The Absence of Feeling in the Devotional Life

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  • “I am sporadic in my devotions” writes a Newsletter reader (who happens to be my daughter!), “though I am up pretty regularly by 5:30 a.m.  There are many mornings when my mind and heart are too dull and cold to learn of Him.”  

    Here’s a part of what I wrote to her:  It is in the total absence of feeling that our faith is most faithful and most accurately gauged—if we go on getting up early, putting ourselves faithfully before the Lord whether we feel like it or not, even “just going through the motions,” when we know that the deepest desire of our hearts is to know and love the Lord.  He knows that deepest desire, and I can look back over the years, remember my own hopelessness and helplessness to drum up any spiritual feelings when I thought I should have them, and I can see that God was at work all the time, loving me, hearing my cry, shaping me into His image, in spite of my terrible failures and faithlessness.  Oh, if you knew how I’ve repented of my own failures toward you—things I did and things I failed to do that I can’t bear to think about now, yet God has been merciful, has proved His mercy a thousand times over.

    Spiritual writers of long ago have helped me, for example, St. Francis de Sales: 

    Should you find neither delight nor consolation in meditation, do not be disheartened, but have recourse occasionally to vocal prayer (as opposed to mental or silent), tell your trouble to the Lord, confess your unworthiness, and say with Jacob, ‘I will not let Thee go except Thou bless me,’ or with the Canaanitish woman, ‘Yea, Lord, yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.’ . . . Do not be disheartened, however great your dryness, only continue to present yourself devoutly before God.  How many courtiers daily appear before their sovereign without a hope of speaking with him, content to be seen by him and offer their homage?  So we must pray purely and simply in order to do homage to God and show our faithfulness.

    Introduction to the Devout Life

    This excerpt was originally published in the May/June 1990 Elisabeth Elliot Newsletter.