January 17, 2021

A Wise Word about Spiritual Formation

The Kingfisher, Van Gogh

By Chaplain Mike

I have not been able to get this sentence out of my mind since reading it in the foreword to Carlson and Lueken’s book, Renovation of the Church, discussed here last week.

It speaks to the salutary effects that seasons of disorientation can have on our spiritual formation. Can it really be that we grow most and best when conditions seem (to us, anyway) least conducive to it?

“It is spiritually formative to be dissatisfied and unable to resolve it.”

•  Dallas Willard

I do not feel ready to comment on this at the moment. It is food for thought and contemplation.

What say you?


  1. I completely agree with the thought, if by saying it we mean that enduring such periods of dissatisfaction in a godly way eventually leads us to find full satisfaction in Jesus. As Augustine said, our hearts our restless until they rest in You, O God. Being unable to resolve dissatisfaction via all the usual tricks teaches us the ultimate emptiness of those approaches. Being dissatisfied as a hueristic – as a way of learning where we are not fulling resting in God – that’s a good thing.

  2. But, JPJ, what happens when a person is not using “the usual tricks” and is still dissatisfied? Perhaps thay are going through a period some call “the dark night of the soul.” Willard says it is spiritually formative “to be dissatisfied and unable to resolve it.” I think it is only true in some cases. Some people are unable to resolve their dissatisfaction and commit suicide. Oops, that is not so spiritually formative, methinks.

  3. For me, this partly describes prayer.

    We carry our needs to God. We may not precisely receive the answer to our prayer, but it bringing our request to God, and trusting him with the answer, we lay our dissatisfaction before him, and trust him with the result. We live in the tension of our faith.

    From my own life, some of my darkest times and moments of dissatisfaction brought me closer to God. These were the times when I desperately looked for answers. I didn’t necessarily receive a bunch of comfortable neat answers, but I did find that in those moments of despair, meaningful solace in God.

  4. I really, really like this quote. So often I will struggle through an idea, a challenge in life or church, a scripture passage, etc.
    It seems like only after I’ve exhausted all MY personal efforts through study, work, spiritual practices, debate w/self & others that I can finally just surrender and simply rest in HIM. I usually don’t find any new “answers” to what I was looking for, but maybe that’s the point. I hope that makes a little bit of sense and not too much of a cliche.


  5. I don’t know if we grow the most during times like these, but it makes sense that we need different “stimuli” to continue growing through plateaus and/or to grow in particular ways.

  6. If this be the case, then I ought to be one of the most spiritually mature Christians alive. But since I’m not, I trust that God is working through the mess for me somehow.

  7. David Cornwell says

    If we become satisfied because we have been able to resolve it, then maybe that’s the time to be concerned. But, being satisfied, we probably will not be. A state of spiritual satisfaction might be dangerous to our souls.

  8. Bill Metzger says

    There’s an old saying,”Jesus is all you need, but you’ll never know it until He’s all you’ve got”. The dark night of the soul- when all the props that have “help us upright” are kicked away- is the time when formation happens. When we have lost all comfort and consolation in anything and everything else and are alone with the Alone, then the indwelling Jesus shines with a “bright darkness” that cannot be explained. He trult IS the Light of the world!

  9. Christiane says

    what helps our troubled spirit in times of ‘dis-satisfaction’?

    spread the white cloth, light the candles, gather the Family, and give thanks
    . . .

  10. A quote:

    My wound is an unanswered question. The wounds of all humanity are an unanswered question. In times of upheaval, a voice from heaven says, “Be still and know that I am God.” It does not say, “Be still and know why.”

    In my experience it is in the unanswered things, the unresolved things that I seek Him instead of all the much ado about nothing we’re so good at making this journey.

    • Amen, RG. Amen.

    • Amen, Amen, and Amen.

      It is the unanswered-ness of the searching for God that allows the soul to finally cease its struggle and surrender most fully to the “Presence”. The willful child that cannot sit still or the ever-pleasure-seeking prodigal all have the same inner need – control. Ultimate control is never wrested from us during good times, it is only as the soul comes up against the “Unmovable” that it will surrender all its will to the Other. It is the growth during those moments that will ultimately shape us into Jesus-shaped Kingdom children.

  11. I think it means coming to the end of my self. It’s that time when I am absolutely stuck; I’ve run out of tricks to keep me going. And yet I come to the other side. I don’t know how I get there. It doesn’t get resolved, but it is no longer an issue. I really can’t describe it very well; it’s only happened a few times.

  12. it may be true of us when facing serious disruptions of life that we do seek God more. or more intensely. or more fervently. we want some answers. or some acknowledgment of our predicament…

    we want to be comforted. vindicated. protected. restored. provided for…

    the stresses of life, unwanted tragedy, long drawn-out bad situations that do not abate…yeah, we can look back on our progress & maybe conclude it was conducive to spiritual growth/formation…but i would not volunteer for it…

    i hate it actually. not the underlying principle or God’s manner of dealing with us as we are, but the fact that we are so messed up it is part of the process. even after dealing with my specific challenges, there is a greater ‘cringe’ factor that becomes recognizable after the intensity subsides. it is not a happy testimony result of clinging to the Almighty, but more a sense of what’s next…

    a clearer pattern of God’s manner of dealing with us emerges after the 30+ year as disciple milestone. it is a recognizable method of how God deals with our unique issues. the circumstances may always be different, but they do expose the major flaws of our character & what it is He is dealing with over the long term…

    for those of us prone to frustration & discouragement, the fear-factor of recognizing the work of transformation is not complete can be unsettling…

    is there a respite in this life? a merciful oasis/pasture we can actually rest in? or does this nagging sense of incompleteness & dissastisfaction dog us “all the days of our lives???”

