I can sense when it happens. Most of the time, anyway.
Sometimes I miss it, until it suddenly dawns on me and I find myself scratching my head, a bit bewildered and asking myself, “Well, how the heck did I get here, yet again?”
But, most of the time, I can sense it.
It’s that slow slide away from what I know my mind and soul needs, in order to stay well. And focused. A gradual stepping away from that which keeps my soul focused on the only hope we know in this world. A letting down of my guard. A falling away from the spiritual and physical disciplines that stave off despair and, if I were to be honest, the shadowy, bony fingers of depression.
However, just because I sense it, doesn’t always mean that I take the necessary steps to arrest the spiral.
Maybe, just maybe, you can relate.
In the last couple of months, I have sensed this in my own mind and soul. I’ve tried to ignore it. I’ve brushed it off, because truly, life is good. There is no reason for the nagging discouragement and despair creeping into my mind. There isn’t. Not in the grand scheme of things.
But this is a battle that I have fought for a very long time. A very long time.
And, I know better, than to let my guard down.
I know better, than to shortcut the things I know help fight this battle:
- Early morning study and prayer
- Personal and corporate worship
- Healthy food choices
- Routine, routine, routine
- Caring well for others
When I shortchange these areas–when I convince myself that its “Ok” to stray from my daily routine, when I “excuse” myself from prayer and study early in the morning, when I decided that it won’t hurt anything to “skip” exercise for a day…..
…..that’s when despair raises its ugly head, once again.
And once despair gains even a small handhold, it’s grip is tight. And difficult to shake.
And that’s when my old friend and old nemesis of doubt sets back in.
I call it my “old friend”…not because doubt is a true friend, but because it is familiar. Comfortable. You’ve heard of people who say “We hadn’t seen each other in 10 years, but we picked up right where we left off, as if we just saw each other yesterday!” Yes. That is what “doubt” is, in my life.
Familiar. Comfortable, like a worn out security blanket.
But here’s the thing—doubt is also my dreadful nemesis….and when I don’t fight it, it penetrates my thoughts, starting off slowly, but quickly gathering speed.
I can go from “But why….” to full-fledged doubt of not only God’s love, but His very existence, in less than 60 seconds.
Earlier this evening, while sitting on outside on my deck, watching the first leaves of fall drifting down around me, I recognized that my soul, too, is in a season of fall. And I must fight, to stop its progression to the cold cynicism of winter.
This is not a new problem. It is not new to me, for sure. And it is not new to mankind. In Deuteronomy 4, we see Moses imploring with the Israelites to keep their souls and to remember all that they had seen the Lord do for them. And to their enemies. Moses reminded the people that they were in a covenant relationship with God, called to obedience. They were to remember, and teach their children…and their children’s children…all that the Lord had done.
9 “Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children— (Deut. 4:9)
Do you see, though? Moses didn’t say “remember the things that God has done, in order to keep your soul diligently.
No, it was the other way around.
You may think that this is a trivial, minor, unimportant distinction. However, I do not. I think it is significant.
Because, when I do not keep my soul diligently, I arrogantly forget all that God has done for me.
When I do not keep my soul diligently through regular spiritual and physical disciplines, including study, and prayer, , and worship, and exercise, and rest, and caring well for others through service–when I do not keep my soul in those ways, then I slowly slide towards the erroneous belief that I don’t need God. I sinfully step closer to the edge of doubt and cynicism, thus forgetting the miraculous things I have witnessed as God’s adopted child–and that adoption via salvation being the most miraculous of all the many good and gracious and merciful things He has poured out on my soul and life.
And when I forget those things–and when I stand arrogantly in defiance and stomp my feet like a petulant two-year-old and say “I won’t!” or “I don’t want to pray!” or “I’m too tired!” or “But I don’t sense You, God, so why try?”—
–that’s when despair wins the first battle.
But this is a war. And defeat in one battle means a redoubling of efforts. It means regrouping and returning to measured discipline in order to have the fortitude to fight. It means dusting off the grime and getting back to work.
It means keeping my soul diligently.