Why I Write what I Write

My father struggled with smoking for roughly 30 years.  While it was never a habit he enjoyed, it was one that was hard to break. I remember him describing that the hardest reality to contend with was the criticism of others. See, my father was a priest, and he would often have people come to him and question whether it was appropriate for a man of God to be a smoker.  Some would state emphatically that his struggle with smoking was a sign of a lack of faith. Surely if he was truly faithful, they would matter-of-factly surmise, he wouldn’t have a problem with such an addiction.

Eventually my father began to respond to his accusers. To some he would enter conversation; others he would simply smile and say “Well, I am happy your own struggles aren’t so visible.” 

I must admit, I am tempted to respond this way whenever I hear people equate spiritual discouragement with unbelief.  It happens more than you might think. I often have people try to “educate” me on how discouragement in faith is but a lack of trust in Jesus. I even had one person tell me that discouragement was akin to complaining, and all complaining was a rejection of the sovereignty of God.

Of course, the not-so-humble-brag in all these comments is that the person themselves has never found themselves walking through a time of deep spiritual dismay. And maybe they haven’t. Good for them. But the fact is, many people do find themselves facing times of spiritual crisis.  Pretending that such a reality does not befall the lives of authentic, Jesus-loving, Christians is incredibly insensitive and   harmful. We are imperfect people, living in an imperfect world. This means that we will all naturally have times where the full-bodied engagement with our spiritual selves may feel strained.

Here’s the truth of the matter. Prayer doesn’t always produce booming responses from the sky; Nor will we always realize what we pray for. Reading the Bible doesn’t always create an inward cascade of warm-fuzzies. Sometimes reading the Bible is boring, it may feal like a chore and we may struggle to discern what God is teaching us in any given text.  And, although we may not like to admit it, the Christian life isn’t always trouble free.  Life will zig when we want it to zag. Sicknesses happen even to the most faithful. Despite our best efforts, despite the strength of our faith and the robustness of our prayers, we may find ourselves walking through our valleys of deep darkness. It happens.

The other day I received an email from someone who follows along with my writings. They wrote: “Your writings encourage one to connect to Jesus. It seems an impossible task … what.. when…where… how? Despite a lifetime of working in the church the gap has never been closed. I read you to see that at least someone has!” Another person simply commented on a post with “Thank you for taking me seriously.”

This is why I write what I write, because despite some people assuming that spiritual discouragement doesn’t occur, it does. Spiritual discouragement happens as a by-product of living our faith in the world. Instead of pretending that true faith can never feel thin, we ought to be honest about this reality. The Psalmists spoke of walking through valleys of darkness, ancient writers talked about the Dark night of the Soul; when did we adopt such an unbiblical assumption that our faith is never affected by the highs and lows of our existence? The Christian life that Jesus calls us to is never disconnected from our everyday lives.

If you are in a place of spiritual discouragement, then please know that you are not alone. Despite what other people may tell you, your discouragement is not a symptom of unbelief, or a sign of some unrecognized sin in your life. And you can be sure that your struggles in faith, whether it is a struggle to hear God voice, a struggle to feel connected to God in prayer, or a struggle to connect to a Christian community, never means that Jesus has abandoned you.  The one who created you and redeemed you is the one who sustains you in this time. Even if you can’t see him, or feel him, or hear him, Jesus is with you. His love surrounds you.

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