August 14, 2018

Monday with Michael Spencer: “I Miss You” (A Lament)

No Worse for Wear (2016)

Monday with Michael Spencer
“I Miss You” (A Lament)

How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?

• Psalm 13:1-2

• • •

I miss you, God.

It’s like you’re not around.

I see your world. I’m with your people. I’m surrounded by books about you. I read about you and talk about you. I teach others about you.

But I miss you.

I believe you’re there. I believe the Bible. I believe in Jesus. I don’t doubt your existence at all.

I miss you.

You. Not your people, or songs about you or books about you. I miss you.

I don’t miss all the theology in the books, the blogs and the lectures. I don’t miss the points of all the sermons. Or the answers to questions.

I have all those. Far more than I need, to be honest. But when David says, “Why are you hiding from me?” I know exactly what he is talking about.

I am missing you, God.

All of the activities that go on where you are talked about don’t bring you to me. