Julian of Norwich’s book “Revelations of Divine Love” has had a big impact on my life as I’ve read of her experiences with God during my devotional times. I was particularly struck by what she said as a result of the seventh revelation she received from God.
Julian talks about her experience of being spiritually/emotionally up and down; one minute feeling God’s comfort and rest and great sustaining spiritual joy, the next feeling as though “turned away, left all alone, deeply distressed and tired of my life … there was no comfort or calm for me … only faith hope and love, and I did not feel these, I only believed they were true.” She experienced this back and forth around twenty times. She came to understand that “God wants us to know that he keeps us safe in bad and good times alike.”
So often when we feel blue, discouraged, depressed, alone and cut off from God we assume we have sinned. However, sin is not always the cause as Julian realised. She says she’d not had time between the good and bad times to actually sin. On the other hand, she realised she didn’t deserve the feelings of joy either. God had freely given what he willed, sometimes joy and sometimes sorrow.
I know for myself that when I feel great joy and encouragement in my life and in God that there’s sometimes a teeny sense that I must deserve it in some way, that somehow I’ve been “good” and it’s a reward. By the same token, when my life feels joyless and I’m discouraged, or God feels a long way away and there isn’t much comfort or encouragement around I so often and quickly assume God has abandoned me and that I must have been “bad”, that I must have sinned or have some sinful attitude. What I’m coming to understand more and more from all this is that my feelings aren’t the measure of my relationship with God, and that joy or sorrow are opportunities to keep on trusting him.
(Mother Julian of Norwich. Revelations of Divine Love. (ed by Halcyon Backhouse with Rhona Pipe.) London: Hodder & Stoughton. 1987. pp34-5)