Every day, I wake up around 5:30 a.m., sit down at my desk and write. This is my oasis. My sanctuary. My time to commune with my Creator. And most days, it goes quite well. I sit down and words come out and all is right in the world.
But three weeks ago, something happened that I’ve never experienced. I sat down at my computer, and nothing came out. The mysterious well from which my thoughts flow had dried up. I stared at my screen, and my mind was empty. Hollow. An oasis turned desert.
I’ve read books on this. It’s called writer’s block, and the best way to combat writer’s block is stream of consciousness writing. You don’t think about anything, in other words. Just write. I’ll try that, I said. And I did.
And nothing happened.
I couldn’t put sentences together. True story. I would jot down a word – Dog, Jimmy, Book – and follow it up with a verb – ate, ran, read – and then…crickets.
Dog…ate…sandwiches? No, no. Let me try this again.
Jimmy…ran…run? That’s the same word in a different tense, Frank. You imbecile. Are you going insane?
I wasn’t going insane, I told myself. Just a bad day. Everyone has bad days. No worries. I got up from chair, dusted off my shoes, and moved on. Tomorrow will be better, I said.
The next morning, I sat down at my desk, and do you know what happened? I’m sure you do. Nothing happened. My mind was blank. And the next day? Same thing. This went on for nearly three weeks.
I tried everything to unclog the well. I diffused essential oils. I exercised. I meditated. I yelled at the heavens. I karate-kicked my wall. I tried it all. Nothing worked. Was this my new life?
No, no, Frank. This is a phase. A sucky, terrible phase. But a phase. You can string words together. You can write. Shoot, eight-year-olds can write. Don’t give up. You must keep showing up.
So, every day, for three weeks, I showed up at my desk, stayed there for at least an hour, and got up, without a word on the page. On day nineteen – and I remember this vividly – I cried. The tears dripped on the keyboard. I wiped them clean. I pleaded with God to restore my vigor, my clarity of mind, my desire to scribble words on a page.
Then, on day twenty, the dam broke. The words flowed with such force that I couldn’t contain them. I wrote and wrote and wrote. And that’s the end of the story. Thanks for listening.
It’s not the end, though.
In the days since, I’ve thought about why this happened. I’m not the kind of person who thinks everything happens for a reason. Everything doesn’t happen for a reason. But everything provides an opportunity for growth. I mean, I teetered on the edge of despair. I was depressed. Anxious. For a week or so, darkness covered the landscape of my soul. The situation was bleak, guys. Eight-and nine-year-olds can string sentences together. And on a whim too. Without much effort. And I went three weeks without the ability to string sentences together. You might think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. I’ve never experienced like it.
But either out of stubbornness or stupidity or both I showed up every day. I sat down in the same chair, at the same time, and prepared myself to write. I wouldn’t give up. I couldn’t. Writing means too much to me.
And I trusted that if I continued to show up, something good would happen. Even if the dam never broke and the words never flowed, I would learn something about God, about not giving up on things you love.
YOU MUST KEEP SHOWING UP
Here’s the reality: anything you commit to for a long period of time will go through lulls, seasons of apathy and disconnectedness. Whether it’s your relationship with God or your spouse, a craft like writing or painting, if you engage in something that requires you to show up every day for a long period of time, you will go through days or weeks or months where you feel nothing. Or you feel something, but what you feel is boredom.
Listen, anything – and I mean anything – that’s worthwhile, that’s important, that has lasting and eternal value, will experience these seasons, and in these seasons, you must – MUST – keep showing up.
You feel disconnected from God. You’re not even sure you believe in God anymore. Your faith is in shambles. You know what? You’re in the wilderness. Welcome. Every man or woman who has committed to God for the entirety of their lives has been in this place. And, yes, it’s scary and lonely and painful. You know what, though? This place is necessary. It’s a spiritual cocoon, of sorts. A place where transformation occurs, where you have the time and space to let go of old, faulty, unhelpful ideas about God and embrace new ones. The wilderness is where God refines you before he releases you to a new and better reality.
