Humans are amphibians – half spirit and half animal…As spirits they belong to the eternal world, but as animals they inhabit time. This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object, their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change. Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation – the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks…these are merely a natural phenomenon…
To decide what is the best use of it, you must ask what use the Enemy [God] wants to make of it, and then do the opposite. Now it may surprise you to learn that in His efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else. The reason is this. To [Satan] a human is primarily food; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense. But the obedience which [God] demands of men is quite a different thing. One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself – creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His. We want cattle who can finally become food; He [God] wants servants who can finally become sons…We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over…He wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.
…The creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve. He is willing to do a little overriding at the beginning. He will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. But He never allows this state of affairs to last long. Sooner or later He withdraws…at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs – to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best…[God] cannot ‘tempt’ to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles.”
I’ve been reading The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, which my boyfriend Charles bought me. The book consists of letters written from Screwtape, an “assistant” of Satan, to his nephew Wormwood. This passage in particular stuck out to me as I was reading. Wormwood happily tells his uncle that he thinks his current human he’s working on tempting is falling away from his “religious phase” and Screwtape informs his naive nephew of the law of Undulation – the idea that humans are only constant in that they are always going through change. Physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually we are always changing – I don’t know many people who could disagree.
We have highs and lows, peaks and troughs in all areas of our lives including our spiritual lives and relationships with God. Sometimes you just feel like you’re doing better, like you’re obeying better, like you’re sinning less, and feeling especially close to Him. Sometimes you feel lower than ever, like you mess up at every turn and you can even begin to doubt your worth as a follower of Christ.
This passage offers hope. God will eventually let go of you somewhat and let you walk on your own and take the reigns in your spiritual walk with Him. It is not in His nature to force His will upon you. When you go through “dry” periods or “trough” periods and still hold on to His promises and His love, you are becoming the person He wants you to be. If He takes his hand away and you freely, willfully follow Him, no matter how hard it is for you, no matter how much you might struggle, no matter how many times you stumble and fall and no matter how far you feel from Him, He is pleased with you. He loves you and He will not abandon or forsake you. A great reminder from a great author.