when I talk of spiritual dryness …

valleyUntil the last few months, whenever I would feel distant from the Lord, I believed it was my own doing.  I believed the reason I didn’t feel close to God, or the reason I wasn’t experiencing Him to the extent I once did (or to the extent I hoped), or the reason He wasn’t answering (assuming He wasn’t answering because I wasn’t hearing Him), was my own darn fault.

Maybe there was unconfessed sin in my life.

Maybe I was not reading my Bible enough.

Maybe I needed to pray more, or better, or harder.  With more focus.  And more surrender.

Maybe I needed to go to church more.

Maybe I was hanging around the wrong people.

Maybe I needed to tithe more.

He says if I draw near to Him, He will draw near to me.  I am drawing near.  Where is He?  

These feelings of shame would spin me into weeks of apology after apology for whatever it was in my life I thought was keeping God from answering.  Why was God giving me the silent treatment?

I’m sorry, God, I haven’t prayed more.  I’m sorry, God, I haven’t spent much time with you.  I’m sorry, God, I’ve been doing those bad things.  I’m sorry, God, I’ve neglected you.  I’m sorry, God, I haven’t read your Bible more.  I’m sorry, God, I told that lie.  I’m sorry, God, I lost my temper.  

dry creek

And then I would try to show Him I was sorry by obeying and being “good.”  I lunged toward works-based righteousness, running after a God who said He loved me, but seemed like He didn’t want to be around me.  And not just lunged, but literally almost fell over trying to gain Him.

I vowed to try harder the next day, to be better, to be more Christlike, to step toward Him even though He didn’t seem to be reciprocating.  The hope was that if I did this, one day God would answer, and the feeling would come back, or I would again believe without doubt, or some magical answer would appear, and I wouldn’t feel any longer like I was being tossed back and forth by the wind.  That would be the day when I would feel the sacred ‘high’ of connecting with God like I used to.   [And it is a high, is it not?]

I’m learning, however, through my recent study of St. John of the Cross, as well as other readings through my seminary training, that sometimes God withdraws His comfort from our lives so that we can recognize our need for Him.  Sometimes [not always] God willfully, purposefully, withholds His consolation from us because He wants to grow us in new ways, and because He is trying to do a new work in us.  It’s not about getting back to where we once were.  It’s about growing toward where He’s taking us next.

For years the very worst thing (I thought) that could happen to my faith was to be lukewarm.

If I’m lukewarm, I thought, He’s gonna spit me out.  I need to prove I’m all in, and be better and love Him better and be a ‘good Christian’ so He doesn’t give up on me.

And so I fought very hard to never be lukewarm.  When I did, however, feel the pang of lukewarm-ness (because who can stay on fire all day every day?), I would run, fast and hard, to something to make me feel like a better Christian.  [Some people run to theology.  Some to Scripture memory.  I happen to run most toward busyness, aka “Christian service.”]

It was on my shoulders to fix my and God’s lack of connection.  That is how I saw it at least.

feather river

And when, after a period of dryness, I would experience the presence of God again, I secretly deep down thought it was because I had done right.  Like God was rewarding me with a yogurt after a long, faithful day.

Oh my friend, I write this in case you find yourself in a bit of spiritual desert, and in case you are working yourself to the bone trying to win back His consolation.

I write it in case you are experiencing God in voracious, life-giving ways and you happen to think you are right now getting a gold star for your merit.

Let me offer you a gentle truth:

You might be in a valley because God wants you to realize you need Him.  His withdrawal of His comfort might be a gift — a gesture of ‘reaching out’ to you, (although it feels quite the opposite), so that you come to a place of missing Him.  He might want you to see you can’t do it alone.  

And, it is the Spirit, apart from you, who chooses when and how to reveal Himself.  Your job is to be open — to relinquish all your wants and needs and hopes to whatever He wills.  When and where and how He answers is His business.  {But don’t we want to know.}

I guess I just wish someone would have told me years ago that it wasn’t all on me — this getting closer to God stuff.  It would have saved me days upon days of thinking maybe there was something wrong with me that I kept working my tail off to experience Him and He wasn’t answering.  Now I look back at those times of dryness and I see how much angst and anxiety I suffered, and I see it was actually Him, there with me all along, reaching out to pull me in, for something not yet to come.

How He loves us.

Does this resonate with you at all?  Have you ever found yourself in a season of spiritual dryness?  How did you respond to it?  


  1. This definitely resonates with me. At times when I felt that I needed God most, I felt as though He was distant. But looking back on those times, I realize He was guiding me as I was continuing to reach out for His arms. It is so hard going through these times because for me anyway, my memory tends to forgets how this is all the process of spiritual growth and maturity. Thanks for posting this Karen!

  2. I have been learning this recently! It was so perfect that I should read your post today; it really summed up for me what God has been showing me–that I am ALWAYS good enough for him, because he doesn’t care how good I am, he just loves me. Even when I don’t feel it.

    The most important thing is that I know I need God. Thank you!

  3. Hi Karen,
    I’m new to your blog. You seem so lovely, smart and funny.
    I’ve lived through spiritual dryness and am thriving…at the moment. I think it’s important to mix things up. Just like in a marriage relationship, we have solid loving routines and we discover newness together and that keeps things fresh and invigorating. We keep discovering more of the other and what we enjoy together. In a similar vein, Jesus invites us to freshness, to discipline and also to spontaneity and freedom.
    My hope is that you are taking out a page from your byline and simply resting in Him. Our efforts from a place of rest in His love for us, sound so beautiful to Him and to our world. In the shadow, of his wings, where it gets dark sometimes (Corrine ten boom) we find rest, restoration, growth and refreshment. It’s a secret too good to be true, that spiritual dryness can precede great growth, like a forest that dries out and experiences controlled fires can produce new growth right amidst the ash. You know all this. I’ll stop and say be kind to you, hang in there wife to book guy and mom to 3 little peeps and likely friend to many.

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