For the last two days I’ve longed to sit and read my Bible, more so than my usual. My heart and mind have been unusually troubled – heavy with a sense of hopelessness. I don’t mention feelings of darkness or despair with intent to dishearten anyone. But, I think it a lie, or at least gross negligence from the truth, to refuse to admit that (at least during a brief portion of our lives) we don’t all feel that way at some time. I’ve been overwhelmed by so much lately, from concerns I’ve wasted my life on the wrong profession, to my own worries about my parents, to a bit of a crisis of faith over a cousin’s recent suicide (which hit me especially hard) to theological questions that never seem to have a definitive or complete enough answer for me.
Most often, whenever the weights of the world, or the weight of my own thoughts and fears, threaten to burden me to the point I cannot stand, I don’t. I surrender to the weight and kneel instead of standing, at least until I find the reassurance and strength that only prayer and moments with my Creator can bring.
Lately, however, those moments seem to be fewer and farther between. Not so much because I’ve refused to kneel in prayer as often, but more because those moments of prayer (which, frankly, seem even more constant as of late) seem to be empty; and I almost can’t bear it to pray and feel unheard.
I can finally begin to understand how David (and Job, and any other number of saints and men/women of God) must have felt when crying out “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” I’ve only felt as if my prayers were empty – delayed in their arrival to God’s ears, or shrouded – a few times in my life, but never before have I wondered if God even cared to hear them at all.
Lately, however, I’ve not only wondered if He’s lost all interest in hearing, but, at times, if He is even real, or merely the created fruit of my own need to believe that someone is in control in the midst of the messed up cesspool of wickedness we endure while we walk the earth.
The very idea that a doubt of God’s existence would creep into my brain frightens me more than I can measure. Those brief, flitting doubts are silenced quickly, though, as I remember that there have been earnest prayers answered in my life… and that the beauty I’ve experienced in other people, in quiet moments alone with the scriptures, and in silent walks of meditation in the outdoors could be nothing less than the very presence of a loving Creator Himself. If God’s not real, then I prefer to be the fool that constantly cries out that He is!
Yet, still I feel abandoned and unheard much of the time lately. I’ve studied myself, introspectively seeking for the cause of these feelings of desertedness, wondering what I’ve done that needs to be corrected or changed in order to bring God’s voice and a feeling of His real presence back into my prayer time. I’ve begged, “God, show yourself Abba. Give me something, anything, as a father gives a child seeking affection. A word, a scripture, a moment of sun on my face that is undisputedly YOU.”
Much of the time, those prayers have also seemed to fall back to earth before reaching His throne. Even my ravens have been silent.
I can imagine how Job must’ve struggled. Knowing he’d followed the laws and commandments, not only for himself but on the behalf of his children, only to find himself sick, miserable, destitute, childless and a widower. What kind of God allows suffering?
Being who I am, I sought out answers. One can’t just ask the question “What kind of God….” and then go on answer-less. So, I began to read. If God would not speak to me during my prayers, I would speak to Him, and in the meantime, I would read His Word, and perhaps, find my answers.
As I read, time and time again, I was drawn to stories of those who felt abandoned and alone. Perhaps one of the most poignant pieces I came across was written by a Jesuit priest on the final moments of Christ on the cross. He detailed the difference between Christ’s prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane, where he cried “Abba, father,” and his final pleas on the Cross: “My God, why have you forsaken me?” To go from a familiarity of God as Abba, to God, as, well, God, not “dad,” must have felt like utter desolation.
I understand that feeling, at least a little bit.
The last two days in particular, even as I’ve been surrounded by a fog of what feels like abandonment, I’ve awoken with an even more intense desire to read the scripture. I’ve found myself immersed in the Lamentations.
For the record, an anguished cry of “Lord, please, give me any scrap from Your table to let me know You hear me. Any word…” is not a cry that you’d hope would be answered by opening your Bible, repeatedly, to Lamentations 3. To beg to know that God hears you and cares for you, and to be met with “I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of God’s wrath. He has driven me away and forced me to walk in darkness instead of light…He repeatedly turns His hand against me all day long” is less than encouraging. Yet, I’ve read. Painfully. I’ve read each word and tried to soak it into my bones. I’ve tried to hear, in the midst of this Biblical wail of rejection, any lilting note of hope. I continued to read of God’s wrath, and the grinding of teeth onto gravel, the piercing of kidneys and darkness, shattered bones and hunger satiated with bitterness and wormwood and poison.
