Jesus explored the heights and depths as none of us ever will, so we need not be afraid of our own emotional ups and downs, or those of others.
I remember being told as a young Christian that my spiritual life should not be one of ups and downs, but of steady and constant growth and progress.
I’m sure there is much truth in that, but as I sought to grow I found (and still continue to find) that my life is full of ups and downs. This became a source of guilt and frustration which seemed to make the downs “downer” and the ups not quite so up.
Is it possible to iron out the ups and downs? Is it realistic to aim for the kind of steady spiritual growth I was encouraged to seek?
C. S. Lewis in Screwtape Letters describes what he calls the Law of Undulation:
While our spirit can be directed to an eternal object our bodies, passions and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time means to change. Our nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation.
Lewis was saying our emotions naturally go up and down. It’s impossible to maintain any emotion for very long.
After reading this I began to notice this truth throughout Scripture. I discovered in the Psalms the most tremendous ups and downs. There are times when the psalmist is low—”Why are you downcast O my soul?” (Psalms 42:11); “I sink in the miry depths” (Psalms 69:2); “I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirit grew faint” (Psalms 77:3); “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord” (Psalms 130:1).
And there are times when the psalmist is elated—”You have filled my heart with greater joy” (Psalms 4:7); “My heart is glad and my tongue rejoices” (Psalms 16:9).
Such ups and downs are all part of life. There will be times when we “sow in tears” and others when we “reap with songs of joy.” This is normal—the common experience of God’s people, and part of our humanity which the Lord Jesus himself shared.
For we read at one point that he was “full of joy through the Holy Spirit” (Luke 10:21), and in another place we find him telling his disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Mark 14:34). Jesus explored the heights and depths as none of us ever will, so we need not be afraid of our own emotional ups and downs or those of others.
Rather, we are to learn to “rejoice with those who rejoice” and to “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15), without feeling this is unspiritual or an indication that something is wrong with us.
I don’t believe it is realistic or even right to expect to iron out these ups and downs. Nor are they incompatible with growing steadily as a Christian. We need to see that God, in his loving care for us, allows both ups and downs to help us grow in Christ.
How can we make sure that our ups and downs help us spiritually rather than hinder us?
Whatever we feel, we must share it with the Lord and keep close to him, even if we do not feel close to him. The Psalms record situation after situation in which people took their ups and downs to God to share them with him.
In the passages cited above in which Jesus was at one point filled with the Holy Spirit’s joy and later overwhelmed with sorrow, at both times he was turning to his Father in prayer. Even on the cross, separated from God by our sin, Jesus prayed, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
If we, like the Lord Jesus, will keep on praying and keep on obeying on the basis of our convictions, whatever our emotions may be doing, we will see God use the ups and downs in our lives to strengthen us and deepen our relationship with him.
We will even find that the ups and downs are vital to the steady spiritual growth we desire.