Not long ago, I found myself to be in what can best be described as a spiritual slumber.
In the film, Awakenings, Robin Williams gives a brilliant portrayal of Malcolm Sawyer, an American neurologist who discovers the benefits of a new drug, L-Dopa. He discovers that by administering precise amounts of this drug to a group of catatonic patients, they soon begin to “awaken” from their slumber. One patient, Leonard Lowe, played by Robert De Niro, is in a state of near total unresponsiveness after suffering years of debilitating illness. However, he begins receiving the new drug, and over time transforms into an engaging and kind man who is able to communicate and move about for the first time in years. There is much cause for celebration. But sadly it is short-lived. After months of progress, it turns out that as the human brain adapts to the new drug, the effectiveness gradually lessens. Ultimately, Leonard reverts back to his original catatonic condition.
The story is heart-rending in many ways. Yet, it also offers compelling insights into the human condition. For those of us who are Followers of Jesus, it mirrors the spiritual malaise that so often afflicts us as we journey onward in our faith. To wit, we begin in a state of spiritual inertia (spiritual death to put it more accurately) before we recognize our need to receive Christ. After doing so and experiencing a “coming to life,” time passes and the effects (our initial elation and fervor ) seem to wear off, whereupon we feel ourselves reverting back to our spiritual stupor once again. The process stubbornly repeats over a lifetime, alternating between stretches of time when we are acutely aware of, and energized by, God’s presence in our lives, and those when we feel far from God and even bored with it all. Back and forth we go (two steps forward, one step back)–the common pattern being that our enlivening bursts forth when we prioritize Christ in our lives, whereas, our doldrums creep in amidst a quagmire of self-centered indulgences.
It would be easy to become defeatist and to conclude our fluctuating condition is one of doom and gloom, but that would be a mistake. It can be beyond frustrating. But it is not dire. For, though in the movie the patients’ “awakening” was, tragically, only temporary, we can be thankful that our awakening (or rebirth) is in fact permanent; it is only our setbacks that are temporary. In John 14:16-17, our Lord Himself assures us that our revived condition is not going to be a transitory state, but one that will last forever: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.”
At times we may feel emotionally beat down and spiritually lifeless, but Jesus makes clear that we are actually being upheld from within by God’s very Spirit. Sure, we’ll experience times when we may not feel or even act fully alive. Nevertheless, we can take comfort that, through it all, the Holy Spirit is always and forever available within to bring us out of our stupor. All we have to do is ask.
Confounded feelings. Enlivening Spirit. It’s good to be awake again.
I hope this encourages you today.
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