In Gary Thomas’s Sacred Pathways, it describes each personality type and how they best interact with God, after issuing an extensive assessment for readers to take. (You can Google this book to read the PDF description of each type.) I am a sensate–which means loving God with the senses:
Sensate Christians want to be lost in the awe, beauty, and splendor of God. They are drawn particularly to the liturgical, the majestic, the grand. When these Christians worship, they want to be filled with sights, sounds, and smells that overwhelm them. Incense, intricate architecture, classical language, and formal music sends their hearts soaring. These Christians delight in sensuous onslaught. The five senses are God’s most effective inroad to their hearts.
And for each type, it offers a helpful caution:
A sensate needs to use discernment when listening to beautiful music, looking at beautiful art, participating in sensually fulfilling worship. Not all that is beautiful is of God.
This week, I Instagrammed a photo that resonated with a lot of people, including myself. It was of an excerpt from Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, the assigned book for my first graduate class.
Those seven bullet points present a good summary of my experience the last couple of years, but particularly this last month. I’m not a big fan of January in general (who wants to have their birthday in a month full of frigid temps and rain?). But it’s been hard for a different reason. I’ve come the closest I ever have to wanting to give up on my life and my faith.
The author of the book, Peter Scazzero, describes the classic understanding of the Wall, which is seen as the point in the Christian faith when believers hit a season of desperation beyond that of any general discouragement. He says, “Emotionally healthy spirituality requires you to go through the pain of the Wall–or, as the ancients called it, the dark night of the soul. For many, going back in order to go forward thrusts us up against the Wall. Others are brought to it by circumstances and crises beyond our control” (117).
For me, this has been living in a state of complete dependence on God, without income, with daily physical pain, and without the community of people I once interacted with on a daily basis. I’ve been in this place before, but never for such a prolonged period of time. This past week (as my mom will attest to), I was nearly taken under by it. Experiencing panic attacks for the first time, on top of normal circumstances, I almost lost it and she had to come to my bedside more than once to either anoint me with oil and prayer or get me out of the house. I love you so much, mom.
The author of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality led me through ways to think about this, and as I lay on Portia Hopkins’ couch working through tears and homework this week, I began to see a little bit of meaning glimmer through the chaos.
“How do we know we are in the dark night? Our good feelings of God’s presence evaporate. We feel the door of heaven has been shut as we pray. Darkness, helplessness, weariness, a sense of failure or defeat, barrenness, emptiness, dryness descend upon us. The Christian disciplines that have served us up to this time no longer work. We can’t see what God is doing, and we see little visible fruit in our lives” (122-123).
“The Wall, more than anything else, cuts off our attachments to who we think we ought to be, or who we falsely think we are. Layers of our counterfeit self are shed. Something truer, that is Christ in and through us, slowly begins to emerge” (133).
“What is important here is to note that the trials we encounter each day are not the Wall or the dark night of the soul. Trials are the traffic jams, annoying bosses, delayed airplane departures, car breakdowns, fevers, and barking dogs in the middle of the night… Walls are David fleeing a jealous king for 13 years in the desert. Walls are Abraham waiting 25 years for the birth of his first child, Isaac. Walls are Job losing his ten children, health, and possessions in a day” (126).
The other day in the car, amid tears, I realized that what I felt was heartbrokenness at the thought that I felt completely abandoned by God. For the first time in my life, even after having waded through prior Walls, I felt like I—and those around me—were exhibiting far more signs of faith and patience than was characteristic of God to ignore.
One conviction I was forced to confess was that I wasn’t sure I loved God the way I should without all the trappings–communities of friendships, sunshine, a lack of physical pain, beautiful green hills. Basically the pleasure of the senses–all the ways sensates love to engage. Did I love encountering God through these things, or did I love God himself? Could I praise God from a cement cell, the way Paul had? I didn’t think I could.
“St. John of the Cross knew our tendency to become attached to feelings of and about God, mistaking them for God himself. These sensations, rich or empty, are not God but only messengers from God that speak to us of him. There is no other way, John of the Cross would say, for our souls to be strengthened and purified so that we don’t worship our feelings than for God to remove them altogether. This is God’s way of rewiring our taste buds that we might taste of him ever more fully.
St. John wrote, ‘[God] is purging the soul, annihilating it, emptying it or consuming in it (even as fire consumes the mouldiness and the rust of metal) all the affections and imperfect habits which it has contracted its whole life… These are deeply rooted in the substance of the soul” (124).
“While in chapter four I talked about the critical importance of paying attention to our feelings in order to know God, the dark night protects us from worshiping them” (123).
Scazzero comes up with four things that journeying to and through the Wall allows us to experience:
- a greater level of brokenness
- a greater appreciation for holy unknowing (mystery)
- a deeper ability to wait for God
- a greater detachment
Making it through this past week, the clouds parted again (and literally two days ago, which was such a welcome relief), and I find myself in a healthier place. I believe it is partly due to experiencing such catharsis through the emotional turmoil and all the internal wrestling. The other part is just God’s grace. I even made it to my 28th birthday, which was a day of joy–even despite the cold, cloudy skies–with people and things I love.
Still, I have no idea what lies ahead or what God will do. The only thing that’s changed is that I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that I can’t force it out of him. And, somehow, I still sense that He is good, and I want to believe all Scripture describes of his character. I’ve known it to be true in the past, and I have to hold onto that shred of hope for the future.
“We are to live our lives as the rest of the world–marrying, experiencing sorrow and joy, buying things and using them–but always with awareness that these things in themselves are not our lives. We are to be marked by eternity, free from the dominating power of things. Detachment is the great secret of inner peace” (134).
For a sensate personality, this includes letting go of always experiencing the joy and presence of God in things other than God himself–in friendships, in the wind, in lyrical music, and in the warmth of sunlight.
One day at a time…
“God powerfully invades us when we persevere patiently through this suffering. Our great temptation is to quit or go backwards, but if we remain still, listening for his voice, God will insert something of himself into our character that will mark the rest of our journey with him” (124).
. . .
Enjoy this piece? Bailey would love to connect with you in other places, such as Instagram @oh_hey_Bailz, LinkedIn Bailey Gillespie, Facebook Bailey Gillespie, Writer, Twitter @BailzGillespie, or Medium.