What Am I Doing Wrong When I Don’t Feel Close to God?
I feel like my faith keeps failing. I will have these moments when I feel close to God and strong in my faith, but then I always “crash” and feel nothing.
WHAT AM I DOING WRONG?
This is a great question, and I would like to look at it in two parts. The first part is about how completely normal it is to experience what you’ve described, and the second part is about what we can do about it.
First, I will often talk with people who are in your exact situation, and they will share your exact concern: their feelings of closeness to God ebb and flow. Some days you feel incredibly close to God and strong in your faith, and other days God seems so distant and your faith seems weak. This can be painful on its own, but what often adds to the difficulty is the fact that many people do not anticipate these dry times. Very few people know that this is a completely normal experience for anyone in any relationship.
Think of it this way: no one actually expects to be on a constant “high” in any human relationship. No one thinks that every moment they spend with their best friend or their spouse is supposed to be one unending thrill ride. We know (and expect) that there will be many times when we “feel” nothing spectacular in these relationships. In fact, largely feeling very little is absolutely normal. We have made the decision to love the other, and we have done this regardless of how loving them makes us feel.
Even more than this, to expect a relationship to be nothing but one peak experience after another would be foolish. It would neither be realistic nor good for us. As beings made in God’s image and likeness, we have been created for love. Not for the emotion of love, but for the act of love.
Love is sometimes filled with affection. This “affect” of love is, of course, a welcome gift whenever it is given. But true love needs to be more than affection, it is meant to be effective. This means that love is meant to “move.” It is meant to be a choice. It is more than a feeling (thank you, Boston), and reaches a certain degree of perfection when we choose to love in the absence of the positive feelings we get. Many of us have experienced the joy of being “in love.” This joy is a gift when it is present. But when we “get” something by loving another, there is a certain degree of self-love involved. That isn’t bad (at all!), but true love becomes an even greater gift when we love the other for their own sake, not for anything we get from loving them.
Being able to choose to love another without feeling anything in return is a sign of maturity and a sign of genuine self-gift. The same is true when it comes to our relationship with God. There are times when God gives us the joy of feeling close to him. There are times when we experience the grace of those peak experiences with the Lord. But he also knows that we are made for a deeper and truer love than this.
And, since he is God, he wants us to grow to the maturity and selfless love that he has made us for. Because of this, in God’s wisdom, he actually gives us seasons where we feel little to no emotion in our relationship with him. He does not do this to “test” us (in the sense that he wants to find out how long we will be able to stand the pain of feeling alone), but because it is the only way we could possibly grow into the kind of people who have a mature love.
God is never absent from us. God is never actually distant. We merely experience what feels like absence and what feels like distance so that we can choose to love God for his own sake, and not for how it makes us feel. It is like the parent who loves and cares for their child; the child loves the parent for the good gifts they give her. But the parents ultimately want the child to love them, not merely their gifts. This can only be done if the gifts are taken away.
In the case of our prayer lives, God is the giver of all good gifts. But he desires that we learn to love him and not merely the gifts he gives us. We can only learn to love him when He suspends our “feeling close.”
So this is nothing to panic about. Continue to choose God as you know he has called you to. Continue to pray, to approach the sacraments, and live out your vocation with faithfulness. Next month, we will talk about the best ways you can continue to grow when it has become difficult.