There are times in your life when you feel so close to God: at summer camp on the fourth night of the trip; during a season where you’ve experienced difficulty but have seen God pull you through; a time when the words of the bible seem to be leaping off the page and into your heart.
It’s in times like these where God feels incredibly close. You just feel so alive.
And then there are times when you just don’t. You feel spiritually apathetic–as though God were a million miles away. This is what theologians have come to call the “dark night of the soul.”
And what’s crazy is that you might feel totally fine emotionally and relationally. In fact, you might be in a position where you are completely happy and healthy in every aspect of your life apart from one–you just don’t feel God anymore.
You don’t want to read your bible. You don’t want to pray. You still maybe want to be a good person (or at least to be seen as one). But you really don’t want to engage in the mission that Jesus has entrusted to you. You feel spiritually apathetic.
You can certainly go through the motions–attend church every Sunday, bow your head whenever someone calls for prayer, quote bible verses that you memorized years ago. But you just don’t really care. At least not the way you used to.
If that sounds like you, I want you to know that you’re not the first person who has experienced this kind of spiritual apathy. There’s no shame in being in this kind of season. It’s a natural part of the progression of our faith.
But it’s during times like these when we need to make a concerted effort to continue moving toward God, even when we don’t sense him moving toward us.
The road back to spiritual vibrancy isn’t an easy one. But you’re never so far gone that you can’t come back stronger than ever.
Here are 4 things you can do to fight back against spiritual apathy.
1. Continue to do the things you don’t want to do.
While it would be nice if you could, you just can’t control the way you feel.
But that’s isn’t to say that your actions have no effect on your feelings. Jesus once said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). That means that wherever you choose to funnel your precious resources–your time, effort, and money–your heart will eventually follow. It might not be instantaneous, but it will eventually happen.
So if you are feeling spiritual apathy begin to weigh you down, choose to keep doing the things that you don’t want to do anymore.
Continue to read your bible, even though you don’t want to–and even though you may spend fifteen minutes rereading the same chapter that your mind continues to drift away from halfway through. Keep praying, even though you feel like your prayers are just bouncing off the ceiling. Remain planted in a Christian community, even though you’d rather do something else. Keep on serving at church, even though it’s not really exciting anymore.
If you do that, it might not happen all at once, but eventually your heart will be in it again. And this isn’t an invitation to be dishonest or inauthentic. But if you still believe and know that these things are important, continue to lean into them, even though it’s really hard.
Choose to live out your beliefs, even if your feelings aren’t cooperating. Your feelings can’t dictate your actions. And the good news is that eventually they’ll catch back up.
2. Invite others to keep you accountable.
The thing about doing something really difficult is that you should never do it alone. So if you find yourself in a situation where you’re feeling spiritually apathetic, don’t struggle alone.
Invite close friends and loved ones to help you through this process. Have them keep you accountable to your goals, whether that’s to your bible reading and prayer goals, or other disciplines you’re trying to cultivate (or habits you’re trying to kill, for that matter).
Ask your accountability partners to check in on you regularly. Choose friends who are both empathetic and disciplined to ask you how you’re feeling and to check in on how you’re doing with your goals.
And this may sound obvious, but don’t lie to your accountability partners. It defeats the entire purpose of making them your accountability partners. Be honest with them, and know that if you have chosen the right people, they won’t make you feel shamed for not being perfect.
As you journey back from spiritual apathy, give yourself grace, and allow yourself to experience the grace that others will give you during this time.
3. Watch out for sins you’re holding onto.
This isn’t always the case, but sometimes the reason you feel distant from God has something to do with the sins and bad habits you have allowed to creep into your life. And the more you give your heart over to sin, the less you have to enjoy God with.
Sin has a way of lulling us away from spiritual things, making us see them as pointless or boring. And before we know it, we’re far further down the road than we ever expected to be. Don’t let that be you. Take stock of what you’re allowing to enter your life. And where necessary, make adjustments.
We have to constantly keep close watch over ourselves, lest we begin to slide. Even, and especially, if we’re in any kind of leadership This is what Paul tells his young friend, Timothy.
“Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:16)
We’re all prone to temptation. Use this time of searching to begin to root out where you might be giving the enemy a foothold.
4. Don’t give up.
Perhaps most important in this process of fighting back against spiritual apathy is that we not give up. That’s what our apathy is constantly telling us to do, but we just can’t listen.
It can be so frustrating when you’re trying so hard and still feel like you’re not seeing the transformation in your life that you had hoped for. But remember that God doesn’t always work on our time schedule. And while that can sometimes be discouraging from our perspective, God is never late. Continue to believe that and stay the course.
That’s what Paul encourages us to do when we feel like throwing in the towel.
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)
Eventually, you will reap a harvest of goodness, so long as you don’t give up.
Even now, God is working.
The theologian Thomas Merton once wrote,
“God, Who is everywhere, never leaves us. Yet He seems sometimes to be present, sometimes to be absent. If we do not know Him well, we do not realize that He may be more present to us when He is absent than when He is present.”
Just because you can’t feel God, that doesn’t mean that he isn’t with you every step of the way. In fact, he may be doing more during this season to grow and mature your faith than during the season when you felt completely on fire.
God is working through all things for your eternal good. So hang in there. Brighter days are ahead.