Hidden work

Andy Hawes is Warden of
Edenham Regional Retreat House

Sometimes I have conversations with individuals who have ‘dead patches’ in their spirituality. One kind of dead patch is a lack of ‘sense of sorrow for my sins.’ It is not unknown for someone to turn up to confession and say something like, ‘I don’t think I have anything to confess.’ The other is the person who sits down, looks glum and says something like, ‘I can’t see that God is doing anything in my life.’

There is always the remote possibility that there is a complete absence of spiritual movement in someone’s life. But at this point I could ask two questions of the person with the ‘dead patch’. The first is: ‘If nothing is going on in your spiritual life, what are you doing here?’ The second might be: ‘Have you stopped believing in God?’ Both questions arise from an unspoken question: ‘Does God stop working in and through us just because we think he has?’ The answer to that question is ‘no’.

This means that both kinds of people with ‘dead patches’ are not thinking in the right way about God. Because they have no emotional response or any intellectual perception of the activity of the Holy Spirit does not mean to say that ‘living stream’ has dried up. The fact of God is much bigger than our understanding or our personal perception. Our lives ‘are hid with Christ in God’ and ‘now we see through a glass darkly’. There is no way for us ever to know what effect our actions for good or ill, or our prayers however feeble, have in the working out of God’s will.

For the person with the conscience dead to regret or sorrow for their sin, the spiritual director might send them away again and ask them to pray with the Psalmist: ‘Let me know the number of my unwitting sins.’

It is possible that if we pray to know how our actions and omissions have caused trouble and unhappiness without our knowledge, the Lord will show us. It is does not take much application of memory and imagination to see how it is possible for us to be a cause of real pain and trouble – even if our own conscience is ignorant of the weight of sin.

In the same way the person who judges their Christian life as fruitless should go away and ask the Lord to show them how he has used them to further his purpose in small and great ways.

Within the divine economy, nothing is wasted. We always have to remember that ‘we walk by faith and not by sight.’ We do not always see how we help or obstruct the work of the Holy Spirit, but God does. That is why we should ask to see a little of what he sees.