Is but a shallow substitute
For seeking connection
Is but a shallow substitute
For seeking connection
18 And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. 19 And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. 20 And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.
I have an “anxious attachment style,” which means that I am afraid of abandonment, frequently seek reassurance that I am loved, and stress out when I am left by myself for too long. Therefore statements like “it is not good that the man should be alone” ring very true to me!
Now I have been learning how to take those insecurities to God instead of other people, as He is the only one that can answer them in the deepest parts of my heart. He is able to bring me to a place of grounded authenticity that no one else can. But even when I am in that authentic place, I do still feel that need for human connection, for a companion, for an equal partner, for a complement to my mind and heart. Between the extreme of “anxious attachment” and the other extreme of “avoidant attachment” there is that happy middle ground of “secure attachment” which all of us need to fully thrive.
And as wonderful as animals are, they cannot meet that need. Perhaps they can relate to us in what it means to be a living thing, but not in what it means to be human. We were crafted to need other people, to need friends, and to need a soulmate.
Lately the winter months have been difficult for me. Maybe they always were and I just didn’t pick up on it until now. In any case, I have noticed a distinct apathy that comes over my heart at this time, a tendency to isolate, and a desire to pull back into emotional hibernation.
It was from this context that I began this study. Seeking both to understand why people come into these spiritually apathetic seasons and if there is anything we can do when caught in them.
The scriptures speak a great deal about peace within a storm, but I wanted to find accounts of fire within a stifling numbness! I did find a few insights that encourage me, but I should mention that this is definitely still a work in progress for me. Here are a few of the guiding principles that I have learned and which will be guiding me on my way forward.
Many times our distance from God is self-inflicted. And it doesn’t only have to be sin that keeps Him at arm’s length from us. Yes the soul that is burdened with unrepented vice will struggle to feel His love, but also the soul that is just complacent and lazy.
Our relationship to God is an actual relationship. It requires communication, it requires prioritization, it requires making sacrifices. Like every other healthy relationship, this one takes time and effort. It is hard. In fact it is more difficult due to how our connection to God can only be built on sacred ground, there is little of significance that He can say to our mask. He does not require us to be perfect to feel His light, but He does require us to be genuine and sincere.
And that is, perhaps, the greatest obstacle for me when I wish the spirit was more alive in my heart. It just doesn’t work if I am casual in my discipleship, if I offer a prayer with half my mind and none of my heart, if I’m not actively trying to be my truest self. God is not absent, He is already waiting in the deepest recesses of my soul, I just need to find my way back to there.
Enos 1:4-5- And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.
And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.
3 Nephi 9:20- And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.
Reaching that place of authenticity is difficult, but more difficult is to remain there. When we are caught up in a rapture it might be hard to imagine ever feeling spiritually apathetic again. But if in this spiritual awakenings eventually give way to spiritual sleep. I would like nothing more than to be convinced that endless rapture is possible to obtain during our mortal walk…but right now I doubt it.
Consider the feeling of wellness and purification one feels after a good workout. The blood flows freely through the veins, the heart pumps happily, the mind is fresh and alert, and all we would like is to remain in this physical state forever. But we don’t. Without constant physical stimulation our body reclines into a state of needed rest.
And initially this is a good thing. Both our bodies and our souls need to be stimulated and exercised, but then they also need a period to settle, to let the long-term benefits work their way in deep. The problem arises when rest and rejuvenation is not then followed up with stimulation again. If left too long, relaxation just becomes laziness.
We do not have to be in a constant state of rapture, just as we do not have to constantly exercise. But if we will pursue spiritual experiences and exercise as a regular habit, then comes an overall improvement of spiritual and physical life. We will be more awakened, even when in a state of repose. And we will become able to push even deeper and deeper into spiritual and physical health.
Matthew 15:32, 37- Then Jesus called his disciples unto him, and said, I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way.
And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets full.
John 10:10- The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
It is only natural that our own betterment depends on our own effort. This system is good for us, it promotes agency and independence, it motivates to work through the hard to get to the better.
But we can become obsessed with trying to do it all on our own. We can hold ourselves to impossible standards, we can get frustrated at our inability to reach the unreachable, we can become stuck because we aren’t accepting help.
And in this matter of bringing our hearts back to life we need to realize that all our efforts really do is invite the awakening of our souls. They do not enact the actual awakening. The awakening happens as a miracle, it is performed only by God.
