If you ever find yourself with all your physical needs being met, plentiful opportunities to better yourself and contribute to the world, many kind and generous people in your life, and the freedom to make your own choices, but at the same time with persistent feelings of loneliness and emotional, spiritual deadness–a bizarre, but strangely common experience, especially in the West–you may also discover that you are the one stealing your own joy.
Do you pray? Do you regularly pour your heart out, and “vomit your feelings,” to the air, believing (sometimes barely) that Someone is there with you, listening? The Father is the very best listener. All the irrational fears and terrifying seeds of doubt in your heart that you disguise even to your dearest friends, even to yourself, do not scare or surprise him, like they do you. He knows you are “dust” (Psalm 103:13-14), even while you expect yourself to be solid rock.
Do you even realize that you do not pray, not really? Do you find yourself able to get through your day without explicitly surrendering to God, and not even notice? Maybe that makes you feel guilty, but it ought to make you feel hungry. You are wired for intimacy with God. Through Jesus the Mediator, he is all yours. If you do not express yourself to him and voice all the vague inclinations that otherwise fester beneath your skin–confession, thanksgiving, pleading, questioning, praise, all mixed together–you are cheating yourself of what you were made for. Talk to your Father.
Do you serve? In a washing feet kind of way? Does your routine ever expose you to broken, needy people? To dirty people? Or are you surrounded by the clean and stable? Are you committed to any relationships that require you to faithfully love an unlovely person? Or do you hoard your love only for people who love you, like the pagans do?
And the acts of service that you do–do you do them where other people see and praise you for them, thus robbing yourself of the more profound reward that only comes from God (Matthew 6:1)?
The Christian has every reason in the world to sacrificially serve broken people. The command to do so was the driving thrust of Jesus’ moral teachings. Yet, often, we still don’t do it, and, again, we cheat ourselves of what God made us for, even of what God saved us for. You can stay in your clean, presentable, predictable rut, and meticulously arrange your comforts, for as long as you like. You will discover, however, that your heart is only getting duller, your spirit drier, and your life more meaningless. Eventually you will find, to your distress, that no matter how often you spoke of him or hung around his friends, you never really knew Jesus.
“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.'” Matthew 25:44-45 (New Living Translation)
Hug the sick and dying, listen to the unstable and homeless, earn the trust of fearful children, wash the feet of the tired and smelly. To begin, simply commit to befriend one such person. First, open up your heart to her burdens. Next, make the unlovely lovely, by loving her.
To avoid loneliness and emotional, spiritual deadness: pray and serve. It seems almost deceptively simple, especially to those of us who are fluent in the dialect of the church. What could be more basic to the Christian pattern of life?
Admittedly, “winter” seasons in the spiritual life certainly still exist, and truthfully, they often most poignantly afflict those who are closest to God. The underlying drive behind all our “good works” is not the pursuit of happiness but the pursuit of holiness, for the sake of showing love to Christ. And yet, at the end of every crappy day in my otherwise good life, I consistently realize two things: that I haven’t truly spoken with God, and I haven’t truly served anyone but myself.
We must “make more time” for these two things in our lives: so that God may show more of himself to us, and so that we may be fully human, and fully alive.