Recently a good friend asked me a simple question. We were discussing God’s faithfulness through the difficult times of late. We talked about the helplessness of seeing my child in pain, the challenges of living in a hospital day after day, the hope for my daughter’s healing. We excitedly spoke of God’s miracles and healing power we witnessed through Charlotte’s continued progress. We exchanged joy and frustrations, fears and hope over the situation.
Then with excitement in her voice, she leaned in close and eagerly asked, ‘is this the most you’ve felt God’s presence in your life?’ I knew what she meant. Given the struggles of having a newborn with many medical challenges, didn’t my dependence on God’s strength and power make me feel so close to Him?
I could tell she expected my answer to be a resounding yes and she was excited at the thought… that God’s presence is most felt in times of heartache.
I expected my answer to be yes too. That’s why I was shocked when my reaction left me a bit speechless. I didn’t respond right away, conflicted between telling her what she thought I’d say and sharing the honest truth.
No. There were many times I honestly hadn’t felt God’s presence with me since Charlotte’s birth. I prayed daily (more like every few minutes). I cried out to Him. I pushed Him away. I clung to Him with what little strength I had left. I wept to Him. I praised Him. I thanked Him. I screamed at Him. I doubted Him. I reaffirmed my faith in Him.
But, I did not feel Him.
Yet, somehow I knew He was with me. Somehow I knew His love for me was stronger than anything I could do or say to scare Him away. He was the source of all my strength and hope and perseverance as we survived the NICU stay. The IVs, the surgeries, watching our daughter be wheeled away for testing day after day, the feeding tubes, anesthesia and pain medications, reports of more discovered health issues, setbacks and struggles. He carried us through each struggle, one moment at a time. How else did we survive?
Why, then, did I not feel Him?
As we mourned Jesus’ death on Good Friday, before His resurrection Easter Sunday, the scene of Jesus’ final hour comes to mind. He cried out, ‘my God, my God, why have You abandoned me.’ (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34)
This verse confuses me. Did Jesus really feel abandoned? Did He really wonder where His loving Father went in the midst of His crushing pain? Jesus, God’s only son?
Yet Jesus knew His Lord was soon taking Him home. Jesus knew His suffering was with great purpose. “It is finished!” (John 19:30) Jesus said. “Father, I entrust My spirit into Your hands!” (Luke 23:46)
I don’t pretend to fully understand the meaning behind Jesus’ last words. But I wonder, if maybe in the midst of His pain and anguish He knew God was present, though He didn’t feel Him. Maybe He was giving us an example to live by, trusting in faith and not feelings. Jesus’ faith was stronger than any amount of feeling.
Though not remotely comparable in magnitude, this reminds me of a lesson from our marriage prep class. The teaching couple warned my husband and I there would be days we would feel incredibly close and madly in love. There would also be days when we honestly wouldn’t like each other.
That is when real love begins, they said. When, despite the lack of stomach butterflies, we roll up our sleeves and choose to love each other anyway. That kind of love is an action, a verb, a choice. It’s about leaning into each other and choosing each other even when the easier answer, and the one that may feel better, is to simply walk away.
Maybe God’s presence is just like love. How fitting … since God is love.
Sometimes we distinctly feel Him close. Sometimes our hearts burn and our souls sing with the joy of His presence. But sometimes we feel empty and all-poured-out. Sometimes we feel alone, exhausted, spent.
Maybe that’s the point of faith. Maybe the true test is when we don’t feel His presence but are asked to lean into Him anyway. When we don’t sense His love but believe in Him despite it all.
My honest answer to my friend was no. This was not the most I’d felt God’s presence in my life. But it was in this time of great trial and pain that I learned first-hand – feelings and faith are not always congruent.
If you don’t feel God’s presence with you today, know you’re not alone. I pray you know God’s presence and trust in His faithful love for you, even if you don’t feel Him. He is there with you- today, tomorrow and every day.