A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Away: Feeling Far from God

The headlights wove through a mountain pass tonight as a few tears plopped on my lap. My husband had encouraged me to get out for some time alone; he and the kids shared shish kabobs at home. Usually I’m getting out for a relief from, well, motherhood. In the car it was blissfully quiet, blissfully alone. But my wanderings through the stacks of the used bookstore had struggled to lift what sat on my chest.

I mentioned I’ve been grieving lately. I wonder. Is it my heart’s questions that make me feel God is unusually silent?

away-from-god-meme

Recently a short story of the late, brilliant Flannery O’Connor, The Turkey, captivated me. (Spoiler alert.) O’Connor follows young Ruller as he trails a hunter’s wounded turkey through the woods, catches it at last–then ultimately has the turkey stolen from him by a bully.

The turkey wasn’t Ruller’s to begin with. But when the turkey initially proves elusive, Ruller imagines rebelling against God in all the colorful imagination of an eleven-year-old. When he finally clutches the turkey and parades through town, he is intent on honoring God; he wants to find the town’s beggar woman and be generous to her. But when a bully robs the turkey, O’Connor closes the story,

He ran faster and faster, and as he turned up the road to his house his heart was running as fast as his legs and he was certain that Something Awful was tearing behind him with its arms rigid and its fingers ready to clutch.

 

I wish I saw myself less in Ruller. I wish my views of God, and of His thoughts toward me, were less influenced by whether or not I achieved what I had my heart set on—even when what my heart is set on is a deeply good thing.

I mean, that’s it so much of the time, isn’t it? What He withholds, from our admittedly limited view, seems contrary with His character.

God’s crafted times where He offers fewer answers than questions–as he did for Job, or David. St. John of the Cross, whose Dark Night of the Soul “describes the work of God upon the soul–not through joy and light, but through sorrow and darkness,” writes,

The problem is this: when they have received no pleasure for their devotions, they think they have not accomplished anything. This is a grave error, and it judges God unfairly. For the truth is that the feelings we receive from our devotional life are the least of its benefits. The invisible and unfelt grace of God is much greater, and it is beyond our comprehension.[1]

 

One of my refugee students who wrote a few weeks back about his own lack of motivation toward God. Through his broken English, I could hear the gaping distance he sensed: “May you help me?”

Somehow, as I sat back, cursor blinking expectantly, the buzz of my brain landed on the why. As I finally responded–our connection with God has similarities to any other relationship. There are moments I am enthralled with my husband; my children. Other times, my affection doesn’t match my devotion to them.

Unquestionably, there’s the need to honor what we’ve committed; to live above the fickle fluctuation of affection. Should my student spend time nurturing his relationship if he feels nothing? Yep. Should my husband and I work toward each other, even when we feel our hearts tugging away? Definitely.

Psychology confirms our hearts follow our actions. And part of our commitment is caring enough to address what’s up between you, right? But as I’ve written before, whitewashing our emotions does no more than pretending you love your wife. We’ve gotta feel, gotta deal.

My take on this? Something has usually captured my heart’s trust and love. Whether it’s a low-grade stress, exhaustion, some questions I haven’t resolved, or something else plucking at the threads that hold my heart fast–I’ve gotta do some soul-care to start dealing with them.

I suppose my takeaways from this time are these:

  1. Dig deep into the whys of my distance from God. My husband asked, What do you wish you were hearing from God? Why?
  2. Continue to press into spiritual disciplines, like prayer and praise—not out of falsehood, but to cultivate a relationship–whatever your equivalent of a spiritual “date night.”
  3. Lean in to soul-bearing with God, including the practice of lament—not moving away from Him, but bringing my deepest questions into my worship. Ask God for what I want, including intimacy, but discipline my mind to choose belief and contentment.
  4. Keep an eye out for lies about God, myself, and reality I’m more tempted to believe when I’m low and vulnerable.
  5. Address my body’s needs. Sleep, eat well, exercise, so I can deal not with exaggerated phantoms, but what’s really there.
  6. Bring at least one person into the loop for wisdom and a display of God’s compassionate care.
  7. Comb through my day with gratitude, so I train my eyes not on God’s distance, but His constant, intimate, specific care for me.

Mind helping us? What do you do when you feel far from God? 

Join the discussion in the comment section below.

 

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[1] Foster, Richard J. and James Bryan Smith, eds. Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Small Groups. New York: HarperOne (1993), pp. 33, 36.

 

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2 Comments

  1. Thanks for your post. I just found your site today. I suppose one of the main things I do is go to the Bible-His Word for me. I search the scriptures to try to find something that resonates with me at the time. And of course I pray and pray and pray. Also, I attempt to count my blessings. And I worship Him because He is worthy no matter how I feel. Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God. (Psalm 42:11) One more thing-I remember how faithful He has been to me..the prayers answered, the deliverances, the joys, and the victories of various kinds. God bless you and yours.

    • These are really practical suggestions, Tina. My favorite is your looking back on the ways He’s been faithful to you; I see this so much in the Word–like the Israelites setting up stones beside the Jordan. Thanks for sharing on such a sensitive issue–and certainly for hearing my heart.

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