Sunday, October 17, 2010

Spiritual Ups and Downs

One thing that I've always liked about journaling (whether on paper or on screen) is that I can sort out my emotions in print and come to a better understanding of myself.  I'm not sure if it makes for good reading, but some things are more important than being witty or entertaining.
I've realized over the past month or so that my spiritual life has taken a turn towards the dry and dusty, and that this has begun to effect other aspects of my life as well.  Peter and I have been especially on edge with each other, I've felt particularly inept at parenting our toddler, and we've all been struck with a nondescript, stubborn cold.  I say that I've realized it over the past month because while the realization was sudden, looking back I can see that I've been drying out for quite some time.
At first, I'm inclined to say that this started when Z was born and we moved from our wonderful little parish down south.  But, as I think about it, it's been years since I experienced a really good spiritual high.  Growing up in a charismatic, non-denominational, low threshold, very cool church, having regular spiritual highs at retreats and conferences was a normal part of my life and I came to depend on them as a way to survive normal life.  Running from one roller coaster to the next, if you will.
Now, I feel like I've spent the last few years wandering around outside the amusement park, not quite sure what to do with myself, but occasionally finding a sledding hill or swing set, if you will.  Ok, so the metaphor isn't that great, but I'm having trouble getting my head around all this as it is, much less putting it into coherent sentences.
When we found ourselves in the Orthodox church, I felt a bit of that spiritual high at first, but now I think that might have been just a reaction to how different it all was.  In any case, that feeling has worn off now, and I'm feeling all dried out again.  And yet, I know that I'm being watered.  Every week, I'm confronted by something in the the liturgy that encourages, challenges, and pushes me further in my walk, closer to Christ than I was the week before.  Is it possible that I am so used to being deluged in the Spirit that I don't recognize a good soaking rain for what it is?  Am I resentful and bitter because my spiritual journey isn't meeting my expectations of excitement and thrill?  Am I really that petty?  Apparently so -- Lord have mercy.
This weekend the monastery held a spiritual retreat.  We had planned on both going, switching off on kid duty throughout the day.  Instead, with me and both kids not feeling well, I stayed home.  Peter went briefly in the morning and again in the afternoon.  There was some miscommunication between us about when he was going, and I exploded with anger, jealously and resentment towards him.  While there were many reasons for all of my ugly emotions, one of them was that he got to go off on a spiritual retreat (if only for a few hours), while I was stuck at home.  Somewhere in my stuffed up head, I figured that the only way I would get that spiritual high that I'd been longing for was by going on retreat, and that chance was denied me.  (We have since made up and forgiven each other on this point.)
Now, looking back on my outburst, I am realizing that, like so many other things in my life currently, my assumed source of spiritual renewal has to change.  In the same way that I can no longer assume that I will get 8 hours of sleep every night, or that I will be able to do so much as take a shower without someone crying for me by the time I'm done, I can no longer depend on a weekend away or a special conference to re-energize my walk with God.  I must finally do the hard work of climbing the mountain, instead of looking for a way to catapult myself to the top only to fall back to earth again.
I am confident that living the Orthodox life will help me do this.  How, exactly, this works will, I think, be the subject of many future posts.  For now, I'm going to say evening prayers with my husband, and attempt to get a good night's sleep and do better tomorrow.


  1. Boy can I identify with this post. Early in my spiritual life I went from "spiritual event" to spiritual event hoping to get a "fix" of good feelings. Then my life settled into a long, hard, dusty, dry road with no water and end in sight (still none...) I got an email from someone recently and he quoted something I apparently wrote or said to him that I don't recall, but it spoke back to me and fits here: "After 40 years of 'spiritual highs' and the downfalls due to the pride, delusion and passions associated with them, I've grown wary of them and hope to never have one again."

  2. I can empathize. I am too suffering such a drought. Too often we base our religion on feelings. But, we all have to come down from the mountain eventually.

    Christ sanctified the whole of life. We are called to do the same. This means not fleeing ever towards the mountains, but entering into the deepest valleys.

    To liberally quote Mother Teresa, "We are not called to success. We are called to faithfulness." Persevere, run the race, that you may receive your crowns. In time, you shall know the meaning of Immanuel. When that day comes, you shall no longer thirst for spiritual highs, for you shall know that "Christ is among us, and ever shall be".