Prayer and personal revelation have always been the foundation of my religious life. I’ve counted on them. When the church has done crazy things and I’ve wondered why I was still a believer, I’ve come back to them as the core of my faith.
But lately I’m losing that core. I’m not sure what happened, but it’s been a long time since I felt like I was getting divine communication, since I felt spiritually connected. It’s been an adjustment. It’s not like I haven’t had patches of feeling distant before; I’ve always felt like it was kind of on-and-off. But this has been a long “off” period. And the timing has made it particularly difficult. My life currently feels like a disaster area. With this happening on top of that, I feel like God has abandoned me when I’ve been especially desperate for help. I want to believe in a God who’s loving and faithful, not random and capricious. But right now, it’s taking all I have to hang on to that belief.
For a while, I wondered whether my meds might have something to do with this. If religious experience is mediated through the brain, surely medication that alters your brain chemistry could impact that. But looking at the patterns of when I’ve been on meds and off of them, I don’t see any evidence that it’s made a difference.
And sometimes it’s almost as if God’s still there, but just out of reach. I feel a block that stops me from having any connection. The block could, I realize, be my rage. Because, if I’m honest, I am enraged about the ways in which my life has dramatically fallen apart. Part of me wonders if the anger is fair. But it’s there regardless. And while in the past, honestly expressing anger has actually brought me closer to God, now it’s just another form of communication that goes nowhere.
Church is hard. Church has always been hard—being single and gay is no picnic—but this adds another dimension. People share experiences which revealed to them that God was aware of them and cared about them. Even more biting, I hear about how God has intervened in other people’s lives to solve their problems. At times in my life, I’ve found this sort of thing inspirational. I can’t begrudge people sharing this stuff; it’s part of what church is for. But right now it’s hard to listen to it.
I can imagine some of the responses I might get to sharing this. Perhaps questions about my life and whether I’m keeping the commandments, whether I’m worthy to get answers. I’ll freely admit that there is much room for improvement in my life. But this is the thing. Nothing has radically changed. Historically, despite my many flaws and failings, I’ve had times of spiritual connection. Moments of grace. I’m not saying I couldn’t do better, but it seems like there must be more to the story.
I remember hearing as a teenager from a CES speaker that if you feel more distant from God, guess who moved (you). I’ve always had reservations about that assumption, and I have them even more now. The New Testament says that the Spirit bloweth where it listeth. It’s a nice idea that we can stay connected to God through doing all the right things, but I suspect that ultimately it’s not a relationship under our control.
There’s also, of course, the “Footprints” answer in which God is there all along, but I have to admit that I find that assertion to be a little annoying. If God’s there, why on earth can’t God say something? What possible good does it do anyone for God to be there but completely uncommunicative?
Maybe I’m learning some empathy from this. I realize that many people go through longer dry spells than I’ve been experiencing. And I can only imagine what it’s like for members of the church who simply don’t have spiritual experiences. I’ve talked to people who say that that’s the case for them, and this gives me a glimpse of what it’s like to be in that situation, in a church that is so focused on personal revelation.
I really like the hymn “Where Can I Turn for Peace?” But I’ve always found it a bit unsettling when, for reasons of time, we’ve just sung the first verse in a meeting—because it leaves you hanging, with the questions unanswered. Right now, though, that’s where I feel like I am. Left with emptiness and unanswered questions.