    • i hate it actually. not the underlying principle or God’s manner of dealing with us as we are, but the fact that we are so messed up it is part of the process. even after dealing with my specific challenges, there is a greater ‘cringe’ factor that becomes recognizable after the intensity subsides. it is not a happy testimony result of clinging to the Almighty, but more a sense of what’s next…

      I love that honesty Joseph! For me and the kind of person I am or maybe it’s my personality, reading that makes me want to know more about God…..not the happy-go-lucky b.s that some are good at giving.

      • i had stated in some previous comment awhile back that i find it truly ‘odd’ that i continue on this journey of faith…


        i think my response to life’s incongruity while still being a disciple really screwy. not in a irreligious way, just in a logical way. the default condition of humanity chooses the easy way out when push-comes-to-shove. it is crazy to think a person would volunteer for the unknowns of a faith journey rather than the temporal approach of self-preservation & self-gratification…

        i may be a bit shell-shocked yet from my ordeals of only 2+ years now. but i wonder why with all my unanswered questions i respond like Peter: “…where would i go, O Lord? You & you alone the source of eternal life…”

        • Joseph, though I come from a long line of Christians, church attenders, theologians and pastors, I am a baby in all of this faith stuff though, a prodigal who returned Home only 4 years ago. There was a time in the last 2 years that my mother said to me, “I’m amazed at the things you have been asked to endure in this new stage.” And I, like you Joseph, ask where would I go? I’ve been everywhere else…..it served me nothing. NOTHING. I was like the son in the parable, no one gave him anything. I’ve lived that…..why would I go back to nothing? Just because this really sucks every once in awhile? Or every moment? ha ha! I’ve learned about grace and mercy in some of the most horrific times……that is good enough for me.

  13. textjunkie says

    How about “it can be spiritually formative… ” rather than “it is…”? Not all unresolved dissatisfaction leads to spiritual growth. But it can certainly be conducive to it.

    • Or maybe: “A good environment for spiritual formation is……” I like your comment, tj, dissatisfaction can just lead to bitterness and disillusionment. I think our quandry is opportunity knocking.

  14. “In this life there is no (lasting) peace, rest, nor victory.”

    I forgot the Lutheran theologian who said that…but he is right.

    But we have faith that all things work together for good for those who trust God. And that our hope is not for this life only.

    Another pretty good theologian said those things, I believe.

  15. A couple of years ago I happened on this quote from Therese of Lisieux:

    If you are willing to bear serenely the trial of being displeasing to yourself,
    then you will be for Jesus a pleasant place of shelter.


  16. One more Mike says

    I was wondering what this was all about.

  17. Encountering years of “dissatisfaction” — pain, struggle, anger — was what changed my theology. Praying the right amount, supporting the right political leaders, reading my bible…all these things were supposed to make the trials go away, because people who did the right things were supposed to be delivered. It became like superstition; just ended up with a lot of people chiding each other about not “speaking death” so that God wouldn’t “remove His umbrella of protection”. Seems weird now. But I can’t blame them; life is exhausting sometimes, and we’re all desperate to be delivered. What remains of theology if “following the rules” doesn’t always protect me? Something substantial, it turns out. Peterson’s “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” has been an excellent start in finding the words for it.

  18. Oh if that be so, I must be living in a most formative season. I think if it is true, it is also a most dangerous time with a flip side from which the enemy and our flesh would want to deceive.

  19. And if it be so, I think it would more apt to be in an expected way.

  20. Unexpected way, sorry it’s late.

  21. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    I think it puts the lie to the Prosperity Gospel, its Shiny Happy Clappy corollary, and all those with Perfectly Parsed Theology.

  22. This life is like an ocean wave. Solution and dissolution, solution and dissolution. Sometimes the dissolution takes awhile. It’s day and night. It’s the seasons. It’s breathing. Then I ask, is it our God? If we are indeed made in His image, then is some form of this process going on in the Godhead? I know He is perfect but are we involved in some form of this process as He completes His communion with humanity? Does perfect mean the same thing as complete? These are some of the questions causing a current dissolution in my experience. I’m in danger of simply shrinking and humanizing God if I carry that thinking too far but that’s not where I’m going. I just think that there is something vital, and not static, going on, in God, that resembles our journey and our breath and our days of ebb and flow. If that is the case, I’m sure it is different and on a radically and unspeakably different plane. It’s like a half inch seedling to a two hundred foot redwood. Does God grow or change in any way? If He does then perhaps our growth is a little baby image of some similar process- some inkling of that seen from a billion light years away (by way of comparison, not proximity to Him) Does God, even in infinite wisdom, sometimes get stopped? Certainly not by anything that would stop us but there is a battle going on in heavenly places which means there is conflict and uncertainty. Looked at from a timeless and eternal point of view, all is peace, there is no battle and every tear is wiped away so the ship has been righted and conflict is resolved but there was conflict at some point. There was the cross. That surely doesn’t strike anyone as a rosy picture. How did it come about ? Did the birth of that idea give pause in heaven like the great silent pause in Revelation? Was there any conflicted feeling about initiating the Flood? These may be legitimate questions or I may be completely off my rocker and in complete dissolution having taken leave of my senses. Sorry for the wild tangent.

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