– I’ve become agnostic since I started my semester at school, and I haven’t been too concerned about my relationship with God since. Lately, I’ve been feeling “spiritually empty” but I don’t really know where to begin with setting things “right” with God. I know that I “strayed away from the path” and praying doesn’t seem to work out for me at the moment, but I feel like I am on the verge of losing my love for God.
Dear friend: thank you so much for your honesty and for caring to try again. This is a huge question that I can’t hope to answer in a single post, but I can hopefully point the way. Please feel free to skip around.
I’m assuming by your question that 1) you are uncertain about God in your life, but 2) you are willing to explore Him again, and 3) you want to know how.
I can guarantee that you have probably heard tons of advice already.
Go back to church, go to a revival/retreat/conference, read the Bible, read this Christian book, watch this sermon, go in solitude with God, find a wise mentor or counselor or pastor, find a group of Christians, ask a random blogger, start a journal, study theology, study Calvinism, serve the homeless, strap a fish on your car, quit masturbating, don’t chew tobacco, stop racing cops, eat vegan.
This is probably all sound advice.
But — even if you follow every single thing, you will end up back where you started. Disillusioned, disenchanted, disenfranchised.
So I think we need to ask a question. We need to begin in a fundamental place of honesty with ourselves.
Why did this happen?
How did you end up spiritually empty?
Please allow me to take a guess. If I’m wrong, skip ahead.
You had found a decent church, it had great big loud music, you made some cool Christian friends, had a pretty good pastor, and you did all the church activities.
But soon: it became a little routine, the flashy rocking music felt like ice picks in your brain, you became annoyed at some things in the sermon, your friends turned out to be not-so-cool and even downright hypocritical, and all the church activities were just self-serving programs. It all grew repetitive and you felt a widening distance between you and this “God” — and you began to wonder if you even really knew Him at all.
This is the story of millions of Christians.
It’s like the beginning of a relationship, where you feel electrical excitement and chemicals and hormones firing off like crazy — but soon her touch is deadening, her laugh is annoying, and you’re not even sure why you like her.
The truth is: Every single person goes through a peeling back of layers to discover the real thing.
But for most people, they always expect the original excitement they had in the beginning. They hope to maintain the jumping-up-and-down, hopping-mad flashiness of youth group to “feel God again.”
This NEVER works out.
A couple married for fifty years will not feel the same butterflies when they held hands as high schoolers: but their years of perseverance have led to an ocean-deep commitment that is no longer lake-shallow. It’s the real thing. They managed to solidify their expectations of each other, both realizing that their feelings did NOT determine their relationship.
When your original feelings are gone — and trust me, those first feelings fade — it doesn’t mean that God is suddenly gone.
I’m afraid many churches make the mistake of topping themselves every week to give you a brand new rockshow experience, and it stretches your emotions to the breaking point. Exhausting. When you peel back the layers of a “show-church,” often there’s nothing inside.
Instead, they should be feeding you core doctrine, growing you as a leader, teaching you to how to do discipleship with younger people, and placing you with “unlovable” people so you can really learn how to love like God does — all with the purpose of an intimate relationship with God and not to serve their own programs.
I really don’t mean to be one more guy bad-mouthing the local church. There’s enough of that already. It’s not all their fault. It’s possible that even in a really rocked out ministry, you can peel back the glitter and actually find depth. But we just need to overcome those initial growing pains.
So let’s cover first things first. Let’s expect that we’ll all outgrow the emotional hype and eventually mature into a thoughtful faith — while at the same time having a new excitement that is grounded in who God really is.
I pray you will purposefully move towards making this happen, that you will put yourself in a safe place where you can ask questions and learn doctrine and express doubts and encounter the real Jesus.
Also please know: You don’t have to do anything to be “right” with God again. That was the point of Jesus dying and rising for you. He loves you, in this moment, right now, as you are. Approach him with faith and confidence.
You might think you need to “believe better” or “do better” before getting to know him, but faith is a journey of increasing sight: and God will reveal Himself to you so long as you are willing. For some of us, this journey is a sudden epiphany; for others like you and me, it is a slow-burning process that sheds doubt in layers and embraces Jesus by degrees.
Have patience in this struggle. I believe you’ll find that Jesus is not only intellectually satisfying, but also spiritually fulfilling — and he welcomes your empty skeptical heart with even more grace.