Recently I sat with a friend who’s undergone such remarkable suffering over short years. I should tell you: She’ll be the first one to respond with hope. But I can also tell that what she has is faith, not answers. I can see question marks curling around, pointing her year after year to the God who will, someday (and even now) reward those who earnestly seek Him. Her sinewy, muscled joy is built on what she can’t see; on decisions of trust she makes over and over again.

Since I’ve been army-crawling through my own questions lately—today I’m yanking together some of the best advice I’ve received for seasons when God seems…away.

  1. God does not call “bad”, “good.” It can be jarring when someone else—or even our handy invisible “Guide to Being a Stellar, Unflappable Christian”—rattles off Romans 8:28 as one giant spiritual Band-Aid. Yes, it is where we hang our hats. Yes, it is undeniably true. But my perspective of this verse flipped on its head a few years ago in this podcast. Tim Keller pointed out that at the tomb of Lazarus—where Jesus knew He was about to completely conquer death—He still wept. He did not call this terrible fact of death and the utter brokenness of this place “good.” (This informs a lot of how I grieve with friends, too.) Read more here on Christian lament and its rightful place, and what joy looks like when our lives are upside down.
  2. He is never completely against you. When I was a kid, I remember what I still think of as the “snowball effect”. Essentially, once my day got to a certain level of utter irritation, I had already transformed into a martyr, one of my pet sins. Woe is me! My favorite shirt has a hole, I missed the bus, we had a pop quiz, and now I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop. (Think Alexander and the Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day.) But now I collide with adult-sized, soul-jarring pileups: miscarriages. Cancer. Learning disorders. Yet God unfolds for me that He holds every atom of the universe together: He upholds the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3). From Him and through Him and to him are all things (Romans 11:36). Essentially, it is God’s kindness that keeps me from vaporizing. It inflates my lungs as I type. Even more, for those of us who belong to God, Romans 8 stands unwavering: If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all–how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?  God turned his face against Jesus, so He would never have to forsake or betray us.
  3. Thankfulness is a way out. With that in mind, I constantly hold in mind the advice of my friend, who cared for his wife and the mother of his four children until her death from ALS (Lou Gherig’s disease). Please read more here.
  4. Set it all free. Truthfully, my thoughts so often enslave me even more than events that alienate me from God. I marinate in lies I feed my brain. And those thoughts…become me. This seems even more telling with what we now know about neuroplasticity (the brain’s constant rewiring of itself): that once we’ve gone down a neural pathway, it’s easier for our brains to go there in the future. Sometimes we just need to retell ourselves the truth, or have someone do it for us when we’re too weak. Put your foot down on untrue, unbiblical, non-godward self-talk. Sometimes it’s a subtle laziness that keeps me from a thoughtful Christianity, one that rejects the platitudes or easy answers I’ve shelled out for myself. Sometimes it’s me shellacking over what I really feel, so my true feelings fester beneath. Other times, I get honest about what I feel, but fail to anchor my soul to truth.  Do I really believe truth frees me (John 8:32)? Do I believe it enough to pursue it relentlessly, to set fences on my thought life? To take every thought captive and make it obedient to Jesus? To soak in what’s true and lovely, particularly about who God is?
  5. Set it all free, part II. A few years ago I came to a place where it was extremely challenging for me to forgive someone who wronged me. My husband correctly pointed out that my anger had boiled so long and low that it had become disproportionate to the event, and had long ago become unforgiveness. Wisely, he suggested I consider what was so precious to me that had been trampled upon—the offense within the offense. God used that unforgiveness as a chisel. It frequently unveils an idol in me. I’m still amazed, sometimes, to realize I’ve been cherishing an offense deep in me, and must come to grips with my own need to forgive. Corrie Ten Boom, a Holocaust survivor—though her sister was not—wrote, Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hate. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness.
  6. Get the log out. Often I’ve needed the time to soul-search; to soul-scrub. If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened (Psalm 66:18). What attitudes in me and failures to reconcile with others (Matthew 5:23-24) are erecting their own barrier between us? (Lately, mine’s been unbelief.)

Join the discussion! What has been a lifeline to you when God feels distant? 


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