And in my experience, once I permit Him to do so, God instigates the awakening of my heart far sooner than I expected and far more fully, too. Once I stop getting in His way I discover that He truly is gracious and liberal with His love.
Ezekiel 36:26- A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.
Mark 9:23-24- Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.
Ephesians 2:4-5- But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins.
Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.
And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.
And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.
And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God
My soul hungered
I cried unto him in mighty prayer
All the day long did I cry unto him
I did raise my voice high that it reached the heavens
Look at what powerful earnestness is in these verses from Enos. Look at how much he wanted this absolution from sin. Look at how long he worked before finding the voice of the Lord.
And he put in this much effort because that was how much effort it took. He didn’t put in only an hour, because he hadn’t found God yet after an hour. And he didn’t call it quits after a half day, because he hadn’t found God in half a day. He kept with it until he found his way through. And I am inclined to believe that God was not simply waiting for some arbitrary amount of time to elapse before reaching out, but rather He was simply waiting on Enos to be ready to receive Him. God spoke after a day because after a day Enos was in the right place.
So, too, when my own heart feels covered in moss and disconnected from God. If I want that connection restored I have to ask myself whether I am willing to pursue that connection for as far as it has to be pursued. Am I willing to ask for what I need to ask? Am I willing to give up what I need to give up? Am I willing to become what I need to become? And if the answers to any of those is “not yet,” then am I willing to keep wrestling with it until I am willing?
And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:
And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?
And the Lord passed by, and a great wind rent the mountains; but the Lord was not in the wind
And after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake
And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire
The Lord was somewhere around Elijah, passing by, but He could not be perceived. There were other loud and impressive forces going on at the same time, which were magnificent in their own way, but the Lord just wasn’t to be found in them.
Sometimes there is too much loudness in my own life to perceive God as well. I become bored in quiet moments and look for a song or a video or a notification to keep me stimulated. And maybe I will be able to find something loud, impressive, and even magnificent there…but I won’t be able to find God.
And after the fire a still small voice
God is always about us, but it is very, very rare that He uses His voice of thunder. Instead, if we want to hear Him, we will have to be very quiet and still.
I believe He speaks so softly because He does not want to be heard by just a part of us. He wants to be heard in the heart so that we are likely to heed Him. He wants us to fully be ourselves, with no other baggage to get in the way. So He will wait until we come fully into our own hearts and are our most authentic self, and then we will find Him.
The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.
The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy
Once we dwelled with a direct connection to God, now being apart from Him feels like being spiritually catatonic. It is a debilitating condition, one that many of us misdiagnose and then chase all manner of false remedies to try and fix.
These remedies are like the thieves described in this verse, come to sink us even lower than we were before. Some of them promise artificial sustenance through addictions, others promise release through numbness to the pain. Both of these paths deaden our soul more than it already was. They distract us by over-stimulation or by silencing of the senses, all while leaving the spirit entirely dissatisfied.
I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly
What we really need is to recognize that our souls just aren’t designed to live without a connection to our Maker. We simply cannot thrive without Him, it isn’t possible.
Man did not breathe until God put it into his nostrils to do so, and the soul does not thrive until God has been allowed to stoke a fire within it.
I once went to a spiritual retreat in the mountains. There were sermons shared, a great deal of prayer, and time alone to walk in nature. It was a wonderful, spiritual experience. Throughout all the first day I felt my heart opening up and connecting to God. Away from the distractions of the world I could really hear God clearly. We had a more direct communication than I was used to, and I properly understood where I was in life, what was holding me back, and what God would like me to do to advance further.
But when I woke up on the second day of the retreat I found a strange numbness had come over me. I attended the first sermons of the day and struggled to be fully present with them. By the time I hit the second or third lecture the messages had rubbed away my emotional walls and I started to feel spiritually awake again. I had another positive experience throughout the rest of the day.
The third morning the coating of numbness was even thicker. I really wanted to engage with the spirit but it felt like many layers had grown on my heart overnight. The exposure to God, while wonderful, had been tenderizing. There had been a great deal of emotion and my heart had felt more raw and exposed than it was accustomed to. Just like how skin rubbed raw will begin to blister and callous to protect the tender flesh, my heart was toughening itself against further feeling.
This time I only half coaxed my heart back out of its shell. It had reached its saturation point and needed to rest.
