When Feelings Disappear
The worship music pumped around me. My friends on either side of me sang loudly. The woman behind me cried, and a few people in the front row fell to their knees, overwhelmed. Husbands and wives raised one arm to heaven and wrapped the other around their spouse.
I stood in the middle of it all, hands hovering a few inches from my sides, palms up. I rocked side to side, my eyes closed. To any onlooker, I appeared to be caught up in the Spirit, absorbed in God’s presence. But the fact of the matter was that I hadn’t experienced the stirring of the Holy Spirit in at least a year. My soul longed for something more, but I couldn’t seem to grasp at anything.
I felt like an aimlessly drifting boat in the middle of a lake, only ever moving slightly at the influence of small waves.
Standing in that church service, I knew and believed that God was with me, but try as I might, I couldn’t reach the depth of emotional reaction that I had felt as a teenager. I thought back to camps and church retreats when the times of worship were so powerful that I leapt and shouted for joy. I remembered gathering around a wheelchair-ridden missionary with complete strangers to pray for his healing. I remembered praying over a friend who had a sharp pain in his stomach; we opened our eyes after the prayer and the pain was completely gone.
And now I stood surrounded by people who were having the supernatural experience that I so dearly longed for and was unable to grasp.
On the drive home after the service, my friend said, “That was an amazing service.” I nodded from the back seat.“Honestly,” she continued, “toward the end I felt like Pastor Sean was talking directly to me.”
I simply muttered an agreement. “It was a good sermon.”
Meanwhile, my head was reeling. Am I a bad Christian? I asked myself, Am I doing something wrong because I didn’t react the same way as my friends? Have I lost faith since my teenage days? Has God abandoned me? Did I abandon Him?
Those thoughts bounced around in my skull for nearly a year. My life wasn’t totally devoid of His presence (I could still see His hand at work in my life in simple things: encouraging conversations or waking up just in time for class when my alarm didn’t go off), but I still felt like my faith had flat-lined. I was desperate for something, anything, that would give me an emotional connection with Him.
Last semester, when I was at my lowest, longing for the companionship of the Spirit, my pastor preached a series of sermons on the Holy Spirit. The first sermon focused on dispelling some of the misconceptions surrounding the Holy Spirit, insisting that He isn’t just some distant cousin who pops up every once in awhile. Instead, He is a companion to all believers, serving as God’s guiding hand in everyday life.
I sat on the edge of my seat, glued to every word he said. I ingested the information as someone who longed for water in a desert. Over the week following that first sermon, I thought hard about the Holy Spirit and His role in my life, and that was when I realized: God isn’t a God of pure emotion.
I was seeking the wrong thing this entire time. While I was searching for an emotional high in worship, God wanted me to search instead for His presence.
I don’t ever remember the Bible saying, “You must cry at the influence of the Spirit at every church service to inherit the kingdom of Heaven.” He never said that an emotional reaction is a requirement for salvation.
But I do remember Jesus saying this: “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.... Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God” (Mark 10:21-27).
God didn’t call me to have an emotional reaction in church. He called me to be His ambassador to this world, His hands and feet to the broken and weary around me. He wants me to live a life that glorifies and points others to Him. While I can’t do that on my own, God gave me His Spirit to be my companion and leader. God will never take that away, so even if I don’t experience an emotional reaction, He is with me continually.
I still struggle with this. I often fail to remember that God is always with me, giving me strength and challenging my sinful nature. I still often crave an emotional high more than God’s presence. But through Him, I know I will continue to find my way to God, because His presence changes everything and He’s not going anywhere.
A week after my pastor’s sermon, I stood in the same place in the sanctuary as the worship music pumped around me. My hands hovered a few inches from my side, palms up. For the first time in a long time, I felt a strong emotional connection with the Holy Spirit. I yearned for Him above all else. Tears welled up in my eyes and a few streaked paths through my makeup.
But even as I cried, I knew—this emotion was a gift. And its Giver is much, much greater.
—Salynda Hogsett is a senior writing student at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford. After graduating in April, she hopes to develop a freelance career as a writer, editor, and graphic designer.