The Feelings of the Spiritual Life (Kelly Edmiston)

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 7.52.16 AMBy Kelly Edmiston, @kellyedmiston Student minister at First Colony Church of Christ.

I’m just not feelin’ it any longer,” she said to me, from across the table where we sat facing each other in the coffee shop. With our lattes between us, I could see the steam from the hot cups billow up and disappear as it met the cool crisp morning air. She went on, “It used to feel so real and so powerful when I prayed. I used to love worshipping God. Back in the day I felt hungry to know the scriptures but now…” she trailed off, searching for the right words, “Now I just don’t feel God and I wonder if, I don’t know, this whole God-thing was just a phase for me.”

In over a decade of Student Ministry I have had far too many conversations like this one. Like the steam from our lattes, former students and friends tell of a lingering and then lost love for God years after their conversion experience. They share of a dissipated desire to grow in relationship with God. It is as if the cool crisp morning air of college exams, work deadlines or the demands of young children all but extinguish the passionate fire they once knew as young Christians.

This has caused me to ponder the spiritual life and what it means to live it. What influence should our feelings have in our spiritual lives?

What does it mean to live a spiritual life?

This question could be, and has been, answered a thousand different ways. In this post, I intend to consult a fiction work by C.S. Lewis, the Screwtape Letters, to lead us to consider spirituality in a new way.[1]

C.S.Lewis was a great theologian and author. He was deeply concerned with what it means to live a spiritual and Christo-centric life. The Screwtape Letters is a fiction book in which Screwtape, a senior demon, writes 31 letters to his nephew Wormwood, a younger and less experienced demon, who has been charged with guiding a recently converted Christian away from God toward “Our Father Below,” the Devil.

Consider these words from the senior demon, Screwtape,

“He (God) will set them (Christians) off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. But he will never allow this state of affairs to last long. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs-to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best.”

I think that Lewis understood something in the early part of the 20th century that we have too quickly dismissed. It is this, that God is not as interested in our emotional response than God is interested in our obedience in the absence of emotion.

For many contemporary Christians, we have let our emotions and our feelings take the lead in our spiritual lives for far too long. We look back on the “glory days” of our spiritual lives and we dream about the “emotional sweetness” or how we use to “relish” in prayer and worship as if we are burned out ball players re-living a dream in our minds that we will never experience again.

But what if we have gotten it wrong in allowing emotions to have this level of influence in our spiritual lives? What if God not only allows for, but leads people into seasons of emotional dryness or numbness as a part of the divine plan to spiritually form creatures into who they were intended to be?

What if my feelings about God right now aren’t the best, or the only or even one indicator of the truth? What if I don’t “feel God” right now because God is growing me into a creature I was created to be with a faith I was created to have and, somehow, emotions hinder this growth.

Lewis depicts Screwtape coaching Wormwood to maximize on the dry spiritual state of the Christian’s life. Screwtape hasn’t created the dry season. He is merely seeking to use it for his demonic purpose, to ensure that the Christian falls away from God during it. Screwtape knows that if he can coach Wormwood and the other demons in his crew to convince Christians to build their spiritual lives on emotion then this goal will be easily accomplished.

We have, for too long, equated spirituality with our feeling. We speak of “feeling God” or having a “spiritual high” as if these were goals to attain to instead of seasons we may be walking through. Lewis invites us to consider a spiritual life that is not driven by whether or not we feel God but driven by obedience at any cost.

What if true spiritual formation happens not on a mission trip but in an English class you attend in each week? What if true spiritual formation happens not on the mountain but in the valley. What if true spiritual formation happens not when you lift your hands in joyful worship but when you lift your cross in pain and agony?

For Lewis, even the demonic forces of evil know that prayers offered in a spiritual state of dryness are those which please God best. So let’s consider that whatever season we are in, God is at work to form us. And let’s consider taking a step of obedient faith believing that in that step lies the most spiritual thing we will ever do.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the First Colony Church of Christ.

[1] It is beyond the scope of this post to claim a comprehensive or representative theological claim from Lewis. Instead, I will focus on one idea to consider an answer to the question of spiritual living.

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