When God Feels Absent
You may remember what shock came over the world after Mother Teresa’s death in 1999 when some of her writings were divulged to the public. She wrote not of the inner bliss of peace and joy during her many years of service, as we might expect, but of her inner struggles of “dryness… darkness… loneliness” and often feeling far and distant from God.
If we’re honest, I think most of us can identify with Mother Teresa, to varying degrees. But what I want to bring to our attention is not so much the struggle itself, but the hunger for God that emerged in the midst of her struggle. She wrote that the pain of feeling God’s absence caused her to long for him evermore “with all the powers” of her soul.
Is there perhaps a link between pain and panting after God?
Take a look at Psalm 42. The author begins: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” Just like Mother Teresa, the soul pants, but not for the God that feels near, or the God who feels present, but the God who is seemingly absent. The psalmist is experiencing intense inner and outer turmoil. His soul is “downcast” and “disturbed” (v. 5). Feeling forgotten by God, he is in a state of “mourning” and “oppression” (v. 9) and suffers physical “mortal agony” as he is taunted by his foes (v. 10). His panting for God comes in the midst of his pain.
We will all hit rough patches with God from time to time, but we need not become discouraged. We can draw on three tips offered in Psalm 42 that will help increase or revive our hunger for God when He seems most absent:
- Desperation. In verse 3 it says, “My tears have been my food day and night.” When the author realizes he feels far from God, he doesn’t continue on in his regular rhythms of life. His tears become his food as he weeps for God to show up. When was the last time you wept over missing closeness with God?
- Intimacy. In verse 9, the author talks to God as a close friend, holding nothing back from God, “Why have you forgotten me?” Expressing the depths of our hearts to God helps breed trust and intimacy. When was the last time you poured out your heart to God?
- Remembrance. The psalmist describes a time when he used to worship God “with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng” (v. 4). He is recalling when God felt close and near. When we do this in our own lives, it can help quicken our desire for God again. When was a specific time you remember feeling closest to God?
These are three simple yet profound things we can do during times when we may lose for a while, the freshness or vitality of our relationship with God. Be encouraged that it is often in the most painful or difficult of circumstances that we find our souls panting most poignantly after God. And panting is the surest sign that God is there with you and has been all along.