Lord, where’d you go?
I had just finished mowing the lawn, walked into the house and was getting ready to wash up when in my reflection in the mirror, I noticed something was wrong. The crucifix that a family member had given to me over 50 years ago, when I was an infant, looked different…Jesus was gone!
I dropped to my knees. “Lord, where are you?” I asked. “Where did you go? You’ve been with me my whole life! And now, I have no idea how to find you.”Desperately, I searched. The more I looked the more anxious I became. I went from asking where God was, to pleading, “Can’t you hear me? Why don’t you answer me?”
Let me be clear that it isn’t that I really worshipped the image on my cross. That would be idolatry. Rather, with the crucifix, I felt very keenly the assurance of God’s presence, reminding me that he carries my burdens with him on the cross. Now, he wasn’t there, and it felt like, perhaps, I was left to carry them on my own.
Often in prayer, people may experience a seeming absence of God. It’s as if he has pulled back from them, leaving them on their own. While there are many ways of expressing this experience, two images come to the fore.
One of these experiences is the desert. Imagine a flat, gritty, arid place. The wind blows and brings, not relief but wave after wave of heat and gritty particles that find their way into uncomfortable places. The soul prays for shade and finds no protection from the elements. As far as the eye can see no signs or directions present themselves, and no rain, not a drop comes to quench the sojourner’s thirst.
And so it can be with prayer. We embark on a journey, and soon we thirst for God’s presence for his gracious response in prayer. Yet no response comes. The heat of the events in our lives becomes unbearable so we begin to seek refuge. We look for shelter and don’t even find solace in the shade of our house of worship. We may become disoriented, discontent, or discouraged. Yet we press on, sure that God is out there somewhere.
Another experience is the dark night of the soul so eloquently described by St. John of the Cross. Perhaps this experience is more vexing than the desert experience because, as pilgrims in faith we no longer feel as if we belong in either camp – neither the kingdom of the world nor the Kingdom of God. We lose hope and even the blinding light of the desert is no longer evident. The world goes quickly from the heat of the desert to the cold of an arctic night. And as we stumble through the darkness, groping our way along, we beg for God to extend his hand to guide us.
The Desert and the Dark Night as Signs of God’s Presence
As people of faith, we know that it is God who invites us into relationship with him. There are times, however, when God decides to make His presence known by allowing us feel as if He has withdrawn His hand from us. But the truth is this, God never departs from us. As St. Paul writes, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:31).” More importantly Paul affirms for us in his Second Letter to Timothy, “if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself (II Tim 2:13).”
And so, these experiences are not God pulling away, but God’s invitation to an even deeper union with him. He is not silent, so much as his silence is speaking to us, calling us to seek further.
That’s the whole point.
Even in his silence of the Desert and the Dark Night, God answers us. In fact, there is no prayer that God does not answer. Perhaps the problem is that we expect God’s answer to always be yes. That’s just not the case – not any more the case than as a parent I say, “Yes,” to every request my children make. I don’t.
So, how does God answer prayer?
Of course, every once in a while, we may ask something of God, and He will give us what we have requested. Those are really rare occasions. The only way we can guarantee our prayer is answered with a “Yes,” is if we pray simply and humbly, “Thy will be done…not mine (unless it aligns with yours).”
More often, God will say, “Yes, but not in the way you think.” I had a friend who had heard that his office was expanding and that they would be looking to hire a new supervisor. He prayed and prayed that his employers would recognize his talent and give him the job he wanted. He didn’t get that position. Even though he was not given that job, he remained with the company, taking on a special project. When that project produced wonderful results, he was given an even more prestigious position. Yes, he was recognized, but for something far greater…not what he thought.
Sometimes, God will simply say, “Not yet, you’re not ready.” How many times have I had to tell my children they had to wait because they simply weren’t old enough or experienced enough. For years I prayed that God would tell me what work he wanted me to do. The truth is there were many things I needed to learn before I finally found where I was supposed to be.
And then, there are the times God will say, “No.” However, it is never the case that he gives a flat refusal. Rather, there is always a reason behind his, “no.” Here are few:
No, how can you be asking for a favor when you’ve broken faith with me?(We’ve sinned and are aware of it).
No, this will really hurt you. I can see things you cannot.
No, you’re not ready. You have more to learn, experience, live, etc.
No, I can’t play favorites between two of my beloved children (like when we ask for a job over another).
No, this is beneath you. (To say yes would be to violate our God-given dignity)
No, I would have to violate the laws of nature which I, myself, have written.
No, I have something far better for you!
We must be careful to realize that when God says, “No,” God is not shunning us. Rather, in these times, God is offering us another option, to which we must always be open. Not only is God not rejecting us, He also isn’t punishing us. He may be calling us to be reconciled with him or he may be forming us for something far greater, to a wonderful journey to communion with him and to a greater Glory for God.
Country great, Garth Brooks says it oh so well in, Unanswered Prayers.
What About You?
So, are you in the desert?
Are you in a dark night?
Do you think God isn’t answering you?
What are some of the unanswered prayers you are now grateful for?
Know that he loves you, is present to you always, and never leaves a prayer unanswered!