It is early in the morning, the sun has not yet begun to shine nor have the morning birds begun to sing and I am in my office, staring at my Bible. It is out of routine and habit that I find myself hunched over my desk, my Bible before me and a book of prayers by its side. I look at the Bible, I look at the book of prayers, and I sigh. It is a sigh that releases feelings of guilt, feelings of obligation, and feelings of weariness. I do not feel it this morning. I don’t want to pray this morning. I am not feeling the presence of God, the joy of faith, or the sense of connection that I might have felt at other times. I find myself staring at the Bible, at the prayers, and do not feel like praying. It is not that I am tired. It is not that I am defiant. It is that this morning, this moment, I do not know if I believe and do not know if I want to pray.
How do you worship when you do not believe? How do you pray when you do not know if you have any faith in what it is that you are proclaiming or praying to? While this is not an occurrence for me every morning, it is something that I wrestle with more often than not. I imagine that it may be the same for many others as well. I imagine that from time to time we all find ourselves in places of spiritual drought, of a spiritual emptiness when it comes to God’s presence, and I wonder how it is that we an bring ourselves to pray and worship in those times.
I am sure that there are many who simply do not worship. There are those who refrain from going to church on a Sunday or from taking the time to pray because the desire is not there. Maybe there is the fear of being disingenuous, of being false and fake as one goes through the motions.
Maybe there is the worry that some may see such actions as hypercritical, to sit in the pew and say the words of faith when you don’t really believe the words that you are saying. Sure, if some people knew then they may look askance at you, may judge you, but doubt is an easy thing to hide and faith can be an easy thing to fake and no one ever really know. But you know, and it can be difficult, and we are led to ask what it is that we can or should do.
If we have been going through prayers, if worship is a part of our habits, our upbringing there may be a desire to go back. Maybe we feel guilty, or maybe there is a longing to have that connection with the Holy Other again. Maybe we just want to believe but are not sure how we can get to that place of belief. How can we worship or pray if we do not have anything to offer or give?
1. Take a chance that maybe God does exist even if we do not believe God does. This is a classic living out of Pascal’s Wager. Make the bet that God does exist because if God does, then you are good, and if God doesn’t, then you haven’t lost anything.
2. Act as if God does exist. This is the second, oft forgotten part, of Pascal’s Wager. It is one thing to say that you will assume that God does exist, but then you need to act like God does and that means take time to pray, to worship, and to try to be a good person. Even if you are not sure if you believe, the actions, the worship, the prayers, will have an effect on you, will shape and form you, and that is not a bad thing.
3. Rely on the prayers of others. Go through the motions trusting that in doing so you are being connected with others in the community that have a deep faith and belief. Trust that their prayers will lift you up, will be connected with yours. Trust that in worship, their faith is more than sufficient for your lack of faith. Like a comforting blanket, let the faith of others give you a sense of peace in your time of drought. Let others pray for you.
4. Don’t feel guilty. We all go through times and experiences of doubt and question. That does not make you a bad person. It is what you do with that doubt that is important. Don’t let the guilt paralyze you from your efforts to regain and reclaim that relationship with the Divine that you desire.
We will all have those times when we do not feel like worshipping, praying, or if we have any connection with the divine at all. It may talk all of our faith to simply go through the motions. And yet, to just go through the motions might be enough.