And then, I got to verse 21: “Yet, I call this to mind, and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s faithful love, we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning…” Oh, Lamentations! I could wrap myself in your blanket of sorrow and abandonment and loss. I could curl up underneath the shroud of your weeping and hopelessness… and would never see the warmth of that blanket, or the covering of that shroud if it hadn’t been for verse 21 and on.
I cannot see the Lord’s faithful love for my overwhelming feelings of loss, yet it is still there. In my state of perceived ostracization, I could not see the morning’s dawn that revealed God’s renewed mercies. I read Chapter 3, and 4, and 5. And as I read, I heard so many of my own prayers as of late. I read words that could’ve been plucked from my own mouth – words of sorrow, and disbelief, and fear. Words of pleading and desiring and begging for God’s voice. Words of hope, despite circumstance and emotions. Words of praise and God’s everlasting faithfulness, even though it’s not felt so everlasting or faithful lately. Each verse spoke loudly, and clearly: Make your heart right! Forget about others and their wrongdoing or righteousness. Seek ME first. And the verses continued to speak, they spoke of searching our own hearts, finding that tare among the wheat and plucking it out. They shouted repentance and turning eyes away from all things that are not Jehovah. Oh, how petty we have become as a people! How trite and meaningless! How I let things that are not important turn my eyes away from the God of my salvation. Even my soul’s demands for truth and justice and vindication have become idols. My mouth and heart’s insistences that God speak to me have become the totem I shake in lieu of actually bowing before Him in His presence.
I read, and with each word, the bitterness of my own heart and actions and vanity became more and more palatable. Sometimes, God allows us to go hungry so that we realize our dependence on Him for sustenance. Sometimes, God allows lucifer to exercise his reign over the earth and all those therein (even those who have been bought with The Price), just to remind us we are not supposed to “take dominion,” without His say so. How vain I have become!
My prayers have quickly turned, as a result, from pleas and cries for Him to show Himself God in my life or circumstances, to pleas to open my heart to His unction and my ears to His voice. No longer do I regularly shout verses as commands, but instead whisper words of penance. And then there’s the matter of something other than my prayers…
I watched “War Room,” and found it, like most, to be a powerful reminder to spend more time kneeled in prayer before the God that heals me, defends me, protects me. Yet, as I read Lamentations, I began to ponder the message of the movie a little more. Surely, to spend time knelt in prayer, laying out your requests, praying out your scriptural promises is important. Yet, something I found missing in the message was this: God is our Jehovah Shammah – God who is there. That’s significant. Jehovah Shammah – GOD IS THERE. Not the God that is there to heal me. Not the God that is there to deliver me. Not the God that is there to vindicate, or comfort or fight for me. While He is all those things, certainly, He is, as Lamentations says, the God that simply IS. He is present, faithful.
When Moses asked “if they ask who has sent me, who shall I say” God answered, tell them “I AM has sent you.” I AM. That’s it. No qualifiers, no other identifiers. He simply IS. I need not call Him to be present with me. He already is. For me, in the light of this feeling of desolation, the one thing that the “War Room” movie left out was that God IS; and for all our prayers, and anguishing, and praises, we must still remember that we must be silent and listen as much as we do anything else lest we miss out on His mere presence. Perhaps all of my prayers feel stifled, veiled, empty, because I have yet to listen more than I speak. I have yet to let God reveal as much as I have to try and comprehend on my own. I have yet to let GOD BE more than I tell Him about how I am.
My War Room has been fraught with strategy “meetings” and pounding the table with scriptural promise. The floors have been littered with papers covered in written verses and prayer requests. There are tissues dampened with tears over broken relationships and misunderstood circumstance and my own shortcomings… but there is very rarely silence.
The War Room is often buzzing with prayers for this, that or the other. It’s loud with words meant to honor God for His goodness and His mercy. It’s filled with both sounds of thanksgiving and supplication – but the one thing that rarely fills my War Room . . . is silence.
I have been unable to hear or feel or connect because I have not been silent enough to listen. A War Room does no good if those present in the room refuse to heed the “Commander in Chief.”
I Am. Jehovah Shammah. God is here. But I haven’t been quiet enough to notice.
