When you don't have the energy to seek God

This letter was written to a Christian lady who wrote from the USA asking what to do when spiritual life seems weak and nothing seems to be worth the effort. Names and personal comments have been removed.


I am responding to your heartfelt question, "What do you do when you just don't have the energy to seek God?"

Since I don't know you I can't provide an answer that's tailored to your circumstances, so I trust you'll pick through my various suggestions. When I write an article I write for myself. It may help some readers but it may be useless for others, because each of us is unique. We don't help ourselves by struggling to make our lives fit someone else's experience. But we can try out other people's ideas, advice and suggestions to see if any of them fit. Treat this like a clothes-shopping trip!

When we say we "don't have the energy" for something it is sometimes just a polite way of saying that we don't really want to do it. Parents sometimes say this to gently refuse their children's invitation to join in some unappealing childish activity. If you are, in effect, saying that you are not very interested in seeking God, then the best thing you can do is nothing. You say you have "been doing nothing for a long time now" but it remains the best thing to do if you can't find a burning desire motivating you to do 'something'. God "fills the hungry with good things, but the rich he sends empty away". I am not saying this to sting you into action, but to help you discover the nature of your own feelings. Don't condemn yourself, whatever you find, because getting to know yourself better is always a step forward.

Another perfectly valid reason for not wanting something is that we have enough already. We are full up, and any more will make us sick. Are your spiritual taste buds worn out? To move away from the food analogy, another possibility is that you have done the same things and gone to the same places so much that they have become boring. Many Christians are in that position, and find the gospel boring, though they would not wish to admit that to their friends. If that's roughly where you are now, why not try something different? Are you a reader? If so, try reading some stuff that will stretch and challenge your beliefs until you find out what really matters to you. Find teachings that are in opposition to the kinds of thing you were brought up with. If you were a fundamentalist try some 'liberal' books; if you have always been a non-conformist type, try some ideas from the ritualist stables; if you have been a creationist, try some popular science books. These are ways of deliberately giving yourself a shake to find out what you really believe and what is there only because you have never questioned it. You need not fear that this might turn you into an atheist. Belief in God is in the heart and is not cancelled out by a mere increase of knowledge. On the other hand, if you are harbouring doctrines that you don't believe deep-down, they will create a self-doubt that devalues the things you truly believe. Dig down to discover your foundations.

If you don't much enjoy reading, you can challenge yourself just as much in other ways. You could go to lectures; you could seek out relevant television programmes; you could chat with people who hold different views to yourself. Just remember that the object is not to swamp yourself with activity, but to stretch yourself enough to learn what is driving you (or holding you back).

Another possibility is that you are frustrated by a sense of guilt about what you 'ought' to be doing. Your search for God is fruitless because it is driven by guilt rather than led by faith. You need to turn away from your sense of unworthiness and towards the sense of God himself. The epistle to the Hebrews says "he that comes to God must believe that he is and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him". Much Christian teaching puts the emphasis on the "diligently seek" part of that verse and tries to make everyone feel that they should be working hard for their God-experience. The old monastic contemplatives taught that seeking God was hindered by too much sense of self or too much sense of God! They taught a simple form of meditation; avoiding attempts to visualise stories about Jesus; avoiding thoughts about their own life or other people's needs. They would hold just one word in their thoughts - perhaps the word 'God' or the word 'love'. In seeking God we need first to seek the quiet confidence that he is (Meister Eckhart spoke about 'the is-ness of God'). Meditation, as distinct from prayer, is an exercise worth learning in order to 'centre' yourself, and you can get a lot of help on the subject these days. My favourite book on the subject is the mediaeval classic "The Cloud of Unknowing".

Most of all, in this letter, I want to emphasise that you have no need to punish yourself with worry or guilt. Remember that your thoughts, beliefs, ideas and experiences make no difference at all to the truth of God himself. If he is there to be found today, he is still there to be found tomorrow. Nothing persuades me that God is in any hurry, so I am prepared to be patient with myself. My life may look godless from the viewpoint of some regular church-goers or fanatical evangelisers. But I have nothing to prove - I am content.

I said that my articles tend to describe my own experience and that is more-or-less what I have done in this letter. You are unique and need answers that are individual to you, but I hope this will be of some help.

Yours sincerely

© Derrick Phillips - 1997