When God Feels Distant

I don’t like calling a time of spiritual struggle a “desert.”

Why? Because I’m a hipster non-conformist who snobbishly hates clichés, that’s why.

(Kidding. Although I am sometimes that.)

Desert

It might be because I’m a Midwesterner, and the concept of a desert is not a familiar one for me. (If Jesus lived in Minnesota, you can bet your fleece-lined boots his temptation would have taken place outside in January. I swear the cold scrapes off a layer of your soul.)

It might be because heat reminds me of passion, which is usually what’s lacking in those dark nights of the soul.

But I think most of all, it’s because a trek through the desert calls to mind a dusty, sweaty traveler who desperately desires the refreshment he knows he needs to survive.

But what do you do when you aren’t even thirsty? When you say “Amen” to verses 3 and 9 of Psalm 42, but not verses 1-2? When you don’t desire God?

It’s a hard thing to be dry without any water to be found. But I find myself more often in the position of being surrounded by water in one form or another…and wishing it would go away because I do not want it.

It’s been a long winter for me on many levels. Maybe it has been for you too.

Because sometimes the desert is a tundra. Sometimes your Bible reading isn’t dry; it’s just cold, emotionless, lifeless. Sometimes you’re missing out on warmth from others, and songs from Frozen about isolation cease to be charming, and you wonder if spring will ever come.

Everything about this statement is a lie.

Everything about this statement is a lie.

Do you know who identifies with you?

The citizens of Narnia, from the beavers huddled in their icy dam to the trees shivering under endless layers of snow, trapped in always winter, never Christmas.

The Jews from Fiddler on the Roof, leaving their beloved town to march to the wastelands of Siberia, who must have asked, “Where is God now?”

The Revolutionary War soldiers during the winter in Valley Forge, the kids in the ghetto with cracks in the apartment walls whose teachers are just waiting for them to drop out, Bob Crachit warming himself over one coal wondering how someone with so much can care so little.

And probably a lot of people reading this blog who have, at one time or another, felt like God is really far away.

And also me, marking down the 50th day of below-zero temperatures (thanks, Minnesota!). But I still choose to believe that winter won’t last forever, because I think that’s the best place to start.

There is nothing even remotely interesting about tundra landscape.

There is nothing even remotely interesting about tundra landscape.

One thing that encourages me in times like this is the response of the writer of Psalm 42: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

I love the bravery of this verse, the defiant act of inserting a hymn of worship into a lament. It’s faith in a minor key. If you notice, the verse doesn’t actually answer the question it asked. It doesn’t give us a reason why. It just points us back to God, back to a hope that the psalmist doesn’t yet feel but clings to anyway.

It also reminds me of Nichole Nordeman’s song, “Every Season.” (Skip to halfway through for winter and spring if you’re feeling impatient.)

I’ve always found it interesting that the song must end with spring. It wouldn’t work any other way—the song builds to that point, to the blessed moment of budding and blooming that reminds us that life comes out of death.

Yes, we should remember that God is present in every season. But, maybe more importantly, we have to remind ourselves, over and over again, that spring is coming.

In case you couldn’t tell from the tone of frostbitten exhaustion, I wrote the first half of this post two weeks ago on a -6 degree day, in an apartment where the heat had broken (again). It’s now 38 degrees.

Temperatures

It would really be hard for you to understand how happy this made me.

The world is starting to melt. The end is coming. I can see it. I can feel it.

Do I still wish the winter hadn’t been so cold and harsh and lonely? Sure. But spring is coming. The numb parts inside of me are starting to feel joy again. And, for right now, at least, that’s enough for me.

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