Overall the retreat was still a very positive experience. I felt inspired to make some long-term changes to my life and I continue to carry the benefits of that to this day, three years later. I also left with an important lesson about my heart, though. It had an emotional capacity, a threshold for what it was willing to feel. And just like any other muscle, the heart has to be exercised to increase that capacity. I needed more experiences like this retreat to acclimate it to prolonged deep feelings.
Sometimes we feel perfectly genuine and authentic. We are spiritually awake and directly connected to God. We feel committed to everything that is good and ready to make every needed change in our lives. We are vulnerable and open to receiving the love of God and others.
And then we wake up the next day and feel nothing. It is as if our soul felt too exposed and grew several layers overnight to shield it. And even if we know that the previous state was better we can’t just flip a switch to return to get back there.
With this study I want to consider how we return to a genuine and open-hearted place when we’re stuck in the doldrums. I want to consider the practices of prophets and saints in the scriptures, and what ways they found to keep their connection to God fresh.
In the meantime I would love to hear about your own experiences on the matter. Can you recall a moment of spiritual fervor followed by apathy? Were you able to break through to deeper feelings again? What methods did you employ, and how did you know to use them?
I want to start off by acknowledging that there’s almost always “an angle” in the blogosphere. So many comments and likes are left only in the hope of receiving comments and likes back again in a sort of ego-exchange. And I’ll be perfectly honest, in my early days of blog-writing I did exactly the same thing.
But I do believe it is possible to do something nice just to be nice, and I do believe that a real sense of community can be built even in the virtual world. And so I’d like to extend an open-ended offer to all of my readers, inviting them to let me know if there’s anything I can help them out with.
This is not about wanting a cross-promotion, a guest appearance, or a testimonial. I mean, let’s be honest, it’s not like I have nearly enough influence to be useful in building your brand anyway, and I stopped caring about building my own brand a while ago.
There are other blogs where’ve I wished I could reach out and have a personal chat with the author, but have felt that that would be too forward. There are people who I’ve respected and would like the opinion of, but don’t want to burden them for their insights. There are people that I would like to work with, just to make something together for the fun of it, but then worried they’d think I was just trying to get something from them for free.
In short, with today’s culture most of us feel like we need to have an invitation to connect. So this is my blanket invitation. This is me saying that if you want to chat, I’d love to chat. If you want me to look at your stuff, I’ll gladly tell you what I think. If you want to try making something together, I’d love to see what we can do and you keep the intellectual property!
My only stipulation is that we approach this in the spirit of genuine friendship. I sincerely do want to help…but even more than that I just want to get to know you better.
It’s an open-ended offer, and if you decide to reach out you don’t have to keep yourself constrained within the following categories and examples. But just to get your ideas flowing, here are a few of the things that I have at least some experience in.
I know, I know, never talk about religion or politics if you don’t want to ruin a friendship, but if you’re on this blog then you already know that this is a very large sector of my life. I’d love to have theological discussions (though never an argument!) with anyone who cares to.
Most of us carefully couch everything we say about religion in order to not say anything offensive, but we all need to find a place where we feel safe enough to talk about very real frustrations and confusions. We need a friend who understands that partially formed ideas are only partially formed ideas. The relationships I value most in life are the ones where I am able to say “hey, this might sound crazy, but what if God is actually like this…?” If that sounds interesting to you, I’d love to chat.
I love writing, and I will always write. Never mind if I’m any good at it or not, I’ll always be trying! But we writer’s are notoriously reclusive. None of our work is good enough to share, because if we show it to someone else they might think its terrible, and then they’ll hate us forever by extension.
Well, let me tell you, I’ve read the work of people that I love dearly and it was astoundingly bad. Yet, in spite of all temptation to forever loathe them for coming up with such a monstrosity, I somehow was still able to respect them as a person. I know, crazy! Not even sure how I came by this ability, but so long as I have it feel free to make use of it for some honest, but kind, feedback!
Or tell me about the idea you’ve always wanted to get rolling, but would like a fellow creator along the journey. Or ask me about my own work, see if I have a starting point laying around that you could build off of. Or just start a conversation about our favorite stories by others.
By profession I am a software developer. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I can fix your computer or build your website…but, depending on your exact situation, maybe I can! If you want an opinion for what your next laptop or cell phone should be, let me know what you’re use-case is and I’ll try to help you find something that you can really love.
Or maybe you’ve wanted to learn a bit more about technology? Perhaps you want to find out what we mean by “its all just 1s and 0s,” or you’d like to setup your first coding environment, or you’re about to take the plunge and build your first PC…let me help, I’d love to.
