Something I’ve experienced in these last few years, more than ever before, is what I can only describe as absence. An overwhelming and deep absence of God. It includes things I’ve experienced before, such as, feeling as though prayers bounce back off the ceiling, hearing no answers, feeling no connection. But honestly, it’s even deeper than what I’ve known in the past. Typically, I’ve been able to wait it out and press deeper into journaling, praying, reading my Bible, talking to trusted community, a good round of counseling, and I find my way back to where I want to be. Back to where I feel comfortable. Back to where my relationship with God makes sense to me and equals what I thought was a “good Christ follower.” But this time, none of those things have worked. In fact, the absence almost seems to grow as I keep trying to go back, deepening the grooves I’ve worn as my badge of “Christian.”
What in the world am I supposed to do now?
Well, I came across an idea in a class I was taking where we read and discussed the absence of God. I was immediately troubled. I mean, I have abandonment issues. Having absent parents, I’ve often had a hard time seeing God as a parent at all. For sure, God is and has been a good parent to me. God is a perfect parent, unlike any earthly parents, even the best ones. Yes. But I’m talking about abandonment here. Real absence. I. Was. Triggered. I could not fathom how there could be any good in considering the absence of God in our lives. Nonetheless, it was for an assignment, I was getting a grade, I had to press on. So, I read the article. I engaged the discussion board with my peers. Blah. Blah. Blah. And then something shifted.
We discussed the ascension of Jesus and the promise of the Holy Spirit. Prior to Jesus’ ascension, he often said, “Then I will send you what my Father has promised.” It was like the turning of seasons or diamonds—there’s more to see, experience, and know when we gain a new perspective. But the turning most often involves a losing. A loss of something. I began to consider that in the absence of Jesus, we have an opportunity to experience the Holy Spirit in a new way.
Now, let’s be clear. This absence is not abandonment or neglect. This absence is actually a different way of being present. It is another facet of our relationship with God. Just as our relationships change as we grow and mature, especially the parent/child relationship, so does our relationship with God experience nuance and depth and richness in new and mysterious ways. We are formed, birthed, and held in the creative and gentle hands of God the Parent; we are seen, known, and transformed in the presence of Jesus the King; we are comforted, guided, and led by the Spirit within us. These are, at times, experienced all at once. But there are other times when it seems as though one or more is out of reach or altogether absent.
Perhaps a new way to understand this is to consider the absence as a gift for something else. Something greater. Something deeper. Think about when a mother bird pushes her baby to fly out of the nest on their own. It’s not that the mother is abandoning the baby bird. Rather, there is something about this part of the journey that is shifting for the baby bird. It may feel like abandonment or absence, but it gives way to something beautiful and necessary for life to flourish. Maybe when it feels as though God is absent, it’s an opportunity to step deeper into faith. An opportunity to unfold and flourish in a new way. Our certainty is not what carries us, but instead, it is our ever-deepening faith in the One who is always present even when absent.
Sara Wood is a part of our Christ’s Church family and serves in our women’s ministry and on our worship team.
Sara is pictured here with her husband, Shane, and children, Zion, Paige, Maddox, and Robbie.