“Ecstasy and delight are essential to the believer’s soul and they promote sanctification. We were not meant to live without spiritual exhilaration, and the Christian who goes for a long time without the experience of heart-warming will soon find himself tempted to have his emotions satisfied from earthly things and not, as he ought, from the Spirit of God. The soul is so constituted that it craves fulfillment from things outside itself and will embrace earthly joys for satisfaction when it cannot reach spiritual ones. The believer is in spiritual danger if he allows himself to go for any length of time without tasting the love of Christ and savoring the felt comforts of a Savior’s presence. When Christ ceases to fill the heart with satisfaction, our souls will go in silent search of other lovers. By the enjoyment of the love of Christ in the heart of a believer, we mean an experience of the “love of God shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given to us” (Rom. 5:5). Because the Lord has made himself accessible to us in the means of grace, it is our duty and privilege to seek this experience from Him in these means till we are made the joyful partakers of it.” John Flavel (1630-1691)
Part of this quote was one of Diane Lanberg’s short meditations in In Our Lives First. When I read that, my brain started to fire, and when I found this larger context– it was like all those super helpful neurotransmitters were dancing around in a complex, gracious dance in my head— zooming back and forth seemlessly.
That was a moment I was convicted. Not from unhealthy guilt, but from a real desire for God to change me.
I prayed these words-
Oh LORD, I pray to you nearly everyday about my longings, but I have starved myself from my longing for you. So much that I think I don’t need your fulfillment, or that your fulfillment only comes with the change of my circumstances. These longings shield my heart from receiving the feast you have to offer.
I think maybe part of my problem and the human problem is the fear of the deeper longing. Because God is so vast and mysterious he sometimes feels unpredictable to me. Sometimes I feel like he is just there to stonewall me– a cosmic barrier, keeping me away from the things I think I need.
Therefore, we numb our longings for God, so we don’t think we need the Lord anymore. Our passion for him dims, when we stop being present with his risen life. It’s to protect ourselves from a God who seems to be giving us mixed signals.
So what have I done? I get tired, and I stop longing, and I am frozen and don’t know how to move further into the risen presence of the Lord. And from all the weariness, a long-term spiritual sloth is growing and taking over.
Brennan Manning says , “Sloth is our refusal to go on the inward journey, a paralysis that results from choosing to protect ourselves from passion.”
It’s all connected! Just like those neurotransmitters– the things I long for, the longings I have for God, the ways I distract myself and protect myself from ALL of the longings, saying no to the inner journey (whether passive or active), and spiritual slothfulness.
For me this looks like going through the motions, going to church, going to work, trying to enjoy the things which distract me, and repeat.
I LOVE the things that distract me– they are mainly good things– yoga, walking outside, reading a good book, cooking, hanging with friends, taking care of myself. They are things that can add to a life in God. Distractions are very necessary when we are distraught with life– sometimes we HAVE to distract just to make it.
But am I present with Christ in these activities? Most of the time, I have not been.
To repeat Flavel, “The believer is in spiritual danger if he allows himself to go for any length of time without tasting the love of Christ and savoring the felt comforts of a Savior’s presence.”
Yoga and cooking and dating and crafting and walking and dancing and hanging out have become my other lovers (but I mean, ANY of these things can be spiritual…and some reflection on Christianity and yoga).
After I processed this, the other evening, I set out and wrote this poem. I leave you with it:
A Girl Prays to Her TacosThe girl peered at her three tacosa sparkle came to her glazed eyes,and they came to a swift understandingThe girl fed quickly,relishing the bites of mushroomsweet potato and avocado.How perfectly the three could harmonizeHow they even made the kale come to life—with the chipotle taking hold of her,wrapping her woes like a warm blanketand the cilantro dancing on her tonguebringing joy to her strained day.but within three minutesit was overand she was still hungry.(second draft)