How to find your way through the desert of spiritual barrenness

Christian singles often drift into a state of spiritual barrenness.

Maybe we're more vulnerable because we pray so long and so hard that we hit spiritual burnout.

If you're depressed about this dry spell, your first reaction may be to blame yourself. But hold on. This condition is not only common, it's also treatable.

John of the Cross, a 16th century Spanish mystic, described the problem in his book, The Dark Night of the Soul. He taught that this spiritual desert can even be a positive experience that brings you to a higher level of prayer.

The important thing is not to panic. Depression and a feeling of malaise are so common among singles that we shouldn't overreact when they occur.  Let's look at some causes of this problem...

Causes of spiritual barrenness

This inability to pray can have many causes:

  • Focusing on your problems instead of God;
  • Expecting an instant solution or putting God on your timetable:
  • Praying too hard and too much:
  • Telling God to follow your will instead of his;
  • Failure to take time every day to read God's word, the Bible;
  • Failure to regularly attend church services and be encouraged by other believers;
  • Unconfessed, unrepented sin in your life that you refuse to give up;
  • Hurts or snubs you've received from other Christians;
  • Excessive busyness with your career, family, or personal life;
  • Physical exhaustion, depression, or emotional burnout.

Is it me or something else?

Sometimes you need help from your pastor, another believer, or a family member to determine the cause of your spiritual barrenness. It may be one or several of the reasons above. Or maybe it's something unique to you.

A heartfelt request to God can reveal much. His light not only helps you understand the world, but also yourself.

Okay, now what do I do?

If you are able to identify the cause, then you can start to work on the remedy, asking God for his assistance. Be prepared for a long and sometimes painful struggle.

The Christian life is not for wimps and requires a willingness to be molded by God.


You may need to see your doctor to determine whether depression is the cause. Many Christians are reluctant to admit to depression, trying instead to "pull themselves up by their own bootstraps." But if it is depression, that won't work.

True depression is a physical as well as emotional illness, no more shameful than bronchitis or chicken pox. That's why it responds so well to medication. But if left untreated, it can get worse.

I'm not a great believer in doubling your efforts. When you do that, you may be trying twice as hard with a solution that won't work. Instead, try some rest and recreation.

God rested after creation. You're stronger than him? He also created the sabbath as a day for rest, not more hectic activity.

Face the truth that it's normal

You may be embarrassed or rattled by your spiritual barrenness, thinking a lifelong Christian shouldn't be prone to that kind of emptiness. But even the strongest believer is susceptible to this kind of obstacle.


The story of Elijah is a perfect example. Instead of rejoicing over his stunning victory over the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel, he fell into a deep depression as he was hunted by Jezebel. But did God scold him? No. He made Elijah rest and restored his courage.

Rest is a good thing. We may laugh at the comic strip character Dagwood Bumstead (married to Blondie) when he takes a nap on the sofa, but sometimes a nap is just what the doctor ordered. It's not slothfulness when you're giving your body the rest it badly needs.

Give yourself permission to be tired. Admit that you're not Superman (or Supergirl). Take a vacation from what's troubling you and rest in God.

Spiritual barrenness will come and go throughout your lifetime. By expecting it and not berating yourself when it happens, you grow in spiritual maturity.

Remember the Bible phrase, "and it came to pass.."? Spiritual barrenness comes to pass too, not to stick around. If you calmly learn the cause and ask God for his help and guidance, you'll soon be climbing out of the valley and leaving it behind.

Return to top of spiritual barrenness.