Or maybe your marriage is stagnant. You’ve been at this for a few years, and those years were great. Incredible. But now, the waters of time and stress and jobs and maybe kids have quenched the passion. You don’t feel it anymore. And you haven’t felt it for a while. The questions begin to take root in your mind. Should I leave? Should I look for someone new?
And the answer to both is no. Your marriage isn’t over. More than likely, your marriage is on the verge of something incredible, but you must endure the wilderness to get there.
THE DEMON THAT WANTS TO KEEP YOU FROM SHOWING UP
Christians for centuries have recognized this desire to give up as a spiritual problem. The early church fathers recognized this lull, this absence of desire, as a form of evil. They had a name for it, and that name was acedia.
In fact, of all the sins a person can endure, acedia is the worst, the most detrimental to your spiritual well-being. The early church father Evagrius once said other sins like pride or greed only infect part of the soul, while acedia isn’t content with just a part, but desires both the soul and the spirit.
This season of apathy and listlessness, in other words, is more than just a season. It has spiritual significance. This ancient demon, acedia, is at work. It recognizes you have something special here, something that might draw you near to God, something that might grow you in love and peace and joy. Acedia knows you’re on the cusp of the Promised Land, and it doesn’t like that. So, it rises up to destroy that which will transform you.
If you believe in spiritual things, the answer to this season of life where you feel disconnect from your spouse or your children or your work or your craft or your church isn’t to abandon them, but to keep showing up. You keep putting your butt in the chair. You fake it ‘til you make it, because what heals acedia is staunch persistence, stick-to-itiveness, perseverance. If you keep showing up, trusting that the thing you’re showing up for still matters, you will break free from the chains of acedia.
Your desire will return. And what you experience on the other side of the wilderness will blow your mind, exceed anything you could imagine.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU STOP SHOWING UP
Sadly, though, in a world that champions fleeting emotions and says if something doesn’t feel good don’t do it, we rarely get to experience the Promised Land. We settle for cheap imitations. We’re addicted to the emotional high of new relationships, riding the good vibes of our new circumstances or new partner or new church, and we assume this will give us lasting joy.
It doesn’t though, does it?
And it doesn’t because eventually acedia comes for the new thing as well. And now it comes with more bravado because it knows it won before, and once acedia wins once, the chances of it winning again grow exponentially. Just ask the people who’ve been divorced three or four times. Just ask the people who hop from church to church. Just ask the ones who abandoned a God-given calling, like writing or painting or starting a non-profit.
Give up once, and you will likely give up again.
People who don’t learn to endure difficult seasons will never experience the fullness of God. I’m convinced of that. They end up mistaking God for the mountaintop moments, which is a cheap substitute for the God of the Stars. They end up riding the ever-changing winds of good feelings and emotions. And this yields a very shallow, unstable, addiction-prone existence. It just does.
SHOWING UP REFLECTS THE CHARACTER OF GOD
You find God In the highs and low, ups and downs, joy AND stresses.
God is found in perseverance, in other words. God is found in our refusal to give up on the things that matter, and God is found there because perseverance reflects the character and nature of God, who refuses to abandon or forsake us. Is this not the narrative of Scripture, that over and over, God’s people turn their backs on him, and over and over, God forgives them? God never gives up. He keeps his butt in the chair.
Perseverance is another name for God. Perseverance might be THE name for God.
Perseverance, then, is how we become like God. See what I did there?
So, whether you find yourself in the throws of acedia right now or sometime in the future, may you have the wisdom to recognize and name what you’re facing and the courage to keep showing up. May you not become a slave to your feelings. May you allow Perseverance to lead you, so you may reap the fruits of a God-filled life, so you may know God on a deep and intimate level, and those around you might recognize this knowing and the world might be saved.
Grace and peace, friends.