I think I have been too preoccupied with the false idea that my faith in God, my allegiance and repentance and redemption somehow mean that in my lifetime I will never see trouble. I think that I’ve spent too much time listening and holding tightly to the verses that promise “life, and life more abundantly,” that God “will wipe away every tear,” and “there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain.” As a result, I’ve come to the conclusion that whenever the devil tries to sink me with fear or sadness or trouble, I need only call upon Jesus’ name and He will put an end to it.
My War Room has been filled with a lot the summoning of “magic Jesus,” and not with the silence of “I’m listening Jesus”. I want to use Him more like a get out of jail free card than I am willing to listen to Him in the midst of trouble. He promises us peace. He promises us safety and provision. He promises us comfort and abundant life. He does not promise those things without pain and heartache and suffering that comes with daily living. And, the only way I will make it through to those promises past the troubles is to learn to LISTEN as much, or more, as I talk.
The devil is a lion, seeking who he may devour… and God knows I’m a tasty morsel. The only way to avoid being devoured by the lion, is to listen to the Lion Tamer, and I have failed to do that. I’ve been too busy screaming, “Lion! There’s a lion! You promised us safety from the lions, God deliver us from the lion!” and I’ve not been able to hear God speak to the lion.
Panic never brings peace.
I’m Peter – talking about the waves and the storm – instead of just being silent and walking on the water with Jesus.
The last time I wrote, I was finishing up a lesson on Gomer from Hosea, and I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to address her story. As I studied though, I discovered that the main point of the story of Gomer was a reminder that God loves us with an everlasting love. Just as Hosea loved Gomer. Yet, as Gomer’s marriage to Hosea settled (as all marriages do), and she began to feel less pursued and desired by her husband, she sought physical signs of love and affection from other men. Hosea’s love had not dwindled, but Gomer’s perception of it had. She played the whore in an effort to find love that she thought she no longer had at home.
We do the same. God’s love for me has never changed. My perception of it has. I’ve felt ignored, and brushed aside – not because God has done so, but because I’ve failed to be silent enough to listen to His expressions of love. He’s chastised me for my sins – which of late has included an unwillingness to let Him be God and handle things, as well anger of them not being handled to my preferences – yet, His chastisement isn’t a sign of love lost. It’s proof He loves me still, in spite of my sins and disbelief.
Gomer had to come to the realization of Hosea’s love herself, but she was unable to do it until she found herself abused, beaten, raped and tossed aside. I think that’s the message in Lamentations as well. Perhaps I am at that point in my life where I have to feel tossed aside before I am willing to be silent enough to listen to Jehovah’s voice as He whispers, “I am. And I love you.”
Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Today I am supposed to sacrifice something of myself in order to prepare the way for repentance, and the renewal of Resurrection Sunday. I think for Lent, I will be giving up my incessant need to speak to God, and trade it in for a need to listen to Him first.
It is time my War Room has more space for a listening corner, and a table. The corner to just remain silent before the Lord, and wait, and the table a place to offer the fruit of forgiveness to those who do not deserve it, and at which to sit while I fast until the voice of God can be heard over the voice of my stomach’s grumblings.
I suppose I’m rambling, and probably should move on, but the messages of Lamentations had spoken to me so deeply these last few days, I had to play the scribe and write it down. I stopped in the middle of my third or fourth reading of the passages to to so, and I feel as if I need to get back to the waiting wailings of the book at hand. They are not done with me yet. After that, maybe I’ll peruse the words of Habakkuk. They, too, speak of trouble and silence and feeling alone. But, Habakkuk is different from the Lamentations in one way; it contains my favorite verse in all the scriptures: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.” Even in silence, hope.
Today the sun is shining. It is nearly 60 degrees, with no wind or clouds. The snow on the ground is nearly all melted the neighborhood is quiet. (I’m still disturbed by the silence of my ravens, but there must be a reason for that too.)
Today is a good day to listen. Today I will place my sins, and my desires and my petitions and God’s feet and I will not pound the pavement with His promise to answer prayer. I will not declare what God has decided to do. Instead, I will lay those things at His feet, and I will sit with Him in silence.
And He will be, in pillars of fire, or burning bushes, or a tiny infant in a manger – but today, He will be I AM in the midst of my silence.
I will wait.