Eight years ago my husband had a heart transplant. With modern technology, transplants are not as risky as you might think. However, my husband took a turn for the worse, and it ended up being a dramatic process. One would imagine that during that season of my life God would seem far away. After all, why would He allow my young husband of only two years to go through this? Why didn't He heal my husband's heart like I prayed? What if my husband died? But during that time, I actually felt closer to God than I ever had and ever have since. Sometimes I even crave the courtyard in the hospital where my husband stayed for 43 days because that's where I met Jesus day after day.
That time sharply contrasts a more recent crisis I went through – one that was not a matter of life and death, yet I questioned everything. I wondered if God saw me at all, and even said to a friend, "This may make me lose my religion." God felt so far away. I asked the questions, "Why is He doing this to me?" "What am I being punished for?" "Does He not hear me?" and "Does He not care?" As easy as faith has come for me, this new experience filled me with fear.
Keeping my faith was a struggle during this season, but remembering a few truths helped.
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It's Natural to Feel Far from God
Often when I feel God is far away, shame takes over. We have this idea that low points in our relationship with Jesus equate to a lack of love for Him. Sometimes well-meaning churches or Christian environments support this belief.
However, most people in the Bible felt like God was far away from them at one point in their journey. Think about Hannah whose only hope in life was to have a baby. Or Joseph who was sold into slavery. What about Moses who never got to enter the Promised Land? Even though the Bible may not articulate that these people felt far from God, I imagine that their circumstances created that tension. And then, of course, there was Jesus Himself who asked, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46).
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"There are times we feel closer to God than in other times..."
In many ways, our relationship with God is like our human relationships. There are times we feel closer to God than in other times, just like there are times we feel closer to people in our life than other times. This is natural. There's no reason for it to cause shame or make us question our love for Him. In fact, we need to guard against doing that because it is a tactic of the enemy. Satan wants us to feel shameful about our relationship with God, and the longer we wallow in that belief, the more opportunity he has to build a foothold in our lives.
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Your Feelings are Not Reality
Remembering that my feelings aren't my reality is hard for me. Everything I feel is reality for me. But the Bible tells us differently. We may feel that God is far away but the truth is He never leaves us and He's always with us. Let's look at some of the promises from the Bible that tell us God is always with us:
"It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed" (Deuteronomy 31:8).
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"Reality is what the Bible tells us, not what our feelings say."
"Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20).
Feelings are powerful and important, but we do not need to depend on them to guide us. When we're tempted to believe our feelings instead of what is real and true, we need to meditate on these promises from God. Reality is what the Bible tells us, not what our feelings say.
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You Can Rest in the Tension
I have learned to rest in the tension of feeling far from God. This may seem odd to say, but I've come to realize that because it's natural and because my feelings aren't my reality, the tension of feeling far from God will pass.
In the book of Psalms, David shows us how he wrestles with this tension. He says in Psalms 22:1-2:
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest."
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"...The tension of feeling far from God will pass."
But then in verses 3-4: "Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.”
Even in David's anguish of feeling far from God, he still acknowledges that God is holy and will rescue him. Therefore, David needs to continue trusting God. He knew this feeling of abandonment would pass, and it will pass for us, too. It's the trusting God that helps us get over that feeling.
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Stay Steadfast in Communicating with God
Although there are times that I do not run away from God, yet I still feel far from Him, the biggest mistake I sometimes make is to start running from God when I feel like He is far away. I stop praying and stop reading my Bible. My spiritual life goes on hiatus. This is the most dangerous step I can take.
James 4:8 tells us, "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you." For me, the feeling of Him drawing closer isn't always immediate, but the more I stay steadfast in communicating with God, the faster the feeling of abandonment passes.
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"It's dangerous to stop praying and reading the Bible..."
It's dangerous to stop praying and reading the Bible because, like mentioned above, this is Satan's tactic to get our minds so far from God that he can then feed them with lies and keep us in a permanent state of feeling separated. However, there are times that I am so beaten down by life that I can't at the moment pray or read. This is a red flag, and I try to force myself to do it anyway, but something else that helps during this time is listening to worship music and praising God through worship. Ephesians 5:18-19 says, "Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart." The Holy Spirit is our weapon against the schemes of the enemy, and through singing, the Holy Spirit fills us and empowers us.
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Simple Prayers are Still Good
I get caught in the trap of believing that my prayers have to be eloquent and long. That I have to pray for a certain amount of time every day for my prayers "to count." I have all these rules for praying when all God wants is for me to just come to Him. There are times for praying on our knees, but sometimes simple prayers are sufficient. Here are some that I use the most: "Jesus help me," "Jesus redeem me," "Jesus I love you," "Jesus come to me," "Jesus save me," and "Jesus don't leave me."
By praying these simple prayers, I'm acknowledging that God hasn't left me. My lack of feeling His presence doesn't mean He's not there. This keeps my mind trusting His faithfulness.
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"Knowing there might be seasons where God feels far away should inspire us to prepare..."
I imagine there are many people who lost their faith in God after a season of feeling He wasn't there for them. We don't want this to happen. Knowing there might be seasons where God feels far away should inspire us to prepare, remembering that it's natural, our feelings aren't our reality, we can rest in the tension, and simple but steadfast communication can help us overcome these feelings quicker.
Brenda Rodgers considers herself a “recovering single” after years as a single woman chasing after marriage instead of chasing after Jesus. Now her passion is to mentor young women to live purposefully and grow in their relationship with God and others. Brenda has been married for five years to a heart transplant hero and is the mom of a toddler girl miracle. She is also the author of the eBook Fall for Him: 25 Challenges from a Recovering Single. You can also read more on Brenda’s blog, www.TripleBraidedLife.com and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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Originally published Wednesday, 18 July 2018.