My wife and daughter have abandoned me.
They are staying with her Mum for a few days during the half term holiday. I know it’s silly and irrational but the house feels very different when they are away. Even during the daytime, when Sally and Hannah are at work and school respectively and I’m, the only one here, the house feels more occupied because I know they will be here again soon. And as I move around the house I find evidence that they were here earlier in the day.
It might just be me, but sometimes I feel a bit like that about God: that he has left me on my own. There is silence around me, prayers seem to vanish into the ether, the sense of his presence is replaced by an echoing absence.
But I have learnt not to panic in these times. As Elijah found out in the cave (1 Kings 19) God can be more present in the silence than in the loudest, most vibrant, bounciest worship service. Elijah was feeling abandoned by God, sorry for himself, all alone. But he experienced God in the sound of sheer silence. Interestingly this did not change his perspective on life, he still expressed exactly the same self-pitying abandonment. What had changed was that he had discovered that God was there with him in it.
When I am experiencing divine absence it is not because God has gone anywhere. He is still with me in his absence (if that does not sound too paradoxical). My ability to sense him may be impaired by me sticking my fingers in my spiritual ears (often because I have been distracted from him); or by me being too busy; or by me expecting to sense him in a particular way and that’s not how he wants me to experience him on that occasion. Even when the ‘absence’ is because I am in pain God is closer than I can imagine. He is with me, in me, sharing my pain, feeling the impact, understanding better than I do and later I find that to be true.
But sometimes (and bear with me here) it’s as if God is playing ‘hide and seek’ with me. When children play hide and seek they are in it together, they know they will be reunited, and the game is part of the friendship. Sometimes, it seems to me, God is deliberately hiding from me because he wants me to search for him, to look for him, to grow my desire to be with him. In the absence, in the desire to be with him my awareness of who he is can grow because I realise what I am missing.
If I walked around the house now I would find lots of evidence of the presence of my wife and daughter. I know too that they are coming home soon (and phone calls help). In the searching for God I use other spiritual senses to find him than my default senses (looking in the Bible is where I usually start) and I find him in music, in nature, in science, in other people, in my imagination, in creativity, in serving others, in rituals, in mysteries, in bread and wine… and in so many other ways. When I take the time there is ample evidence that he is still around, that he has not gone anywhere.
God is not absent, I have the sense that he is watching from his hiding place, desperate to be found again, perhaps planning to jump out and shout ‘surprise!’
Be blessed, be a blessing.