Some days I am sure there are some spiritual lessons I missed! There is so much more talk and literature today on spirituality than was true in my growing-up years. Perhaps there was more in the Roman Catholic Church, but I doubt it---not for the layperson anyway. In fact, I never even heard “spirituality” language when I was a boy or even a young man. The talk was always about “religion.” For the most part, what I learned I learned by going to the little Quaker meeting. There was the Sunday School hour, which never seemed very interesting or relevant to my life.
I became more actively interested in religion during my college years. Part of the reason for this is those college years were the time I was trying to make sense of out my life. Today I would talk about that as learning how to make meaning in life. I feel fairly well along that road these days. But back in college I was trying to figure out how to get started.
I have learned a great deal from a variety of venues. Reading books, taking classes, teaching classes and wonderful discussions have all been important in my spiritual journey. I have learned about spiritual discipline and spiritual friendship. I have learned a fair amount of theology and talk about Christian doctrine with some knowledge. I would like to think much of this has been like learning spiritual lessons.
It seems to me there has been a great deal of emphasis upon growth and spiritual growth. It always felt like I was supposed to be active and spiritually growing. I am sure I have even suggested as much to other people in my classes and retreats and speeches. I certainly am for spiritual growth. Growth entails being alive---a kind of growing up spiritually. I do think there is such a thing as spiritual maturity. I am not there yet, but I am hopeful. I do not think I am in spiritual kindergarten any more!
One thing I occasionally experience is something I never heard anyone address: being spiritually tired. That may strike some as an odd phrase. Perhaps to others, talk about being spiritually tired makes no sense because some folks may not even believe spiritual tiredness is possible. I think it is and I feel like I know what it is to be spiritually tired.
Everyone knows what it is like to be physically tired. After days of hard work, we legitimately feel physically tired. I remember my sports days when practice would be so demanding, I would go home “physically exhausted,” would be my phrase. And certainly most of us know something about being emotionally tired. I know this experience from times I have been so emotionally invested in leading groups that when it was over, I felt “emotionally exhausted.”
In both cases of exhaustion the remedy is simple: rest. I suspect the same recipe works for those of us who may from time to time feel spiritually tired. Predictable times for me to be spiritually tired are those times following some spurts of spiritual growth. If we are regular in our spiritual disciplines, there will be times when we become spiritually tired. When I am in that place, I simply want to “take a break” or “not do it for a while.” The trick at these times is not to feel guilty. It is easy to allow our spiritual tiredness to become a double whammy when we load it with guilt.
I could coin a term for being spiritually tired. I call it “soul fatigue.” There is soul fatigue when I lose the energy and vibrancy of the spiritual journey. Soul fatigue is different from what Quakers have traditionally called “dry periods.” This phenomenon is well known in classical spiritual traditions. Dry periods are those times when we experience nothing, even though we still are doing the spiritual disciplines, etc. This is close to what St. John of the Cross means by the terms, Dark Night of the Senses and Dark Night of the Soul. These are particular kinds of experiences (or lack thereof) where God seems to be absent.
Soul fatigue is not a God-issue; it is a me-issue. Soul fatigue is simply my being tired---not wanting to do anything in the moment. This is not serious. It is not terminal! The answer---the solution---is typically very simple and easy. Take a break. Rest. Let your soul have some space and, perhaps, become available again for some grace.
When I feel spiritually tired, I try to pay attention and take it easy for a little bit. Life is not meant to live in a fevered urgency. And certainly our spiritual lives do not always have to be on fire. Fires sometimes move to some phase of being embers. Embers can be reignited and again roar. So it is with souls on fire.
When you are spiritually tired, slow down. Take a rest. Take some time off. Taking a break is different than quitting. Don’t trick yourself. Treat yourself. Treat yourself gently and nicely.