Nothing spiritual can survive when it’s rooted on the surface.
Barry had been raised in a Christian home, where his spiritual involvement had never been more than that of respectful boredom. But fresh out of college, and with a desire for new beginnings, he found a small, active church. It wasn’t long before the upbeat fellowship awakened his joy and resolve to follow Christ.
In the few years following, though, he began to encounter a series of fatiguing setbacks—small disappointments related to work, irritations of marriage, and the low, unrelenting din of parental challenges. None of these were too dramatic by themselves, but loaded into one backpack, they became a weight he started to resent. His faith that had once been so eager and hungry, now seemed a poor match for the grind of daily circumstances.
In short, Barry gave up—not totally, because he at least fought to keep a bare commitment to Sunday morning church attendance—but had you peeled him open like an orange, and peered within, you would not have found the living dynamo that had once been there.
Barry had entered a cycle of what pop psychology calls “seven year itch,” a phenomenon that describes how a person positively enters some new phase of life with involvement, learning, and participation, and then around the seven year mark, levels out, and returns to gradual indifference. Some people complete this cycle in a shorter time, others take longer, but one thing is for sure: God never intended it for the Christian life. “Eternal grace,” “incorruptible life,” and a host of associated biblical terms mean we are meant for something considerably longer than a brief phase or fad.
Why does a spiritual “seven year itch” happen to Christians? A large part of the answer lies in our reliance upon positive moods, and favorable circumstances—two things that are notorious for falling apart. And when they do, today’s Christian is poorly equipped to answer them.
Lamentations is that part of Scripture most bristling with pain and emotional distraught. Its combination of God’s discipline, and situational fallout unraveled around the prophet Jeremiah.
“Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me” (Lam. 3:19-20).
“Continually remembers” refers to Jeremiah’s habit (as ours) to linger at the surface, where galling, bitter circumstances abound. The result, as he wrote, was a soul bowed down with burden.
Yet as the prophet seemed on the verge of entering a hopeless downward trajectory, he wrote,
“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’” (Lam. 3:21-24).
Notice Jeremiah’s transition from dejectedness to an awareness of God’s endless mercies. This is where most moderns stop. We find his experience too wide a gap to bridge.
And that dreary conclusion might well be true for all of us, had Jesus not promised,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy” (John 16:20).
All who meet the resurrected Christ discover the inward transformation He spoke of in this verse, even surpassing Jeremiah’s own shadowy, Old Testament experience.
Still, we find ourselves in need of coaching from our ancient predecessors on how to experientially enter what we have received. Jeremiah wrote, “I remembered,” meaning he deliberately set his mind elsewhere. This was not some mere psychological distraction, but a recall of things about God that are true.
A torrent of encouragement filled the man, though as we read through Lamentations past these verses, we find it mostly submerging again. Sometimes this appearance/disappearance is to notify the weary saint that (in New Testament terms), the living Christ has not left us, but substantially and continually resides at some deeper level. This is a call for us to learn inward life, even as we move through the various situations of this world. In doing so, we will find out that just as Jesus said, “no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22).
I recall driving away from an event where the message I delivered had seemed low-powered, and ill-structured. I was under a dark cloud that fit perfectly inside my Toyota. Like a lot of us who try to serve and want to do our best but can’t reach that sweet spot, I was disappointed in myself.
I paused, took a moment to turn from lamenting my inadequacies, and remembered instead the perfections of Christ. Joy seemed to course through me like some subterranean spring. All along, flowing underneath my pathetic, self-centered feelings was a reality quite independent from my performance, immune to my disappointment. That day the resurrected Christ again reminded me He was present, and that it was I, not He, who had moved away.
I gladly decided to forget about what hadn’t gone right earlier that day, and to simply be happy with Him.
It was a great drive home.