When God Feels Far Away

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There are days when God feels a long way off. Like today when I wake with a heaviness in my heart I just can’t shake. I pray, I beg, I plead for him to come back so I can feel his presence again, but all I feel is emptiness.

Sometimes this emptiness stems from my own depressing thoughts and insecurities, other times from the world around me, when I read about current events and it seems humanity is spiraling into godless chaos.

These are the days I remind myself of all the times God has been near, so close I could feel the warmth of his breath on my face. The momentous events full of happiness or despair or both. But, also the small things, the seemingly ordinary moments that surprise me with joy.

Today, I remember when Josh proposed to me in the middle of a storm, next to a lighthouse on a cliff, overlooking a churning sea. I’ve always felt closest to God when I’m at the ocean and that day, as I ran down the hill with a ring on my finger, hand in hand with my future husband, I heard God’s laughter in the roaring of the waves.

I remember the day Josh and I were told we would never get pregnant. I felt myself falling, clawing the air for a shred of hope, but my husband, family and friends caught me. Their hands held me while I cried, their tears mingled with my own and they were the hands and tears of God.

I think of the day at the hospital with Josh and his family as we gathered around his grandpa to say goodbye. This amazing man was a pillar of faith to his family and many others and as he breathed his last breath, there was a wrenching inside of us as we each felt a piece of our hearts move from this world to the next. Yet, as his body became still and we wept, I felt peace flood the room and that peace was God’s comfort.

I think about the last time I was in Uganda. I went with a local pastor and several others to visit a small village where they had recently planted a church.  When we arrived the people of the community celebrated by feeding us, playing music, singing and dancing. The celebrating continued as night fell.  As much a I enjoyed the entertainment, I was hot, dirty and tired from riding in the back of a truck with fifteen other people across many miles of bumpy, dusty road. As if she could read my thoughts, a woman from the village approached our group and asked if she could heat some water for us to bathe. We gratefully accepted and a while later she came back, took my hand and led me to a low, round, stone wall right next to where people where singing and dancing. There was a small entrance with a bit of cloth for a curtain and inside was a steaming bucket of water. The woman shooed me inside and left. I had to crouch low as I undressed to keep from being exposed since there was no roof. It was getting darker by the minute and I didn’t have my flashlight. I heard children giggling and was sure they were peeking through holes in the wall at the naked white lady. I was getting frustrated while trying to cup water in my hands to pour on my body and feeling the lack of privacy, when I looked up to see the most beautiful night sky I’d ever seen. The stars moved in close and bright by the millions. Suddenly, all I could do was laugh, I was in the middle of the African bush, naked as the day I was born, surrounded by the sound of drums, singing and children whispering. I saw God’s face in the stars, the smile-lines of his eyes in the constellations and heard his voice in the songs of the villagers. He laughed with me and said, “Welcome to this adventure!”

I remember when Magda, Rosie and Isaiah came to live with us and all the crazy times of trying to figure out what I’d got myself into. There’s joy in a house full of children, there’s also chaos. There are messes, meltdowns, and laughter. God was changing me and teaching me through all of it.

I remember when Isaiah left our home. Even though Josh and I had been told we’d have all three siblings forever, Isaiah had to move out because of a judge’s decision.  I watched him walk down the porch steps with his caseworker, clutching his favorite toy and a bit of my soul went with him. His empty chair at the table, his empty bedroom, the stillness of the house without his feet running about, were all screaming reminders of the missing piece of our family. When I screamed at God how cruel he was to break apart a family, he let me. And he came again in the form of family and friend’s hands and tears to hold Josh and I and the girls together.

The last few years have been beautiful ones, though devastating at times. We’ve lost too many loved ones, we’ve stood along aside friends suffering tragedies, but life keeps going. We celebrate birthdays and holidays, we go to the ocean, spend a day in the forest, we come to the table, break the bread, drink the cup and remember that our God suffered too.

Today, in spite of the emptiness I feel, I remember God is also in the stillness and the mundane. Between rain storms there’s a ray of sunlight that streams through the window and warms my face, I feel a flutter of hope that today will get better.  My girls will come home from school, we’ll sit together at the table, shoulders touching, as we look over homework and eat apple slices. Josh will embrace me and kiss my forehead, I’ll kiss his lips and these simple daily traditions become holy as they remind us of the presence and love of God.

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