C.S. Lewis wisely wrote in a letter to a friend, “We must lay before him what is in us; not what ought to be in us.”
It’s hard to be honest when you know all the oughts (and when you are a pastor’s wife by training and calling and a perfectionist by personality). To bring a raw heart being the living God is an act of great faith.
This week, I found myself being gut-level honest with my husband and a few friends. My disposition changed from a forced smile to spontaneous tears when I admitted that if felt like God was not hearing my prayers – such an elementary-sounding, ye-of-little-faith statement. I could list of a thousand ways God has been faithful to me (as I have been and will continue to rehearse as fact no matter what I feel). Even so, Christ feels far off and I feel like one searching desperately for the felt nearness of his face.
I could tell you all the theological answers to this reality: God is not far off; he is the one in whom we live and move and have our being; he doesn’t change; he is closer than the air we breath. Yet the feelings of stuck-ness remain.
I know I am not the only one. I had a tearful conversation with a friend just yesterday who expressed feeling the same thing for years.
A few things have been helping me in this drought-season of my soul: one picture from my everyday life, a pair of verses, a quote, and a poem.
- You can’t get much closer to someone than when you are wrestling with them. Wrestling is an intimate, entwining act. As a mother of three boys, I am a self-appointed expert at watching impromptu, unofficial wrestling matches. Arms all braided into backs, legs around necks, the whole deal. Sometimes, in the midst of wrestling, one cannot view, whether partially or fully, the face of your wrestling partner. That does not mean that he or she is not close. In fact, the closeness obscures the view.
- Psalm 65:4-5 came as a soothing balm to my stormy soul this morning. “Blessed is the one you choose and bring near to dwell in your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple! By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation.” God has met my deepest need for a Savior; everything else is icing on the cake. But catch that tiny word with in verse 5: “you answer us with righteousness.” God answers my every prayer with his righteousness. The answer to my every prayer is that he will make me more like him (which he knows to be my deepest need, despite what I think I want)…this leads me to my third help.
- In his classic book The Normal Christian Life, Watchman Nee says the same thing in another way: “God makes it quite clear in his Word that he has only one answer to every human need- his Son, Jesus Christ…It will help us greatly and save us from much confusion, if we keep constantly before us this fact, that God will answer all our questions in one way and one way only, namely, by showing us more of his Son.”
- When my soul feels starved even when I am spending hours in the word of God, I often need poetry to tell me the truth slant. For, in the words of Emily Dickinson, “truth must dazzle gradually.” Sometimes the oblique angles of poetry can reach my heart better than the direct angles of prose. A poem from Christina Rossetti, “They toil not, neither do they spin,” gave me an image of the truth mentioned in Psalm 65.
“Clother of the lily, Feeder of the sparrow,
Father of the fatherless, dear Lord,
Tho’ Thou set me as a mark against Thine arrow,
As a prey unto Thy sword,
As a ploughed up field beneath Thy harrow,
As a captive in thy cord,
Let that cord be love; and some day make my narrow
Hallowed bed according to Thy Word. Amen.”
A ploughed-up field under his harrow describes exactly how my soul has felt. Though I have been taking deep dives into Scripture, I feel like I keep coming up empty-souled. I feel stuck and trapped. But I love how Rossetti said, in essence, “Do whatever you please, for I know it is done in love; only, make me more like you in the end.”
He hears our prayers. Even when they seem to bounce back without their desired answer, they come back to us with more of Christ – and Christ is the very best answer God could ever give us. Press on, my prayer-weary friends. You are being shaped into His likeness even in what feels like emptiness.