Summary: Part 4 of the series Emotionally Healthy Spirituality looks at the spiritual journey at the place of the wall. The question is not when but what will we do when we hit the wall?
Journey Through the Wall
Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, prt. 4
Wildwind Community Church
October 31, 2010
Ever heard or used the phrase, “I’ve hit the wall”? What does it mean when people say that? (solicit audience reaction) It means, “I have gone as far as I can go.” “I’ve got nothing left.” “I’m done.” “I’m exhausted,” or “I’m a mess” or “I can’t take it anymore.”
Any or all of these phrases are perfectly appropriate when we apply them to the spiritual life. It is well known that what is called “the wall” or what St. John of the Cross called “the dark night of the soul” is part of the journey. The wall is one of the least-often preached about aspects of the spiritual life. I suspect this is because it’s something people don’t want to hear about. There are two primary reasons people embark upon the spiritual path. The first reason, and the one we all begin with, is to have a place to stand – to know what is right and what is wrong, which way is up and which way is down, who is in and who is out, and to be confident that they are in fact part of the in group. The other reason is to know God. I know. We all start out on the spiritual journey thinking that we’re seeking God, and in some small way we really are. But twenty years down the road, you can tell who was seeking security and rightness and in-ness and who was seeking God. The first group will have either lost their faith entirely, or else they will have grown increasingly rigid, increasingly harsh with themselves and with others, and increasingly legalistic. The second group, most likely, will have grown in faith, grown in love, grown in ways that have expanded them and not shrunk them down. The only way this can happen is if a person hits the wall and goes through it. The wall separates the men from the boys, so to speak, in terms of the spiritual life.
The wall is out there for every person of faith. It’s waiting for you. It’s not a question of whether you will hit the wall, only a question of when, and what will bring you to it. It’s different for everybody, but you nearly always come to the wall as the result of something happening to you that seems too big for your faith. In other words, you arrive at the wall through a crisis of some kind. Scazzero lists a few in Chapter 5 of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. Divorce, job loss, death of a close friend/family member, diagnosis with a chronic or terminal disease, a betrayal, a shattered dream, a wayward child, a car accident, inability to get pregnant, a deep desire to marry that remains unfulfilled, etc. It will vary from person to person, but Scazzero goes on to say that what happens in this moment of crisis is that we discover for the first time that our faith does not appear to “work.” We have more questions than answers, and the very foundation of our faith feels like it is on the line. We don’t know where God is, what he is doing, where he is going, how he is getting us there, or when this will be over. And I will add to Scazzero’s excellent observations that often we will not know whether God exists at all. The wall shakes us to the core. When you are at the wall, you will question everything you ever believed in. You’ll wonder if it’s a put-on, or perhaps wishful thinking. You may continue doing all the same things you did before. Praying, going to church, attending your small group – but something has changed. Instead of connecting you to God, these activities now seem to alienate you further. Everyone around you seems so sure, so confident. You feel like a heretic. You wonder if you even have faith at all anymore, and if there’s any reason to.
Some of you have been to the wall before, and you know that what I’m saying is true. Some of you have not been to the wall, and you’re probably busy right now trying to think of ways to avoid hitting the wall. Maybe if you learn a lot of Bible verses you can avoid it. Maybe if you get really close to God it won’t happen. Maybe if you go into counseling, or start meeting with a more mature believer, you can keep it from happening. But my friends, I assure you that there simply is no escaping the wall. Everyone will hit the wall, because the wall is a mathematical certainty. It is an equation born of one of your choices, combined with something you cannot choose. Here it is: