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What if God seems silent?

Posted November 9

Several close friends have confided in me in recent months, all saying something like this: "I am in the deepest pit of my life and God is completely silent."

These friends have widely differing roadblocks causing various sorts of havoc in their lives. They've told me they believe that God is there, but it's as though there is a wall between them and him. They are suffering, deeply, and they feel alone.

I grieve with my friends. If there is anything worse than life kicking your trash, it's the feeling of being alone in the state of being beaten to a pulp. Where's the mercy, the help? Where is God when you need him the most?

I empathize, as these conversations have brought back distinct memories of a period in my life when I felt exactly the same way.

It was a season of endless days where we were stuck at home, unable to go places because my son Jack was overwhelmed, screamed, dismantled things or kicked children in the head on the playground.

I can still see myself sitting on the floor of the upstairs hallway every afternoon, watching preschooler Jack take one of his three daily baths. I bathed him, though he was already clean, because we were both going stir crazy. Water = sensory goodness. I'd lean against the wall and think, "There's no one to help me. We are stuck and losing our minds and I'm alone."

I prayed for wisdom, for help, for the ability to figure out what to do for Jack. I prayed from a place of hurt. It seemed that my efforts at being obedient were met with nothing. There was no change. I felt God was listening and judging me silently, which I guessed could only mean he was disappointed in my lackluster performance.

My feeling of separation from God persisted for several years. I went to church and struggled there with Jack's behavior, as well as the deep-seated anxiety of my two youngest boys. I taught youth Sunday school classes. I taught gospel doctrine. I taught the young women. I worked in the nursery.

Weekdays were rodeos. Saturdays were endless. Sundays were my death march.

"Please don't ask me to give a talk on obedience," I frequently thought during this era of darkness. I didn't know what I would say. How awkward would that be? "Keep the commandments and your life will get harder and sadder, people. I know from experience." Oh gosh. No.

I knew God was there. I knew at a cellular level that he loved me. I also knew that for reasons I couldn't grasp, he wasn't going to change things at that point in time. For whatever reason, the difficulties were staying. No matter how much I served at church, or how many dinners I cooked for my neighbors having babies, or how many structured play groups and therapy sessions and doctor appointments I slogged through with Jack, God was not forthcoming. Every hour was a struggle.

Once I said to my husband, Jeff, "God isn't helping me. Why isn't he helping me?"

Jeff said, "Maybe he is helping you, but you aren't aware of how."

As soon as he said it, I knew he was right. I thought about how we have survived 100 percent of the horrible days. We've always found our way through. The people we have needed have always eventually materialized. Answers for the most imminent disaster, or at least the strength to keep trudging on — we seem to find it, even when the disaster doesn't go away. This is the pattern.

I do not feel this pattern happens due to my wit and wiles.

When I began my nonironic spiritual journey earlier this year, I decided to let go of skepticism. I felt that to find healing, I had to be open to whatever God wanted to tell me. Because doing life without God's help is a nightmare.

I was ready to let go of reluctance and misguided self-sufficiency and whatever pride I had that had tossed up the wall between us. I determined to start listening.

Being humble, it turns out, was my answer.

It was the thing that dismantled the wall; suddenly, there was this conduit of revelation flowing into my life. God spoke to me, repeatedly, through dreams and insights. I didn't feel alone at all, or that God was disappointed in me. I felt that he knew everything about my troubles, including how hard I was trying to face them.

God hadn't stopped speaking during the period of silence. I just hadn't been able to hear him.

That was the first epiphany. The second was this: You don't earn God's love or Jesus's healing, because that's not how it works. Thankfully.

The love and the healing simply exist, a wellspring of support. Ever-springing. Always available. Every day, but especially on days like today when Jack broke my last remaining lamp, his bedroom door, a glass light fixture and one of the kitchen bar stools.

I found love and healing when parenthood leveled my life to rubble.

Being broken and bereft were necessary stepping stones for me to feel the abiding love that is the driving force behind life on earth.

Once I couldn't do it by myself anymore, I was ready to listen.

That's when God filled me up with a profound understanding and the unexpected satisfaction that my fractured life is exactly the thing that would let me know Jesus.

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