Or ask me about the hobby projects I’ve been coding up on the side. Tell me about your little game idea that you’ve always wished someone would make. Perhaps you’re a programmer yourself? Why don’t we see if there’s an intersection of interests and make something together?
If none of the above is striking a chord, then talk to me about how you’re afraid your new job is about to let you go. Or how your marriage is on the rocks. Or how you felt so proud of your son yesterday. Or how you’d like to go to therapy but don’t want to be labelled as having a problem. Or how you wish the world saw your autistic brother the same way that you do. Fact is, I’m a darn good listener, and I would be privileged to do just that.
And like I said, don’t feel like the ideas I threw out were the only one’s you can take me up on. Thought of something totally different that could be helpful for you? Great. I’d love to hear it.
To make things simple, you can just email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you don’t get a response, assume that it went to my spam. I promise I won’t ignore any reach-out that I receive. So if I don’t respond to your email within a day, then either send another or try using the Contact page of this site.
Okay, I think that about covers it.
If I’m being honest…I don’t actually expect anyone to reach out.
So prove me wrong.
I really would like to get to know you.
This was a very soothing study for me. My childhood was full of agitation when it came to hearing God’s voice. I really, really wanted to, but just had no idea how. I know that this is a common struggle for many others as well, so hopefully some of you will find the scriptures that we have explored helpful.
One thing that stuck out to me from this study was how it reminded me of the importance of diving into the scriptures. All of my questions had answers, they were there for the taking, but I needed to be in God’s word to find them.
In fact, this experience has itself been a witness to me of the importance of God’s word. As I am about to discuss, God has answers and manifestations ready to share with us, we only have to turn the stones over to find them.
I have been guilty of saying I wanted a closer relationship with God…and then doing absolutely nothing to achieve it. In essence what I was saying was “I want to feel the spirit more…but only if it comes free and without any work.” That’s about the limpest form of ‘wanting’ imaginable!
Receiving a witness from God is free in that it does not cost money, but it does take time and effort. His manifestations are not cheap experiences, to be handed out to anyone that is flippant or half-sincere. God is willing to give us signs and miracles, but He needs us to be serious about this first.
The Spirit is not going to attest to the run-of-the-mill behaviors that we are already doing. It has no need to encourage our default discipleship. Where the Spirit comes in full force is when we do something new, something that stretches us. If you consult your conscience, I am certain there is something that you know you should be doing but really don’t want to. Perhaps it is overcoming a vice, perhaps it is accomplishing a greater good.
Do it. Sincerely. And I promise you that God will show up.
James 1:5-8- If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.
A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.
If you act sincerely, God will show up for you. But in what way depends on Him. My wife and I paid tithing for years without fanfare, it was easy to do. Then we reached a time where finances were tight, and we had to make an actual conscious choice to keep following that commandment. We did, and God showed up for us numerous times.
Each of those times He came in a different and unexpected way. One of the most surprising was when a contractor gave me one extra paycheck after I had finished working for them. I informed the company of the error, but it took them months to process the return. Well it turned out that a one-time-interest-free loan was exactly what we needed to get us through those particular months. We came through, they asked for the refund, and we sent it back without any trouble.
Is that how I asked God to handle the situation? Certainly not, that would have been ridiculous to expect. But I did ask that everything would work out, and it certainly did. When we ask God for miracles and witnesses, we should expect Him to have solutions, but we should keep an open mind for how they might arrive.
Isaiah 55:8-9- For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As a child I was very obsessed with getting rituals right. I thought that if I didn’t say all the right words, then God might shrug off my efforts to reach Him. He was the strict teacher, grading my every prayer, and refusing to show up until I got an A. Thus whether I ever connected or not didn’t really matter to Him, the onus was entirely on me.
But obviously that is not right. God does not merely hope for us to have a relationship with Him, he fights for it. He isn’t “okay” with the idea of you not receiving spiritual witnesses in your life. He didn’t reserve those for Moses and Mary, and shelve them for you. The truth is that He wants this connection even more than we do.
So perhaps He is mysterious, perhaps He appears absent and we don’t understand why, perhaps He hasn’t revealed Himself to us just yet. But it is not because of indifference. Though you cannot always see it, He is always championing for your every spiritual epiphany, tirelessly working for your good.
Psalm 27:14- Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord.
Isaiah 49:14-16- But Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.
Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.
Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.