Originally published Thursday, 29 January 2015.
He stands in the hallway, back pressed up against the wall. Baby pictures, black and white, with cherry-wood frames, hang behind him. His little brother, cowboy hat tipped down, cock-eyed grin. His little sister, eyes wide and shiny, hair a fluff on her head. The photos of him, four of them, in a single frame like the others, were knocked down two months ago by bedtime ruckus. A brothers’ wrestling match in the narrow yellow-painted hallway when it was time to brush teeth and quiet down. There is still a blank space where the frame hung. We have yet to repair the cracked edge on the frame and get it connected with a nail on the wall.
I try to be prepared for these just-before-bed-conversations. Although how is it possible, really, to be prepared for a 13 year old’s sudden choices to share his heart? He is the last of the three to get to bed, and typically reluctant to answer questions I ask him. But now, right before bedtime, if I stand kind of noncommittal, relaxed, with what I hope is a patient, gentle face, in this narrow hallway, just after he has brushed his teeth, he often tells me things. He does it, right before we pray, sudden bursts–matter-of-fact statements–or quieter, gentle questions, his eyes searching for a reaction from mine.
And when he does, I am praying. I am praying the whole time. I don’t pause and say words to God, in my heart, before I speak, as much as I lean into the presence of the Holy Spirit and flounder for wisdom to come.
God, help me love him. Help me not mess up.
Because he watches me, this son of mine. He watches my eyes. I wonder what he reads there. It doesn’t matter if I have the right answer, I know. What he is listening for, more than anything, is any trace of conviction from my heart.
I see him watching my eyes. And I am watching his, too. I look for clues. Is he okay? Is he really worried? How sad is he? How concerned should I be? And while I search, I am praying. I pray I can look into the heart of my son like God looks into mine.
This night he states it kind of like a question, a wondering if he is okay. “Mom, I believe in God, but I don’t feel him close. I mean, I believe he exists, but I’m not sure if I really do believe in him because I don’t feel him. At least not really.”
I hope I don’t need to say much. He doesn’t need a long answer here, I think. Instead, he wants to know if this is okay–if he is okay–because it feels scary, this questioning about believing. It is far from comfortable, not having assurance in what we cannot see. Rather, it is a something that feels like falling, a trembling blank space where you aren’t sure if you are sinking but you sure do feel unwieldy. And you wonder if you were to fall, would you be caught, would you be held, would you be reassured that you are not alone and you are loved and that it is all, really, going to be okay?
I wonder, in these moments, if my telling him how I know, how I understand, how it is okay to wonder and doubt and question is a way of holding him in the arms of the Father, the one who is holding him even though my boy isn’t so sure. I remember struggling with my own thoughts, so much like his: God are you disappointed in me because of my doubt?
When we feel far away from God, we are desperate to know somehow, he is actually close. And that’s why we feel on shaky ground. We know he knows our fears, our struggles. But we can wonder if our doubt, to God, feels okay.
Do you think about these things, too? Do you wonder about God’s closeness? Do you fear he is far away?
I wonder if we, in our doubt, should do the very opposite of what we feel like doing. Perhaps we, like the barren women who has yet to have her deepest prayers answered, we sing loud, anyway. Perhaps, instead of fretting about what we don’t have, we rejoice in what is before us, even the things we yet cannot see. Even the faith required of us to sing songs of gratefulness, with our life, is possible because it is given to us by God.
We can believe, in our minds, God is far away, because, in our heart, he feels distant. But what if that is when we choose to believe in him anyway?
‘Sing, barren woman, who has never had a baby.
Fill the air with song, you who’ve never experienced childbirth!
You’re ending up with far more children
than all those childbearing women.’ God says so!
‘Clear lots of ground for your tents!
Make your tents large. Spread out! Think big!
Use plenty of rope,
drive the tent pegs deep.
You’re going to need lots of elbow room
for your growing family.
You’re going to take over whole nations;
you’re going to resettle abandoned cities.
Don’t be afraid—you’re not going to be embarrassed.
Don’t hold back—you’re not going to come up short.
You’ll forget all about the humiliations of your youth,
and the indignities of being a widow will fade from memory.
For your Maker is your bridegroom,
his name, God-of-the-Angel-Armies!
Your Redeemer is The Holy of Israel,
known as God of the whole earth.
You were like an abandoned wife, devastated with grief,
and God welcomed you back,
Like a woman married young
and then left,’ says your God (Isaiah 54:1, MSG).
Let us count the ways, now, that our God is near. Let us count the ways he is close, because we choose to believe he is, even if, in the midst of our particular circumstances, he still feels more than a million miles away.
And I tell my son, my boy, cling tightly to those questions, and give them up. Cling tightly to the faith that is in you to cause you to wonder about the God who made you, the one who stirs you, the one who has fashioned your heart to beat, to feel, to stretch out for the creator who knows its name.
Be the barren women who has yet to be blessed but knows the promise–her God–is real anyway.
Be Jacob in the desert wrestling with God, clinging to a promise that love is real, that God is not intangible. Cling to the truth that he is close and willing to stay with you in the struggle.
Your God, if you search for him, if you want him, will never, ever let you go.
And I pray over my boy, and he lets me hold him and kiss the top of his soft hair. And I praise my God for his faithfulness, for his presence, for his standing in the hallway holding fast the hand of his girl, the mother who holds to him his son.
Do you ever wonder about God’s closeness? What do you do when you struggle to believe He is with you? What is your response?
This post first appeared at GatherMinistries.com