Posted by: L. E. Barnes | November 5, 2011

How Long…?

How long, O Lord, shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear? shall I cry out to thee suffering violence, and thou wilt not save?

–Habakkuk 1:2

Why is my pain continuous, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed? You have indeed become for me a treacherous brook, whose waters do not abide.

–Jeremiah 15:18

 

One thing that stands out to me about some of the prophets and other notable figures from the Bible is their humanness. That is, they weren’t plaster saints, and their faith and trust in God didn’t hum along smoothly all the time. Rather, they sometimes struggled heavily with doubts, fears, and even outright frustration with God. I actually find this reassuring, however, as it shows me I’m hardly the only believer whose spiritual life occasionally seems more like a roller coaster ride than a stroll along the “straight and narrow way.”

In the book of Jeremiah, for instance, we find the prophet at least a couple of times openly lashing out at God. He lets God know in blunt terms — one commentary I read remarked that Jeremiah even borders on outright blasphemy at one point — that he’s downright ticked off over the cards that God has dealt him. Jeremiah, in the verse quoted above, calls God a “treacherous brook,” meaning that he cannot count on God for help when he is need. Instead, he is like a thirsty man looking for water but finding only a dry stream bed. How many of you have ever felt that way? I sure have.

Right now I’m struggling a great deal in my faith. Years of emotional problems, loneliness, failures, shattered dreams, and certain besetting sins have left me feeling like poor Atlas with the weight of the world on his shoulders. I try to follow the advice of others to “let go and let God” or to offer my sufferings to God, but it all feels useless. Instead of finding consolation and hope in prayer, all I get from God is stone-cold silence. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the admonition that when we take our eyes off Jesus and look at the tempest around us, we sink like Peter did in the story from the Gospels. Yet when I try to look for Jesus, He’s made Himself scarce. I feel at times like Esau, begging his father Isaac for just one blessing; then I wonder if God has turned away from me like He did Esau. I wonder if I did something somewhere along the line to totally blow it with God, and He’s no longer interested in heeding my pleas.

Following the death of his wife, C.S. Lewis recorded his emotional and spiritual struggles in a short book entitled A Grief Observed. Some parts of it I can relate to quite well. For example, in one place he writes:

Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be — or so it feels — welcomed with open arms. But g0 to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. 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? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?

Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’ 

I’ve previously shared on this blog about how I abandoned faith in God for a time, considering myself agnostic. Like Lewis, I don’t feel there’s any danger of my reverting to that. Instead, I have doubted God’s goodness. It’s as if I’ve been carrying on a “love-hate” relationship with God. Have any of you ever felt that way?

Tomorrow I’m supposed to be a lector at mass. Part of me doesn’t want to bother going, feeling that I’m either too unworthy or that I’m somehow being hypocritical by proclaiming God’s word when I’m so full fear and doubt and frustration. But I suppose I’ll go and muddle through the best I can. Maybe through the Eucharist I’ll have some grace imparted to me — and grace is probably the thing I need most.

Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we might be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

 

 

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Responses

  1. Evan, even the greatest saints went through what you’re going through now. I think anyone who is walking the path of Christ gets to share in the abandonment and loneliness He felt on the cross. Ever since I read of Blessed Mother Teresa’s near lifetime of darkness and feeling the absence of God yet courageously putting one foot in front of the other in faith, hope, and charity, I ask myself, “Who am I to complain.” Don’t make this time about you – your feelings, your sinfulness, etc. It’s really a trick of the devil, what you are experiencing.

    I firmly believe this: the greater potential for bringing others to Christ, the more vicious the temptations we experience. Think of this as God taking a piece of sharp sandpaper and sanding away at your soul. He’s getting you ready for something and He’s not telling you outright what it is. This is the opportunity to strengthen your will, as Blessed Mother Teresa did, to make acts of faith, hope, and charity.

    I think the Germans have a saying: “That which does not kill me makes me stronger.” Maybe you can get your hands on BMT’s life story in her own words. It sounds like it would be good spiritual reading for you now.

    • At times I wonder if I’ve become too focused on myself. Perhaps that’s one of my biggest problems at the moment. Yet then I feel that I desperately need some sign of God’s grace and favor, or else why bother praying for others when God doesn’t seem the least bit interested in helping me at all? I would love to believe what you said about this all being just testing/preparation for something big, but our sufferings don’t always seem to lead to some great spiritual harvest–at least not in this life.

      But I realize I’m not the only one to go through this. Saints and even notable people from the Bible struggled with it as well. The Psalms show this all too clearly–shifting back and forth from exultation and staunch faith on the one hand to doubt and even despair on the other.

      I’ll check out Mother Teresa’s biography as you suggested. Maybe that’s exactly what I need to read right now. I appreciate your concern.

  2. Part of this post reminded me so much of myself in the deepest despair of infertility. Having to subject yourself this deeply to the will of God, when it makes no sense at all–I mean, why would He be silent; doesn’t he WANT you to believe?–is such a self-emptying. It must be how Jesus felt in the Garden of Gethsemane. I will pray for you, Evan. For a light in the darkness.

    • Thanks for your prayers. Maybe this is a process of self-emptying, as you mentioned. I don’t know what it’s like for a married couple to go through infertility, but I’ve struggled with loneliness and have felt all too painfully the lack of a loving spouse and children. So I’ve been through ‘infertility’ of a sort.

      Yes, Jesus struggled with feeling abandoned by the Father too. I mustn’t forget that God entered into our sufferings. I guess the chief problem is the feeling that God doesn’t seem interested in helping me draw closer to Him and live a holy life, that He’s given me the “left foot of fellowship.” Maybe one day all this will make sense, though it sure makes no sense right now.

  3. I think many of us have gone through what what you are going through (in one form or another) and it certainly is not easy to go through. I will pray much for you and entrust you into the hand of Our Lady.

    • Thank you!

  4. First of all, PLEASE hang onto the truth that God loves you and will never abandon you. It just feels like it and sometimes we cannot rely on our feelings to tell us the truth.
    Is there a priest you can talk to?
    I went through a depression once and I felt abandoned too. I have been through some dark nights we well. Here are some of the things I did that helped me –
    You mentioned the psalms. There is a psalm for every feeling under the sun. I would read them until I found one that touched me.
    Also Lamentations -Chapter 3 – starts off really depressing, but I could relate to it and then when you get to verse 21 it starts talking about hoping in the Lord. I read this every day for weeks and weeks It seemed to console me.
    And I prayed the Jesus prayer over and over for months and months. I just repeated it like a mantra. Not the whole thing – just this – Jesus, son of God, have mercy on me.
    And then Jeremiah – I read this everyday too – Jer 29;11-13

    BTW – Look at these comments from your fellow bloggers. You are not alone, Evan. Could God be reaching out to you through us?

    I will keep you in my prayers.

    • Thank you for your prayers and advise. I’m hanging in there and don’t plan to throw in the towel. You’re right about the psalms addressing “every feeling under the sun,” which is probably part of what makes them so beneficial.

      And I pray the Jesus Prayer very frequently!

      • I hope you are feeling better. You are in my prayers!

      • Yes, actually I’m feeling better. Thanks again for your prayers and concern.


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