Christian Living

Where I go when faith feels dry

I don’t always see it coming. But some days just creep up on me where I know my faith feels lacking. Not absent—just sucked of its life. Dry, dusty, like Miss Havisham’s dining room. Sometimes it happens when I’ve let life get in the way: work, parenting and life-admin have taken centre stage while the active daily elements of my faith diminish. Sometimes it happens even when I’m reading my Bible every day and praying. But somehow my heart is not in it. I haven’t come to the Bible expectantly or approached God like….well, like I really care.

It’s not that we have to feel faith all the time. I sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that if I’m not ‘feeling it’ then it doesn’t count. But often faith is not an emotional response that drives a physiological feeling. Often faith is just a quiet and contented knowing. But when quiet contentment feels like a dull deadness, it’s a spur to action.

So when these dry moments strike, the first thing I do is keep on reading my Bible. It might feel cold and grey, but it keeps me in the place where God speaks and where will do his work in me by his Spirit, whether I feel it or not.

Sometimes when I’m struggling to find a feast for myself, I’ll make use of the biblical insights of others by reading a Christian book. Dane Ortlund’s Gentle and Lowly, Glenna Marshall’s The Promise in His Presence and Hannah Anderson’s Made for More have all provided cool water to a dry pasture for me. Sometimes I’ll also supplement with a biography of an eminent Christian—not to feel like a loser by comparison, but to see their struggles and faith processes. I’ve loved and would recommend Naomi Reed’s autobiographical series of her mission work in Nepal (beginning with My Seventh Monsoon), Alister McGrath’s biography of CS Lewis, and Julian Wilson’s The Wesleys.

In those moments when I’m feeling frazzled, I have a process for slowing down and refocusing on what’s important. I find a time and space where I’ll be uninterrupted and sit, eyes closed. I focus on my breathing and the sounds I can hear around me which makes sure my brain is focused in the moment and not distracted by the million things I have to do. Then I have the freedom to ask myself questions (why might I be feeling like this?) and to gradually draw God into it (“Can you help me, God?”). It forces me to slow my brain down, be in the moment, acknowledge how I feel and explore why. No clarity might bubble up, but the important thing is turning my full attention to the state of my faith.

I often try to do something that takes the focus entirely off myself, too. Serving others, whether it’s cooking a meal or helping at kids’ church, can activate faith. The tricky thing is not to overthink it and then feel guilty for serving others as a means of trying to make myself feel better. As Tim Chester says, “Maybe you imagine God looking on and thinking, ‘What a pathetic attempt at righteousness’”.[1] But God made us to serve and to be in community. So tapping into this can really boost and energise our arid faith.

Another string to my bow at times of drought is to connect with trusted Christian brothers and sisters—people who I can be vulnerable with, people who will pray for me, people I delight in. For me, honesty, prayerfulness and laughter can open doors in me that otherwise feel rusted shut.

Places I don’t go are to my phone, or to Netflix or online shopping. Alright, I might do a little of those things, but this is a danger I recognise when my faith feels dry. It’s so easy when you feel adrift to get stuck in these go-to places. But then I end up feeling guilty for filling a gap with easy quick fixes, as though I’m not doing Christianity properly which impacts my faith even more.

Ultimately, we like to think of our faith having a straight ‘onward and upward’ trajectory. But points of drought will happen. So having a healthy go-to response at these times can be helpful. It’s like having shock absorbers on our cars.

At different times, I might employ one or all of the measures I’ve mentioned here, depending on the context and the need… along with one last thing: I pray. My prayers may not be coherent or delivered with a flourish. Often, they may only be a “sorry”, as I ask Jesus to lead me in the Spirit back to his feet. Because at the end of the day, I can’t manufacture a healthy faith. Only he can. All I can provide is the obedience and the willingness.

[1] Tim Chester, Enjoying God, The Good Book Company, 2019, p. 116.