I was on fire for God during my high school years, and people knew it, defined me by it, admired or discounted me because of it.
I was spending hours “in the Word,” waxing poetic in my prayer journal, jotting down insights to share with my accountability partner or at the Tuesday night, student-led Bible study in the church foyer. At the local youth church every Saturday night, I stood with eyes closed, arms raised to God, feeling the energy of the room and of the song, feeling near to God in every way possible.
The Christian life, for me, was a heady mix of emotion and romance. Jesus was the Prince and I was the Princess and I was blissed out on Him, feeling that rush of fire in my bones, ready to go to the end of the earth to spread his name.
It was a Christian experience that pleased the leaders and pastors all around me. They made me a student leader, gave me a small group. I, in turn, started summer Bible studies and school Bible studies, drawing the core of my identity from my nearness to God.
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you, James 4:8 promises, and during those breathless, impressionable years, I heard it reinterpreted into this trite quote again and again. “If you feel far away from God, guess who moved?”
You, of course, is the unspoken answer, left hanging in the air, and I agreed with it then, lambasted myself if I didn’t “feel God” on a particular day, figured it must be that something was wrong with me. If only I read my Bible more, prayed more fervently, stopped pining after that guy, stopped watching so much TV…then I would feel God.
You are not enough, that pithy little phrase seems to communicate. You are not doing enough. And I swallowed it all the way down, a painful hook, tying me always to that brutal master, Performance.
Years later, I stopped feeling God for days. Then weeks. Then months.
In those dark days, I did everything I knew to draw close to God. I woke up early, read my Bible, wrote in my journal. I went to Bible studies and prayer groups and I wrote answers in fill-in-the-blank workbooks.
Every morning, I sat in the buzzing silence of the Caribou Coffee where I came again and again, hoping to meet God, and I felt utterly abandoned.
I was drawing near to God. Why wasn’t he near to me? How had I moved? How did I get back?
These questions only highlighted my own inadequacy, my own failure, my own unworthiness. The girl who had defined herself, always, by God’s presence began to define herself then by his absence. By the fact that nothing I did seemed to bring me near enough to feel his breath, to hear his whisper.
I wonder now what that time would have been like if I’d heard that verse interpreted differently.
If it hadn’t been about scrambling toward God, but rather that powerful, unbelievable truth that God is near. That even when you can’t feel Him, he is still there, always there, never leaving or forsaking, his love big enough to span even the distance of your wandering heart.
I want to say now what I wish someone had said to me then:
If you feel far away from God, maybe it’s possible that no one moved. Not God, of course. But maybe not you either. Maybe this is just a normal part of the long work of faith.
Maybe the silence of God is not a punishment, but an invitation to a new kind of trust. In a world that is so loud and constant, where we are talking on social media even when we’re not using our voices, always saying something, always conversing and communicating…we’ve forgotten about the layers of Silence. The richness of it. The power of it. We’ve forgotten that God has a habit of going quiet with his people.
If you don’t feel God right now, if you don’t hear him and you desperately want to, be still. It’s possible that you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. Rest in the quiet certainty of your own Belovedness. Stay where you are.
You are found. You are always being found.