Hitting a wall in your relationship with God is practically a universal experience. Here’s what you need to know to move beyond it.
Earlier this week a friend confided in me that she’s hit a wall spiritually—and she’s not alone. She knows others who are experiencing the exact same thing. “Is it spiritual warfare?” she asked? “It could be,” I responded, “But more likely it is a wall God is allowing for the sake of spiritual maturity.”
I am by no means an expert on spiritual barriers, but Janet Hagberg is. In her book The Critical Journey [affiliate link], Hagberg outlines six stages of spiritual growth. Those stages are the recognition of God, the life of discipleship, the productive life, the journey inward, the journey outward and the life of love. The Wall (always with a capital “W,” of course) comes between the inward and outward journeys and must be faced in order to continue to grow as a Christian. Failure to address the Wall results in either repeating our earlier stages of growth—often to the point of burnout—or falling away from the Lord altogether. It is not a small thing, and it takes a lot to be faithful in addressing it.
The Wall is different for everyone because it is deeply personal. Hagberg writes, “it has to do with slowly breaking through the barriers we have built between our will and a newer awareness of God in our lives.” This means the Wall is about the barriers we’ve created, many unconsciously, to protect us from our own concept of who God is and who we are in relation to him. The Wall is a place of healing, where when “we surrender our wills to be healed spiritually; we simultaneously begin to be healed psychologically.” That means it is at the Wall that the fractured places in us—body, mind and spirit—are reintegrated and rededicated to God. When we’ve hit the Wall, “we have spent our own energy; we have come to the end of our ropes. We are ready to learn about freedom—the liberty of living without grasping.”
This is a complex subject that I can’t really do justice to in a blogpost. That being said, if you suspect you’ve hit the Wall in your spiritual life, there are some practical steps you can take:
Find someone further along in their journey to support you. The worst thing you can do at the Wall is try & figure it out on your own. You will only entrench the exact thought patterns the Lord wants to heal. Find a spiritual director, coach, or pastor who can meet with you on a regular basis. Cultivate spiritual friendships of people who can support you—even if you have to tell them what it is you need from them right now.
Seek out places of thanksgiving, gratitude, worship and praise. Your daily quiet time may be dry as dust, but this is where your investment in your local church can pay great dividends. It is possible to connect with God vicariously—that is, through the experience of others, particularly your church community. Go as often as you can to places where you feel spiritually nourished. Take Communion frequently. Go to Bible studies where people are honestly seeking God. Play your favorite worship album ‘til your spouse asks you to stop. And if there isn’t any place where you feel any connection to God at all, it is especially important for you to seek out a spiritual mentor.
Grieve and let go. Grief is a common experience at the Wall, though what your grief might be about seems to be all over the spectrum. Hagberg reports that some people experience release as well. Grieving and letting go are important keys to moving beyond the Wall. Grieve even if you don’t know why you are grieving. Let go where it seems appropriate.
Don’t beat your head against the Wall. This seems to be an especially common response by modern Americans confronted with the Wall. We simply cannot believe that without hard work and persistence that we can move beyond this obstacle. Yet it is through the Wall that God is showing you exactly how little your persistence and hard work count. To God, the Wall is about you learning how deeply you need his grace to function in every little thing in your life. So don’t beat your head against the Wall—you’ll only hurt yourself. Take a break if you need to, but you cannot dismantle the Wall with your forehead.
Let God lead you. Since the Wall is different for each person, no other person can tell you how to pass through it. Keep asking God “what do you want me to do with this?” Ask others to pray this for you. Ultimately this is God’s work in you. You will not make progress until you can accept it as his will for you to address it.
Cultivate patience, hope and humility. These virtues allow you to accept the Wall, God’s timing in addressing it and keep you from wearing yourself out in fruitless frustration and anger. Sit before the Wall regularly for as long as you can, asking God to remove it and if there’s anything you can do to speed the process.
Facing the Wall is a necessary step to maturing as a Christian. Beyond the wall lies the outward journey, a place where our own fears are finally made subservient to God’s call and courage is given to us for mission. I pray that God will give you the grace and hope required to stay at your Wall and collaborate with him in the internal work required to tear it down.
Are you facing a Wall in your spiritual life right now? What helps you remain faithful to God’s purpose in confronting you with it?