“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven …” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).
Unless you live on a balmy tropical island where the temperatures stay fairly constant and there are few indications of seasonal change, your life is full of rhythms that you don’t think about much, but which are always there. Day and night, hot and cold, spring and fall, summer and winter, daily high temperatures and daily lows. We take such rhythms for granted and don’t particularly stress if we find ourselves in a period of darkness, cold, or whatever – we know that the warmth or the light will return in time.
Although we may understand and live with this aspect of physical life, as Christians we don’t always apply that understanding spiritually – although it is equally true of our spiritual lives. In his classic work The Screwtape Letters C.S. Lewis noted that there are times when God seems particularly close to us and our spiritual lives seem to go easily: our faith seems strong, we want to do what is right – and temptations to do otherwise are relatively easy to overcome. Yet there are other times when God may appear to be more distant, our faith seems less secure, and overcoming temptation is somehow harder.
Our spiritual lives, just like our physical lives, are a series of ups and downs, of “highs” and “lows” as well. But that is not the bad news we often presume it to be. In writing about this fluctuation in our spiritual experience, Lewis stated: “Now it may surprise you to learn that [God] … relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else.” Although Lewis used the terms “peaks” and “troughs” and we may perhaps say “highs” and “lows,” his point is clear – and is one that is worth thinking about.
Lewis effectively argued that it is during our “troughs” or low periods, much more than during our “peaks” or high periods, that we are growing into the sort of creatures God wants us to be: “He wants [us] to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there, He is pleased even with [our] stumbles.” This is an important understanding of our spiritual lows – that during those times our efforts may be especially appreciated by God. So Lewis also writes, “… the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best.” When we demonstrate that we want to continue to walk with God even when we do not feel inspired or particularly blessed or helped, we also demonstrate the reality of our faith and commitment.
That is a truly encouraging perspective if we can grasp it and make it ours. Although the spiritual aspect of our lives has its ups and downs and times of drought as well as times of abundance, God can and does use our spiritual low periods to increase our personal growth and service, if we let him. In fact, some of the greatest advances in Christian missionary and aid work have occurred at extreme low points in the lives of those who have been instrumental in bringing them about. Sometimes we are just more receptive to the needs of others and to possibilities to serve that we do not tend to see when we are cheerful and buoyed up in good times.
Just like the daily or seasonal weather cycles with their “high” and “low” temperatures, we will always experience highs and lows in our spiritual lives. But realizing that lows do not last forever and that while we are in them they may provide opportunities to grow that spiritual highs do not give us can make a big difference in how we live and what we accomplish. Looked at this way, we can strive to persevere through problems and discouragements not only in order to survive and to make it to the end of the road to which we are called, but also to grow and to accomplish more than we could perhaps otherwise have done.
*All C.S. Lewis quotes in this article are taken from chapter 8 of The Screwtape Letters, originally published in London during 1941 and 1942.