Are low points a sign of growth or decay?

Written by Josiah Piett

I used to think when I felt stuck in my relationship with God it was because I was doing something wrong. I often responded to this feeling by doing a self-audit. I’d begin by looking at my outward actions or inactions, and then I’d examine my attention, affection, and desires. This self-audit was essentially my attempt at seeing how I was living up to my claim of following Jesus.

I do believe sometimes we can get stuck in our relationship with God due to our own disobedience. The irony is, feeling stuck can be the conduit for us to become more aware of our relationship with God. Without this prompt, some of us would never even begin the journey of self-examination.

If you resonate with feeling stuck, it might be helpful to set apart some time with God to reflect and to create your own version of self-audit.

But be encouraged that God never shames us. Conviction and shame are very different things. Shame leads us to fear, despair, disappointment, and distraction and leaves us feeling worthless.

Conviction leads us to repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, and wholeness—all pointing to a deeper experience of God’s mercy. What if feeling stuck is a grace from God and a sign that Holy Spirit is calling you to a deeper place in your relationship with God?

Yet for many of us, being stuck can actually be a sign of our obedience to God, not disobedience.

Many saints before us have described different stages of faith experienced by those choosing to follow Jesus.

Despite there being a variety of opinions of the phases of that journey, the teachers such as John of the Cross, Dallas Willard, Henry Nouwen, and Janet O. Hagberg all describe the necessary experience of feeling stuck in our relationship with Jesus.

You may be familiar with some of the descriptions for these periods—a wall, barrier, dark night, chasm, desert, wilderness, etc. A variety of Christian traditions and interpretations see these experiences as essential to growing deeper with God. They do not see this as an experience as being caused by disobedience but as a deeper sign of obedience.

Many of us have been praying desperately to God to go deeper in our relationship with Him. We have been seeking God with all our devotion. We long to go deeper, we seek it, we pray for it, we want to live it. Yet as we pray for more, the less we seem to have.

On the surface, this experience is completely counterintuitive. And yet below the surface, God is inviting us to deepen our faith in Him. It comes through the mystery of presence. It’s daily manna, daily bread that we become dependent upon. This is where our relationship with God is not dependent upon our sensational experiences of God but something much more subtle, deep, and mysterious.

Feeling stuck turns into an opportunity to rest not in our feelings of God nor in our actions toward Him, but in a sweet and subtle assurance of the mercy found only in His Son. This is where disciplines such as silence, solitude, and contemplation become companions in our journey of faith. The total opposite of decay, being stuck can be a sign of an invitation to grow right where we are.

Josiah Piett is a house church pastor and spiritual director living in Niagara Falls, Ont. Read more of his “Digging deeper” column.