Where do you go when you can't find God? When all you feel is his absence and none of his presence? Aubrey Sampson helps us today.
Sensing God's Presence When You Only Feel His Absence
By Aubrey Sampson
Over the past few years, I've walked through a season of loss, illness, and grief. Like most women do in difficult seasons, I have fought hard to find meaning and hope here - to press on and endure, to have courage.
But I'd be exaggerating if I told you I enjoyed these trials. I mean, obviously, I'd rather not be sick. Of course, I'd rather my loved ones still be alive. Absolutely, I'd rather be carefree and jolly as if every day was a day at Disneyland. I'd rather not be riding the hot mess express.
During the really dark days, what I grappled with most of all was why it seemed like other people, also struggling with difficult things, seemed to have an unshakeable faith. They sensed God's presence with them through it all. They never seemed to doubt God's care or God's peace.
I, on the other hand, felt like Jacob wrestling with God, "I will not let you go unless you bless me!"
My typical spiritual disciplines and canned spiritual answers were no longer working to help me feel connected to God. I tried to practice stillness and gratefulness. I tried to quietly attune my soul to God's presence. But mostly I just thrashed around, frustrated that God didn't feel near. Mostly, I was a bull and God's presence was a china shop.
Of grieving his wife, Joy, C. S. Lewis wrote, "You are like the drowning man who can't be helped because he clutches and grabs. Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear ... Perhaps your own passion temporarily destroys the capacity."
Had I incapacitated myself from knowing God's presence because I was so desperate to grab a hold of him, so frantic to force God to change my situation?
I decided to meet with a spiritual director, to see if she could help. In our first session together she asked me this, "What did Jesus do on the cross? And don't get super theological here," she added. "I am not looking for the rightanswer."
I thought for a moment. Jesus thirsted. He lamented. He talked to his neighbor. He prayed.
"He embraced his limitedness," she wisely said.
"He lamented that he didn't feel God's presence and couldn't do much more than that. In our own suffering we don't really have to do much more than that either. Part of the reason you're wrestling so much is because you're trying to control the outcome of this season. You're trying to be limitless. You're trying to be God. You need to just let go. Just let him save you."
I knew she was right. I was choosing to see God as a withholding, distant Father. I imagined that I had to pry blessing and peace from his clenched fists. I'd done my best to force God to obey me - and in so doing, I was trying to put myself in the place of God. Like all great sinners, I made God in my image.
As 1 John reminds us, "What great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!"
Even in our most difficult seasons, God is a God of abundance who lavishly loves his children. God's presence is not anything we achieve through sheer willpower and determination. We can't force his hand. God's grace greets and transforms us, whether or not we deserve it. And it's in believing that, we take a powerful step forward in our intimacy with him. We take a powerful step closer to experiencing his presence when all we can feel is his absence.
Hope, in seasons of suffering is never found by striving or forcing it. Hope, for the Christian is always found in the object of our hope, the embodiment and answer for all of our suffering - Jesus. By his suffering, we are saved in ours.
If you are hurting, may you freely and easily sense his nearness with you.
Aubrey Sampson is the Director of Equipping and Discipleship at Renewal church in the Chicago area. A speaker, writer, and church planter, Aubrey offers incredible perspective in the midst of trying experiences. Her latest book is The Louder Song: Listening for Hope in the Midst of Lament. She is also a regular contributor to Propel Women, a member of the Redbud Writers Guild, and is currently earning her masters degree in Evangelism and Leadership. Find and follow Aubrey @aubsamp and www.aubreysampson.com.
Adapted from The Louder Song: Listening for Hope in the Midst of Lament. By Aubrey Sampson copyright © 2019. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.