At my church this past week, the message (given by my wife, Jill) was from the first half of Psalm 22, talking about the seasons in life when God seems to be silent. David, the author, understands the feelings of abandonment and frustration that come from such periods of time when God is difficult to find and/or connect with.
Psalm 22:1-2, NIV 1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? 2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.
With David, we are in good company when we experience similar feelings. A more modern example is that of Mother Teresa. A few years ago, a collection of her correspondence with some of her spiritual advisors/ mentors was released. Through her letters, she revealed that for almost fifty years of her life and ministry, God seemed distant from her. She felt abandoned and alone. And yet she remained faithful to her calling to work with the poor.
When God Seems Silent
I have experienced seasons when I have wondered if God was really present at all, or if I had simply made Him up somehow. During those times, it is easy either to forget or to explain away any experiences of God’s closeness. During a potentially serious health scare with my daughter a year ago, I could well relate to the words of David and later of Jesus, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In the days between the doctor’s initial concern that she might have hydrocephalus (water on the brain) and the ultimate clean bill of health, I wrestled deeply with God. I forgot about His goodness.
Following our discovery that she was healthy, I continued to wrestle. While I wanted to believe that God would not allow anything bad to happen to my baby, I also had to face the reality of all of those who devoutly love and serve God and yet also experience terrible trauma, even the death of a child. Why should my family be treated any differently? Did we pray more effectively, or does God somehow love my daughter more than …? This line of questioning is pointless and circular, but so often typifies the trap we find ourselves in when God seems silent.
When We Miss God
Mother Teresa was comforted through a letter she received from one of her mentors, the Reverend Joseph Neuner, regarding what she described as her “darkness.” “He seems to have told her the three things she needed to hear: that there was no human remedy for it (that is, she should not feel responsible for affecting it); that feeling Jesus is not the only proof of his being there, and her very craving for God was a ‘sure sign’ of his ‘hidden presence’ in her life; and that the absence was in fact part of the ‘spiritual side’ of her work for Jesus.”1 Her response was, surprisingly, “I can’t express in words — the gratitude I owe you for your kindness to me — for the first time in … years — I have come to love the darkness.”2
When We Connect with God
Neuner’s statement that “there was no human remedy for it,” allowed Mother Teresa to stop striving for a connection with God and feeling that was doing something wrong. While this lets us off the hook of a performance-based faith, it remains difficult in another way. This is because we must then wait upon God, rather than trying one thing after another, busying ourselves with our own efforts. In the pursuit of busy-ness, we at least feel that there is something we can do, and we can blame ourselves rather than God, if our efforts are fruitless. His next bit of counsel, “Feeling Jesus is not the only proof of his being there,” is a good admonition to us as well. When we are seeking the “feeling” of Jesus’ presence with us, we may miss out on the ways that He is actually being present to us through other people. Despite feeling alone during the health scare with our daughter, we were not in reality. In fact, many were praying for us and joined with us in our fears and anxiety.
I don’t believe that Mother Teresa’s statement, “I have come to love the darkness” implies that she embraced some sort of evil within herself. The “darkness” she described was her inability to sense the presence of God, as if the lights had suddenly gone out. Neuner’s counsel to her brought great comfort, because she could see that the “darkness” was similar to what Christ experienced in His suffering and death. “My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?” In effect, it was through God’s silence that she was able to connect more deeply with Christ. Hers was a lonely path, yet not purposeless. She had not been abandoned.
When We Sense God’s Presence
I pray that as you journey with Christ, you can celebrate the times when you sense His closeness and cherish that closeness, especially when it feels like He is distant. Do not lose faith when He seems silent, but look for Him in the unexpected places. Know that through your loneliness and suffering, celebrating and joy, God is present.