Q: Tom, you talk so passionately about being filled with the Holy Spirit. I believe Jesus is the Son of God. I believe he died and was resurrected. But I don’t feel a thing. I pray, read the Bible, seek his advice and enlightenment. And yet I feel nothing. Am I doing something wrong?
I wouldn’t wish to give anyone the impression that every hour of every day, I am as happy and excited and aware of the presence of God as I am on some occasions. I am, I think, a reasonably normal human being and my emotions come and go.
I have indeed spoken about a sense of the presence of God, a sense of the reality of Jesus, being with me, or of a sudden awareness of something that I ought to do or say, often as a result of praying about a particular situation. Those things are wonderful.
But many great Christian teachers, writers and practitioners – Mother Teresa, for instance – have testified to long-lasting periods of “spiritual dryness” or “darkness” where, for whatever reason, it seems as though all we can do is hang on to Jesus’ coattails and trust that by regular prayer, regular sharing in the Eucharist, and by regular reading of scripture, we are in fact clinging on to what we should be.
This is a very difficult area, but we are all very different. We know much more now about the range of personality types that exist. We have metrics for measuring them (whether it’s Myers-Briggs, or the Enneagram) that businesses often use to measure people’s strengths and weaknesses.
We do need to learn about ourselves to know ourselves, and to recognise the kinds of things that we naturally respond to – and those we don’t naturally respond to.
As a pastor, I have sometimes prayed with people who have felt absolutely nothing despite apparently saying and believing all the right things, and perhaps being brought up as a Christian.
Sometimes when it comes down to it, it appears that there is some emotional blockage, which might be to do with parents or school or siblings or something else, that has shut up a bit of their emotional resilience or resonance in such a way that it seems to be blocked off to God as well.
God can break through anything and everything, but sometimes it takes wise pastoral care to ask: “What else is going on in my life? Why does there seem to be this blockage?” But we are all called many times to walk in the dark – by “faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7, CEB) – and I don’t say that lightly. It’s a tough call.
I would recommend studying 2 Corinthians, which is where Paul described what that was like for him. If we cling on, and keep praying, then there will be times of light, there will be seasons of joy and hope.
Hear more on the ‘Ask NT Wright anything’ podcast. Download it and submit your own question at AskNTWright.com