Surviving the Doldrums

Finding genuine contentment in the waiting place.

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” Psalm 51:12

When my kids were young my favorite family read-aloud book was a story about a discontented fisherman’s son. All he wanted was to get in his boat, catch a breeze, and sail as far away as he could. But every time he set out he got caught in the doldrums. He was neither moving forward or backward, he was just stagnant. Stuck.

I loved the book so much because I can completely relate to that feeling of stuck-ness. I often picture myself sitting in the middle of the ocean on my pieced-together, Huck Finn raft with my little tree limb mast and mainsail made of old bed sheet staring at the sky, waiting for the wind to move me along to my next destination. But the wind doesn’t come. And my discouragement grows as hot as the sun beating down on my face. There’s not a thing I can do to make the wind pick up and blow me ashore. I just have to wait. And waiting is hard.

At our house, we often call the doldrums the “in-betweens.” Those times in life you find yourself between where you’re leaving and where you’re going. That may be a major transition, say, moving off to college, or it may be something smaller, like a season of stillness between ending a season of active ministry and beginning another. Typically, before the doldrums, there’s a season of mountaintops and valleys when the Lord is showing Himself powerfully. You are awash with His goodness, feel His presence almost tangibly, and hear His voice loudly. But during those in-between times, those waiting times, those doldrums, especially if the waiting lasts for a long season, you find the voice of God grows muffled, and His presence is faint.

51bcvjaaq1l._sx373_bo1204203200_.jpgIn one of the lesser-known Chronicles of Narnia, The Silver Chair, Jill and Eustace arrive in Narnia and meet Aslan on a mountaintop. There Aslan gives them four specific instructions about finding the lost Prince Rilian. He then blows the two down into Narnia below, but gives them this warning, “Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly; I will not often do so in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care it does not confuse your mind. And the signs you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look when you meet them there. That is why is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters.”

Aslan knew Jill and Eustace would face the doldrums, a stuck place, and they would need help to find their way back to the truth. In the waiting place, your mind can trick you into believing lies, about yourself and about your Father.

This season I’ve found myself in the deep throes of a nasty, despairing doldrum. I’ve found myself shouting my questions and frustrations to the stillness, “Who am I, Lord?” “Are you there Lord?” “Will you meet with me?” “I can’t do this.” “You can’t use me.” “I am inept and inadequate.” And I wait for His familiar whisper, and it doesn’t come. My heart aches and then I begin to recount what He’s told me so often on the mountain and in the valley. And I begin to take those steps that take me back to what I know:

Step 1: Examine My Heart. (2 Corinthians 13:5; Psalm 139:23-24) I ask the Lord to help me take a good, deep, honest look at my heart and mind. There may be a sinful habit or stinky attitude or some pervasive disobedience I need to bring under the authority of Christ. Repentance always brings restoration.

Step 2: Take the Next Step. (Psalm 37:34) When I am waiting on the Lord, I need to be sure I am seeking to keep His ways. Even, and most especially, if I don’t “feel” like reading my Bible. I read it. When I don’t “feel” like praying, I have to be honest and tell God how I’m feeling. When I don’t “feel” like meeting with that person or doing that Bible study. I do it. One step of obedience at a time. And that obedience is more times than not a serious struggle.

Step 3: Stand Firm on the Truth. (Ephesians 6:13-18) Here’s where faith becomes sight. In the doldrums I may not hear God’s voice clearly; I may not sense His presence, but I don’t have to have those things when I have the Word. I read it. I memorize it. I say it to myself over and over and over again. I can trust his instructions—even when the way is stagnant and foggy. Just as Aslan said, the way those instructions are walked out may not look like I expect (rarely do things turn out like we expect), but I can trust the Author is true to His Word.

Doing these steps while in the doldrums is tough. In the doldrums, apathy tends to want to invade your heart like Southern kudzu. You’ll have to fight to cut back those desires and inclinations of the flesh and find your way back to the truth. As Psalm 27:14 tells us waiting is not inactivity—even in the doldrums, your Abba is working on your behalf. To wait well in the doldrums takes supernatural strength and courage. And God is faithful. You keep seeking Him and one day you’ll find this powerful fresh wind of the Spirit comes and instead of your makeshift raft getting capsized, you’ll find the King has helped you build a sturdy vessel that can withstand the waiting.

“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” Psalm 27:14

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