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Becoming Ourselves

Screen Shot 2019-02-08 at 4.56.52 PM
Photo by Ophelia Ding

It doesn’t take much effort to become creatively lost. Even after years of routine and rootedness, it’s easy to fall out of rhythms we’ve set for ourselves. Eventually, we try to rediscover the thing we once loved, but where we once found inspiration, we find a dried-up well in its place.

I don’t think there’s an area of life that’s exempt from the possibility of us falling away. It doesn’t matter how much we’ve invested, there’s always a chance we’ll drift from who we are. It can happen in our jobs, our relationships, our faith, or anything else we give ourselves to. Whether it be a result of burnout or neglect, the temptation to allow the seasons of dryness to win is strong.

Over time, that sense of indifference left unchecked can morph into cynicism. The thing that previously defined all other modes of life is replaced with an attitude stuck on the idea that “it can’t happen again.” This sort of spirit is subtly draining, and ultimately steals away potential for change. Depending on whether we remain faithful to a mindset of either surrender or resistance, it has the power to shape who we become in the future.

After years of writing creatively, I finally hit a wall and lost the inspiration I had growing up. My excitement for a story I had been working on for months faded. I wasn’t in love with the ideas I used to be in love with.

Whenever I’m growing in my understanding of something, I go through a phase of confusion. I start to feel disoriented. As I took a step back from writing narratively, I felt that same confusion rise up. There was something for me to take away from my sudden lack of investment:

Inspiration isn’t a reliable source for motivation.

That might be an obvious sentiment, especially when it comes to writing or any type of creative work. But it’s an even more important reminder when it comes to life as a Christian.

At some point, every believer will feel like they’re falling out of love with God. Whether we’re aware of it or not, all of us drift from how close we think we are to Christ. We stop opening our Bibles in anticipation of hearing about the Kingdom we’ve been brought into. We won’t spend the time in prayer that we previously felt was so rewarding. We won’t think much of the lyrics projected on a screen on Sunday morning.

It’s not that we’re losing interest in God like we would lose interest in a job we thought we wanted, or a movie that gets boring halfway through, or a show that declines in quality after the fifth season. The problem isn’t that we’ve discovered some red flag about God that makes us pull back and lose heart. It’s the opposite dilemma: we’re forgetting who He is, and specifically who He is to us.

In those times of drought, what was previously personal becomes theoretical. The box labeled “emotional” gets replaced with one that’s not so demanding labeled “intellectual.” Slowly and subliminally, we detach ourselves from the experiences that led us to Him.

At certain points throughout the past year, this happened to me. I allowed some thoughts to overshadow others, and I lost focus in my walk with God. I could sense what was happening internally and how it would get worse if I didn’t adjust my habits.

“At first it may feel like freedom to skimp on prayer and neglect the Word. But then we pay: shallowness, powerlessness, vulnerability to sin, preoccupation with trifles, superficial relationships, and a frightening loss of interest in worship and the things of the Spirit.”

— John Piper

As a 22-year old, the decisions I make (whether it be related to school, career, who I spend my time with, etc.) have the potential to impact the trajectory of my life. If I want to live well, I need a strong foundation.

It doesn’t matter if I feel like I consistently don’t get anything out of an hour in reading scripture or writing a prayer. If I don’t devote time to re-centering myself in the truth of who He is and who I am, my balance will be off. My focus in life won’t be based on something steady. It will shift from one thing to the next depending on whatever catches my immediate attention.

“Don’t worry if your heart won’t respond: do the best you can. You are certainly under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, or you wouldn’t have come where you are now: and the love that matters is His for you — yours for Him may at present exist only in the form of obedience. He will see to the rest.”

— C. S. Lewis, a letter to a former pupil (January 4, 1941)

I have to remind myself things I already know but don’t feel. I have to reread the same verses over and over, re-listen to sermons I’ve felt convicted by, go back to books I’ve read, and look at old blog posts I’ve written (I’ve come to realize I’m just writing to my future self half the time).

When I’m unable to mentally invest in the thing that previously powered me, I also tend to overemphasize where I’ve been. Instead of completely forgetting, I’ll start remembering things as being better than they were. The past becomes a daunting high score I struggle to live up to and recreate. I eventually have to confront the reality that Nick once failed to convince Gatsby: “You can’t repeat the past.”

We can’t go backwards— and that’s the point. By the time we’re out of a drought, we’ll have matured into a truer version of the person He’s turning us into. We won’t even want to return to how things were. It’s by going back to Him over and over that we become ourselves. We’ll change because the relationship has deepened. We won’t want to regress.

Ironically, falling into a rut is a reoccurring experience. I know I’ll eventually be back where I was. It’s a cycle. We’ll go months feeling secure where we’re at, and then it happens again. Our priority is tested as we stop caring, and our first love becomes a chore. The danger of going through dryness and coming out the other end is in assuming that we can handle it the next time. As we learn the wrong lesson, fatigue gains the advantage.

“After you’ve gone through it once, you might fall victim to the arrogance of invulnerability. The false idea that since you’ve been burnt to a crisp once and survived, you can do it again. Don’t be stupid. It’s pure denial you’re feeling, not confidence.”

— Scott Berkun, How To Survive Creative Burnout

The truth is, reading one blog post isn’t going to be enough to get anyone out of the pit. It requires more than hearing some person’s thoughts and relating to them. For there to be any change, we need to get to the end of ourselves first.

We have to recognize our inability to grow alone and return to old truths we’ve become unimpressed by. We have to remember what our heart has forgotten. We have to realize we aren’t really pursuing Him on our own— He’s been pursuing us. It’s not that He’s been distant as we thought. We’ve just become unaware of who He is.

Inspired by Matthew 7:24-27

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