struggling to connect with God. In fact, one word sums my experience up:
While I wouldn’t describe myself as particularly charismatic at the time, I was used to spiritual experiences. I’d had many moments where the words of scripture seemed to jump off the page, and I sensed either an intense joy or sorrow. I’d felt conviction to make major life changes. I’d felt God’s presence while praying int he past.
However, one day it all just fell apart. I can’t say what exactly happened. It’s not like you plan for prayer to stop working or for insecurity to become the norm. Prayer, which had just flowed before, was riddled with uncertainty, doubt, and fear.
The Bible describes a present God who is able to meet people when they pray. That was not my experience.
I quickly became an anxious Christian. I wanted my spirituality to work, and if it didn’t work the way I expected it to work, then I feared that I’d been abandoned by God.
It’s not that I didn’t believe in God. I’d experienced too much. Rather, I just feared abandonment. All of the promises of scripture couldn’t squelch the burning anxiety that God had abandoned me.
“Where are you God? Why won’t you come near?” I asked each day.
I knew so many people who heard God speak, who experienced God, and who sensed God’s direction in their lives.
Why not me?
I had to start believing something without personal proof: What if God was near even if I couldn’t sense God’s presence? What if I had to remain faithful without any assurance that God saw me?
I had to learn how to wait on God.
I’ve been surrounded by Christians who talked about victory and breakthroughs, but I didn’t have any concept of a dark night of the soul. One thing pulled me out of my downward spiral into darkness: I relied on the prayers of others.
First, I asked for prayer.
I asked for a lot of prayer, in fact. Each time I received assurances. I gave God every opportunity to tell me what I was doing wrong through the people praying for me. It turned out that I wasn’t living in sin or on the brink of being cast into the flames of hell or anything else.
In fact, my father-in-law sensed that God had imparted the Holy Spirit to me. If God wasn’t angry with me, I decided to take a different approach to prayer.
I prayed the prayers of others.
When you can’t find your own words to pray, the words of the Psalms and the historic church can serve as a real life saver. In fact, as I struggled with doubts and uncertainty during my dark night of the soul (or whatever one calls these things, I’m a Protestant, remember), I relied heavily on the daily prayers from the Divine Hours (buy the books or pray online).
The Divine Hours exposed me to all kinds of prayers: petitions, laments, praise, etc. I saw that doubt, dark nights of the soul, fear, and uncertainty came up quite a bit while praying. The majority of the readings were short passages of scripture, and I saw that waiting on the Lord comes up quite a bit in the Bible and especially in collected prayers in the Hours.
In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.
Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.
I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.
The Psalms are full of waiting, in fact.
So I started to wait. I started to rely on the prayers of others. Slowly, gradually, I learned to wait and trust God on my own.
The more I relied on the prayers of others, the more I say that my prayers were full of pushy petitions and demanding deadlines. I was asking God to show up in the time, place, and manner I specified. Perhaps my season of silence was God’s way of shutting down the ways I’d been trying to exert my control over prayer. Who knows.
I started waiting and praying the prayers of others, and I eventually began to sense God’s presence and voice again. In silence and in the recitation of scripture, I found a new path to God that didn’t rely on crafting clever prayers. In fact, prayer became peaceful and restful, inviting God to come and simply paying attention to however the Spirit would move.
I don’t think I could have figured out how to pray on my own. I had to experience the prayers of others and copy the prayers of scripture and fellow Christians. That felt like cheating. It made me feel like a failure, as if I wasn’t smart enough to sort this out on my own.
Rather than failing, I was actually learning what faith looks like. I was learning to stop relying on my won wisdom and to seek the wisdom that can only come from God alone. By relying on the prayers of others, I finally learned what it means to pray in faith, waiting and trusting in the presence and direction of God.
The things that feel like threats to our faith are often just the necessary failure of flawed faith that must break down and shatter before real faith can take their place.
This post is part of a synchroblog for the release of A Christian Survival Guide: A Lifeline to Faith and Growth that’s answering the following question:
What saved your faith?
Write a post this week answering that question and then scroll down to learn how to join the synchroblog.
A Christian Survival Guide is also being offered at a steep discount this week.
On Monday, August 18th, it will be offered as a free eBook at select sites:
Tuesday-Friday, August 19-22, it will be offered for $2.99. (See also the Publisher)
Print Copies: Get $3 off on Amazon this week.
How to Join the Synchroblog:
1. Write a post for your blog during the week of August 18-23.
2. Begin or end your post with something like, “I’m joining the synchroblog for the release of A Christian Survival Guide: A Lifeline to Faith and Growth by answering the prompt: ‘What saved my faith?'”
3. End with a link to today’s post. (This is the short link: “http://wp.me/p36rtR-k5”). Add the link up information to your post, the synchroblog image, and end your post with a prompt like this: “What saved your faith? Write your own post answering that question and then visit www.edcyzewski.com to learn how you can join the synchroblog or to read additional posts to celebrate the release of Ed’s book A Christian Survival Guide, which is discounted on Amazon this week. “
4. Link to your post in the comment section on Ed’s blog post and tweet with the hashtag “#SavedMyFaith”.
5. Read other posts by checking the comments or the #SavedMyFaith hashtag on Twitter. Then comment, tweet, or share the best posts you find!