My tired body needed rest. My restless heart wanted God. My need to hear from Him pulled at me like an itch. An itch that only He can scratch. My mind can’t rest until my heart does. And I knew my heart would never rest until I prayed.
I got up and left the house. I pray better if I know I'm alone and can pray aloud. So I love a country road or an empty sanctuary. Especially at night. My role as a pastor gave me access to ours. A role now in jeopardy. And the reason I can't sleep.
Even in the dark, this room set apart for God felt safe. Unlike my restless heart.
I'd been forced into a moral dilemma. Confront a wrong or ignore it. I knew what I had to do. And the risks. But I also knew God would ‘make it right'. As of this night, He hadn’t. (And didn’t. I was forced to resign.) Obedience never obligates God to bless us. I get that. But then He went silent. As my crisis intensifies. That I don't 'get'.
I tried to pray but couldn’t. My thoughts ricocheted back and forth between the injustice, my family’s future and this painful silence I don't understand. My emotions were a mess. My heart felt like a race horse. Trapped inside the starting gate.
I started pacing. A quirk of my restless mind I guess. On the hunt for words to give my pain a voice. Yet none were found. My restless pacing slowed to a stop.
Prayer is never easy when life is hard and God is silent. Here’s a journal entry from that difficult season. “God, why are you so quiet when I need you most?!”
The silence was painful. Yet all I could do is accept it. Reluctantly. So here I am in the dark. Trying to embrace the quiet I've come to hate. When a voice behind me whispers in my ear. ‘Jack!’ Caught up in my inner turmoil, I never noticed one of our pastors crouching behind the choir rail I was sitting on.
At my startled jump, my pastor doubled over with laughter. I did too. Minus the laughter. He was oblivious to the turmoil in my soul. And in one sense, so was I.
As for my restless heart? All it found that night is a higher gear. And my body screamed for a bed. My mind blamed the whole fiasco on this itch. So I told all 3 that next time it’ll be a Jason Bourne movie and a Brownie Blizzard. In bed.
There’s nothing like thinking you’re all alone and then finding out you’re not! I wrote that sentence before catching the irony. I ‘knew’ I was alone. I felt alone. It never crossed my mind that someone else may be in the room. Especially God.
Those moments in which I was oblivious to my pastor’s presence is a perfect metaphor of how easily I lose all awareness of the God I’m supposedly ‘with’.
God is with me. But I’m not always with Him. (2 Chr. 15:2) Too prone to wonder.
“He rolls home after the house is dark. His heart as cold as a stone. And he lies back to back with his wife in the sack. Together all alone.” Bob Bennett
The God who came into our world came into mine in 1964. And He hasn't left. But I do. Quite often. I don't reject Him. I just forget Him. I'm preoccupied with everything but Him. Living out my days unaware of how unaware l really am.
This crisis occurred 25+ years ago. Still no answers to my whys. But I now see what I couldn’t see then. Convinced of His absence, I missed His presence. Truth is: I was never alone. He walked in with me. Paced with me. Left with me.
But in a crisis, silence feels like absence. And absence implies indifference. But I was wrong. He was there! Quiet. But not absent. Hearing what I couldn't say.
I misjudged Him. I won't try to defend His heart or explain His absence. I can only tell you my story. A story He's still in by the way. He still goes silent on me. Which still feels like absence. And I still accuse Him of indifference. Yet He still shows up. Now He may not speak up as often as I’d like. But He hasn't left.
If the God in your story seems silent or uncaring, I'm sorry. Life isn't easy when God's not there. Whether He really is or not isn't the point. If you feel like He's not, for you He's not. I do believe He'll draw near to all who draw near to Him. But if His absence feels more real than His presence, I see why many don't try. I can't convince you of His presence or His love. But He can. And I pray He will.
I often feel like Jacob. 'Surely the Lord is in this place yet I was not aware of it!'
“We cannot attain the presence of God. We’re already totally in the presence of God. What’s absent is awareness.” Richard Rohr
Jacob was startled by God’s presence and his lack of awareness. (Gen. 28) I was startled by a whisper. Even more by how oblivious I was in the moment.
Do you ever find yourself so preoccupied with your life that you forget God? If so, please remember dear friend that the God you forget hasn't forgotten you. The God you lose sight never loses sight of you. You are on His mind. And His heart. Always. A good father can't forget his child. Even if his child forgets him.
I love God for that. I only wish I could be as mindful of Him as He is of me. But I’m too much like Israel. I can easily forget God ‘days without number’. Jer. 2:32
So why do we forget Him? And why does His absence feel more real than His presence? Reasons vary for all of us. I’ll look at one of my own in the next post. NEXT POST: 'Wake up Call for the Soul'
I pray God pulls you close today. FYI: His pull may feel like an itch. If so, get up!
A question for reflection: Do you ever lose your awareness of God's presence? Any thoughts on why?