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Lately I’ve been in a spiritual slump. Day after day the spiritual feelings haven’t come. My last few visits to the temple have been pleasant, but no more. When I read the scriptures no spiritual reassurance brings tears of joy.
What can I make of this “spiritually barren desert” time? Previous insights offer possible answers. My feelings are fickle, and can change with the weather, my level of physical well-being, and the ups and downs of daily life. I may feel some days that my spiritual efforts are fruitless, or that the Lord is simply not listening to me, but feelings are not facts. Yes, the Holy Ghost often speaks through my feelings—but so can the adversary! Giving the voice of the adversary any credence at all, may result in the feelings of discouragement, self-doubt, bitterness, or depression.
Through it all, I remind myself that faith in Christ is more a decision than a feeling and that faith is the only decision that makes any sense. Some days I make the decision in favor of faith simply because I can’t bear the misery of the alternative. Regardless of my motivation, I am learning that I can choose in favor of faith in Christ no matter how I feel. While my feelings may be strongly affected by illness, fatigue, and negative thoughts, my inner compass is not. I KNOW that Jesus is the Christ even when I do not FEEL it, and I KNOW it because I have the witness of countless others, a multitude of spiritual witnesses I have received myself, and a lifetime of evidence from trying an experiment on the word (see Alma 32). The latter is an example of the kind of action that springs from a decision to plant the seeds from which strong faith in Christ can grow. Faith is an action word, not just a feeling. And righteous action is essential even when I don’t feel like doing it. Making a decision and acting in faith so often brings the feeling we are seeking.
DOING Must Come Before KNOWING
I recall a character in Gerald Lund’s Work and the Glory series named Will. He struggled for months trying to get his own testimony of the truthfulness of the Church and the Book of Mormon, but felt nothing. Finally, one day he came across a scripture that contained the words, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God of whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17). Will pondered the sequence of the words: “Do . . . . and then you shall know. . .” He finally recognized that he had been wanting to KNOW before he made the full effort to DO. But it is so often by the DOING that the KNOWING comes. When Will made the decision to be obedient, to move ahead and DO, the feeling of sure testimony followed soon after.
Following Alma’s advice to DO an experiment on the word is always the best way to learn whether the word is true. I have to plant the seed of faith in Christ, then nurture it, before I can feel the seed swelling and growing. I have to make the decision and then make the effort to plant the seed; otherwise my ground is barren and nothing happens.
Sometimes the doing is simply affirming in the moment what my mind tells me is true and acting on it—regardless of my current feelings or lack thereof. I can act (do my part) knowing that the Lord will always do His part). For instance, when I decide to bear testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel, the moment I carry out that action, the Holy Ghost increases my feelings of testimony, and I am strengthened.
Corrie Ten Boom learned this principle in a poignant way. She and her Dutch family were incarcerated in a Nazi concentration camp for aiding the Jews. Later, Corrie became a traveling evangelist. After one meeting, where she had talked about the power of forgiveness through Christ, a former guard who had given her and her sister brutal treatment approached her. He thrust his hand out and said,
“I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did in that camp, but I would like to hear it from your lips, as well. Fraulein, will you forgive me?” Corrie knew she must forgive him, but said, “Still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. ‘Jesus, help me!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’ And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in in my shoulder, seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. ‘I forgive you, brother,’ I cried. ‘With all my heart.’ For a long moment we grasped each others’ hand, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.” (Clippings from My Notebook, p. 92)
Faith, like forgiveness, is not simply an emotion, but often requires of us a decision to act before the blessings flow.
Deciding in Favor of Faith
In many gospel settings, we make the decision and lift our hand to action; then God supplies the power and the attendant positive feelings. “Faith if it hath not works is dead” (James 2:20). Faith in Christ truly precedes the miracle, and because of that, faith must often be evidenced by decisions that precede wonderful feelings. I can choose faith; I can consciously decide in favor of faith regardless of my feelings or the circumstances. If I follow that decision with faithful actions, the feeling of faith will inevitably show up—sooner or later.
Being Patient with the Process
So today I am choosing positive action and choosing faith, even though I don’t feel anything spiritual at the moment. I trust that the sweet assurance I’ve felt in the past will eventually show up again.
I recognize that it may not be soon. I’ve read about Mother Teresa’s “dark night of the soul” which lasted for years. In a letter to her spiritual leader she wrote, “The more I want him, the less I am wanted. I want to love him as he has not been loved, and yet there is that separation, that terrible emptiness, that feeling of absence of God.” (from The Love that Made Mother Teresa by David Scott.) What impressed me the most about her story was even when she felt forsaken by God she continued to act according to the direction God had given her previously. Through it all she didn’t falter and she didn’t quit. By living her life one little act of love at a time in spite of her own spiritual suffering, she set a beautiful example for us all.
Without knowing it she was following the counsel of a prophet of God. President Ezra Taft Benson, in his address “Do Not Despair” listed a dozen ways to defeat the devil’s designs of despair, discouragement, depression, and despondency. Under the final one, endurance, he said, “There are times when you simply have to righteously hang on and outlast the devil until his depressive spirit leaves you . . . Pressing on in noble endeavors, even while surrounded by a cloud of depression, will eventually bring you out on top into the sunshine.” (Ensign, October 1986, 2)
So what solutions have I found for spiritual slumps? To remember that feelings are not facts and that I can continue to DO what I believe even when I don’t FEEL like it. That I can decide in favor of faith and be patient with the process. I can review President Benson’s dozen suggestions, namely: repentance, prayer, service, work, health, reading, blessings, fasting, friends, music, endurance, and goals. I can choose some of these to work on and remember that they are all important stepping stones that can help me climb out of spiritual slumps.
Even though I’m not feeling much assurance or sunshine today, I affirm that the testimony of my head is worth something too. I choose to hang on. We all have the agency to make the decision to press on and to trust God no matter what. After all, we can lean on hundreds of witnesses of credible and honorable people. And we can remind ourselves of our own faith-promoting experiences in the past. We can choose daily to continue to believe, continue to have faith in Christ, continue to plant the seeds and nurture them and try experiments on the word. Just writing this, just saying this is an action of faith and I feel better inside. New seeds are already growing and swelling. I already have evidence of what I cannot see. We can determine to press on in noble endeavors even when clouds hide the sunshine because we know for a certainty that the sun is still there and will eventually shine on us again!
Author Note: Visit my website darlaisackson.com for more information about my book Trust God No Matter What!