FOR EVERY HOUSE IS BUILT BY SOMEONE, BUT THE BUILDER OF ALL THINGS IS GOD. – HEBREWS 3:4
The bathroom in this little cottage has been started and stopped, started and stopped, and now seems to be stalled indefinitely for a variety of no-good reasons: lack of ambition, other projects, fear of the unknown, or just downright procrastination.
Oh, it’s mostly beautiful. There’s a long vanity on one side with a striking hammered copper bowl sink. There’s a big mirror with wall sconces on either side; a timed electric wall heater, and a light that comes on when we walk in the doors.
The replaced window that looks out on to the back porch has been hung with a stained glass window and the new medicine cabinet is an extra mirror above the new water-saver toilet that has a bidet option. It’s mostly luxurious. Especially compared to what it used to be and how long we lived with it.
There is only one project left: the shower.
Seventy-five percent of the supplies for it are purchased and stored out on the back porch. I have alternately nagged, been silent, suggested we hire someone else to do it, asked when the start date might be…The last time I brought it up (after several months of silence) it started a series of unpleasantries that have not been reconciled. I’m not sure what to do, so in those cases, prayer is usually the answer.
Like interrupted home projects, faith journeys often get interrupted, stalled, or stuck. Sometimes outside events or other people are the cause, sometimes it is our own lackluster faith, and sometimes God intervenes for reasons of His own that we might not yet be able to see. Many times there seems to be no clear path forward: a faith that used to bring clarity and joy to life now brings only doubt and struggle; decision-making becomes muddied and almost impossible; and life is covered over with a gray cloud of angst and depression. At least, that’s what happened to me. I couldn’t pray; I couldn’t hear or see Jesus in scripture; love and joy was gone from my life, I doubted God.
I don’t have any instant answers. I will only speak about what thousands of others before me have said:
When you can’t pray, just say, Help me Lord. That in itself is a prayer–perhaps the most poignant prayer that you’ve ever prayed. It is a hard truth that God often sends suffering and sorrow to mature our faith, to help us achieve wisdom, to make us give up our illusion of control and rely on Him. This is especially hard when your soul seems dry and your prayers seem weak. Sometimes a beautiful prayer or piece of writing, written by someone else, and read out loud just made me cry. I used these three books: The Songs of Jesus by Tim and Kathy Keller; Praying Through the Names of God by Tony Evans; Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund; and I also re-read the book that was instrumental in bringing me to Christ–Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in his small book, Psalms: the prayer book of the Bible that “The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart.”
So when the poverty of your heart is overwhelming and you can’t hear Jesus in scripture, just keep reading. Read your favorite passages. Read them out loud even. Pray them. I read Psalm 139 over and over and over. Psalm 24 also, because it, too, is one of my favorites. I read and re-read Philippians 2 and John 14. You have your favorites–read them. The vision I kept trying for was remembering Christ on the cross. For me. And reminding myself that it isn’t about me. In a way, all that ennui and spiritual malaise I was suffering, was just another form of thinking about self. But more about that later….
Find a verse that speaks to you. In my readings, I found this scripture: All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.–John 6:37. I wrote it on my kitchen chalk board. I made a bookmark of it. I memorized it. And whenever the doubts and depressions came over me, I said it to myself. Out loud, sometimes. And I found plenty of verses on the Lord’s faithfulness. I wrote this one on the kitchen chalkboard too: Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. Do not be discouraged, for the Lord Your God will be with you wherever you go.–Joshua 1:9
Find someone you can trust and talk to them. I had several friends who knew that I was struggling; I talked to a godly old friend; I went to a godly new friend. They all prayed with and for me. They sent me cards. They sent me lyrics to songs. They sent me texts and blog posts and sermons and reassurance. You are not alone; thousands of faithful believers have gone through periods of darkness for thousands of years before this has happened to you. You are not the first; you will not be the last. It has a name, “the dark night of the soul,” so named by St. John of the Cross, the Carmelite friar who wrote of the soul’s struggling journey to find the ultimate love of God. “In the dark night of the soul,” he wrote, “bright flows the river of God.”
Find beauty in a new way. My go-to spiritual renewal has always been delighting in the natural beauty around me and thanking God for His creation. In this far country, my old habits didn’t work, which only increased my sorrow. Instead I rediscovered my earbuds. Listening to my favorite hymns, anthems, and praise-songs brought tears, deep breaths, and refreshment. Using the earbuds helped to shut out the noise of living. I also discovered a Compline podcast put out by Samford University, Compline: An Evening Liturgy for Anxious Souls and I listened to it each evening before turning out the light. The quiet music, scriptures, and prayers brought a peace that helped me sleep. I was reminded that even when we are wandering and lost in the far country, there can be times of calm.
Do something for someone else. When you are handing someone a box of food, a hot meal, or a loaf of homemade bread your own troubles fade. St. John of the Cross is also famous for this quote: “When there is no love, pour in love and you shall draw out love.” In other words, Don’t Wallow. There is always something you can do for someone, even something as small as sending a text, a message, or a card. And yes, back to thinking about yourself–doing a loving work for someone else keeps your own self-pity at bay. Mostly we just need to get over ourselves and concentrate on Jesus. On love.
I can only write this now, on the other side of the dark. It’s been eight months, and only now am I beginning to feel like the heaviness and the gray is lifting. I understand that God was and is walking through this with me. In times of heaviness, depression, and angst, God does not desert us–indeed God is always faithful. It is just that we have to push aside those gray clouds of despair in ways that we aren’t used to. That yearning? That desire for God to fill our hearts? God created it in our hearts from the beginning. (He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. –Ecclesiastes 3:11). No, we cannot fathom it, though sometimes we can get a glimpse. Sin–my sin, your sin, our sin–is the gray cloud we have to slog through (the slough of despond, anyone?) and we, being humans, sometimes have a hard time pushing it out of our eyes, our minds, our hearts. But remember,
He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in Him.–Psalm 40:2-3
He, in this Psalm is Jesus. The one who came to atone for our sins and the sins of the whole world. (See 1 John 2:2) Keep your eyes on Jesus. The darkness will not last forever, sojourner. Fight through those gray clouds, for on the other side is the Son, waiting to welcome you, me, us back into His presence. He never left; we were the ones in the far country.
I wish I could tell you that the shower is finished and show you a lovely photo. But just as our interrupted faith journeys sometimes take months to get back on track, alas, so do home projects. And it’s best if I tell myself that it really doesn’t matter that much. It’s just a material desire, unimportant, and all things material will pass away.
(I just hope that I don’t pass away before the shower is finished….)
Spend some time finding and writing verses about God’s faithfulness and our trust in Him. I will get you started with one of my favorites:
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. — Psalm 51:10-12