when God feels far
There is currently a man in Starbucks who is driving me crazy. He just (loudly) dragged his table creepily close to mine and spent a solid two minutes taking off about nine jackets and pulling about 17 books out of his briefcase-man-bag-thing and (loudly) zipping and unzipping alllllll the pockets and compartments in search of his wallet or a pen or, I’m hoping, some ear plugs or noise-cancelling headphones for me.
He’s ordering his drink. A moment of solace.
He’s a loud sigh-er and even louder coffee sipper. He’s a paper shuffler and a constant getting-upper and #Icanteven.
I sit back in my chair and exhale, eyes closed. This is so not me.
I haven’t felt much like myself since Maggie died. There’s the honesty and the real reason for the uncharacteristic irritability. We’re coming up on seven months and in many ways, I just now feel like I’m breathing again after having the wind knocked out of me. As my therapist has taught me to say, “and that’s okay.” I take some comfort in knowing that I’m far from the only one who’s in this position.
I spent part of a recent afternoon sitting and talking with one of my mentors from college watching her son’s basketball practice. I spent the rest of the evening talking with my therapist. Two wise women.
What we discovered is this: I’ve just come out of another very difficult season in a year that was already full of transition. After Maggie died, faith was a fight. Even just functioning was a fight. Initially, I felt like God was close in my pain and anguish and I’d lay in my bed listening to worship music for hours on end just to keep it together. Then, as time went on, doubt and questions and injustice crept in. I used the very best tools I knew to combat bitterness and anger, but that space between God and me just seemed to grow and fill with more and more questions that I don’t think I’ll ever get answers to this side of Heaven. It felt like a simple “Why?” was heavy enough to fill up a whole room, not to mention span the distance between the One who was supposed to have all these answers and me. He just didn’t feel close anymore. The questions became heavier and created a lot of anxiety where comfort previously resided. I felt estranged, and honestly, a little ashamed at the chasm that had trespassed into my faith life.
It’s incredibly disorienting for me, someone who ultimately finds the majority, if not the entirety, of my identity in being a spiritual being – a person of faith, and someone who takes the Bible at its word – to have felt so far removed from and estranged from God. It’s all been quite frightening, the grief and the sadness and the chasm and the doubt.
The best way I’ve ever heard this summed up is in a C.S. Lewis book, A Greif Observed: “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”
And another way, comparing God to a house: “There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was as strong as this. What can this mean?”
And then come his words: “The same thing seems to have happened to Christ: ‘Why has thou forsaken me?’”
The same thing seems to have happened to Christ.
Even he felt like God was far and away at one point.
I find a great deal of comfort in that.
My therapist and I have started grouping time as “Before 5K” and “After 5K” – meaning before or after Maggie’s memorial race back in November – because there was something about that day that really jarred me wide awake in a "this is real" sense in both my grief and distance from God.
This distance has made me more insecure than anything else, which I suppose makes sense, given that God has always been the main source of my security. I spend some time these days wondering what sorts of things people may say about me, behind my back, or even in a friendly sense, or what have you. They tend to be hits on my faith, that I’ve drifted from it and from since Maggie died, and oh isn’t it just a shame, a faith as strong as mine once was now torn apart by questions and hurt and an ounce of doubt. They tend to be negative despite the onslaught of positivity and words like “strong” and “fighter” I’ve had shared to my face.
This is hard stuff. This is a hard season. I’m having a hard time. My prayer life has only just now evolved from something other than staring at the ceiling in silence and mumbling things like “I have nothing nice to say to You.” I count this as an accomplishment. I do alright when it’s me in a church with a sermon that I can take notes on, or even me alone on my couch with a message from a pastor I follow halfway across the country. But when everything gets quiet and I’ve put my notebook and computer away and don’t have anything to distract me, that’s when I have trouble. With me and with God and with prayer.
With knowing what to say other than, “My best friend is gone and I don’t know what to do with that and…I don’t have anything nice to say to You.”
Mostly, I feel like I’m re-learning my own spirituality. How to pray again, how to be part of a faith community again, how to show up when you don’t feel like it, how to let people carry you. How to let yourself be loved and prayed for when you don’t have the ability to give anything in return. I think that last one is called grace.
I suppose my wonder now is what do we do in times like this?
Getting back to normal, or rather, trying to navigate a new normal, is as necessary as it is impossible for me. Trying to remember how to pray feels like a good start. Knowing that it doesn’t have to look the same way it did when I had my super indestructible faith in college (you know, the days before I started running into hard things) with my seventeen different 8x10 spiral-bound prayer notebooks. It is much simpler now. I have somehow graduated from staring at the ceiling to murmuring “Christ, my Comforter” and voicing a plea that I’ll feel even just a little bit better tomorrow, pretty please. And working on the whole “showing up anyway” part, of which I’m good for about 50% of the time. It was 0% of the time a few months ago. Progess. Honesty. Baby steps. Repeat. (Baby steps are still steps, no matter how baby-ish. I remind myself of this basically every hour.)
God feels closer now than He did before, a few months ago, but still far. There’s still more space than I’m comfortable with or used to. But I have peace. Somehow. I don’t really know how, but I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, so I’m going with it. I have friends and all sorts of people praying for me when I just can’t do it. I’ve dropped the pride that kept me from asking for that for so long.
Another thing my therapist reminds me is that “feelings are not facts.” When God feels far, it doesn’t mean that He actually is. That feeling is real and valid because it’s what we’re experiencing, but it doesn’t mean that it’s true. I am convinced of this, and it’s what keeps me afloat even in my most severe seasons of doubt.
I was driving home the other night and had a moment where I noticed that the sunset had cast the sky a glorious pink color and “Unconditionally” by Katy Perry came on the radio, which Maggie loved, and she felt close. Remembering her didn’t feel excruciating. It felt almost like peace for a moment.
Peace that passes understanding. (Seems like I’ve read that somewhere before…)