Desert Wisdom: Weariness

I am so glad that Bunge included this section in his book.  He rightly shows that even the most-devoted people of prayer undergo periods of profound weariness.  He writes, “Nevertheless, as with any art, from time to time there are particular difficulties to overcome in the practice of prayer.  The most-formidable opponent is a certain weariness” (p. 77).

Bunge shows that there’s plenty of evidence in church history to substantiate that even the monks were sometimes unable to recite their daily office.  When they came to this point, they knew they had entered what some have referred to as “spiritual combat.”

I find reminders like this to be very inspiring and beneficial.  I am not “inspired” by hearing that someone has become “tired” in his/her pursuit of spiritual formation, but I am inspired to discover that this is actually a normal experience.  It is Satan who tries to convince us that weariness (often called “acedia” in the literature) is abnormal—a sign that we don’t have “the real thing.”

It is the saints who keep us from falling for the lie, by their willingness to show that they cannot perpetuate a high state of spiritual fervor.  To put it in very practical terms, the task is to “stay in the vehicle” when it begins to go up and down and all around.  The greater danger is to try to jump out.  So, when weariness (and even more) comes upon us, “fasten your seat belt” and ride it out.

Bunge shows how the early Christians would use gestures when they could not use words.  If they could not recite the liturgy, they simply walked around silently in their cells.  Because they had consecrated everything to God, their mouths were not the only instruments available for praying.

This brings us to the adage, “Pray as you can, not as you cannot.”  The key to all prayer is not its form or its fire—not its time or its temperament.  The key to prayer is the ongoing exercise of the will.  So….do what you can.  Cut back some if you need too.  Change your pattern if you need to.  Acknowledge your weariness and don’t keep trying to “make it happen.”  If you try to “push it,” it will only crush you.

Remember, the same Jesus who told the apostles to win the world in the Great Commission, also told them to take a break in Mark 6:31.  Don’t fall for a pseudo spirituality that only allows “half of Jesus” to speak to you.


About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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1 Response to Desert Wisdom: Weariness

  1. Sara Ann says:

    This also sounds like a good time to tell someone else that “I am having a hard time staying in the car right now” so that that person can pray for me. This particular humility in turn leads to a harvest of discovery: who cares, who doesn’t; who is judging my faith by this admission, who isn’t; who else is floundering in their own car or has enough of a memory of doing so to empathize, who isn’t and/or can’t… This is all good information and to the extent that what we learn in that moment doesn’t seem to serve our need, it can stretch our compassion — and that’s also good.

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