Rouse yourself! Why do you sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not cast us off for ever! Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression? For we sink down to the dust; our bodies cling to the ground.
I have what John of the Cross would have called a “spiritual sweet tooth”. (Ascent of Mount Carmel) What I mean is, I crave the spiritual equivalents of cheesecake, dark chocolate, and banana cream pie. But fortunately, I have a heavenly Father who knows that I need more servings of broccoli, spinach, and steel-cut oats. He knows that my faith needs more than just the mountaintop highs of ecstasy and delight.
So in God’s providence He allows moments like the psalmist experiences in today’s psalm: that God has forgotten and forsaken him. It is important to note in this psalm that these feelings do not come from any sin in the psalmist’s life. Rather, a few verses earlier he pleads his innocence: “All of this has come upon us, yet we have not forgotten you, or been false to your covenant… yet you have broken us in the haunt of jackals, and covered us with deep darkness” (Psalm 44:17,19).
The psalmist says that he feels covered with “deep darkness”. He is likely talking about what John of the Cross called “the dark night of the soul” (Dark Night of the Soul), and Teresa of Avila “the dry well”. (The Interior Castle) It can be difficult for us to know what to do with such feelings of darkness and dryness when we pray. But the fact is that God is taking on our spiritual sweet tooth, our preference for sweet moments of light and spiritual highs. Abbot Chapman, spiritual counselor, wrote to a questioner struggling with darkness and dryness in prayer:
Try to serve God for His own sake, as He wishes you to, and not for His gifts. What does it matter whether you enjoy your prayer or are unhappy in it? What does it matter if you have all those feelings of having no Faith? (You know quite well that you have Faith; for if you had none, you would not mind having none; but pain is caused by your “feeling as if” you had not any.)…Do not think too much about yourself, or that it matters much whether you feel dry or consoled; whether you can or cannot pray, etc. For you know that it does not really matter. But it does matter, very much, that you should take what comes from God with thankfulness and simplicity. (Spiritual Letters)
Similarly, A. W. Tozer advised people experiencing dryness in prayer “to ignore it or to tell God about it without any sense of guilt.” (“How to Keep from Going Stale”, Alliance Witness, May 17, 1961)
The effectiveness and reach of your prayers must never be measured by any of your feelings about them. Your faith in God’s goodness and faithfulness will grow as He weans you from too much spiritual candy and sugar.
- Do you think you might have a spiritual sweet tooth? If so, how do you experience it?
- What do you sense God might be saying to you in those moments when you don’t feel like praying.
- Now, whether you feel like it or not, pray. Be honest with God and tell Him if you don’t feel like praying.
“Let us enjoy light and consolation when it is his pleasure to give them to us, but let us not attach ourselves to his gifts, but to him. When he plunges us into the dark night of pure faith, let us still press on through agonizing darkness.”
François Fénelon, Talking with God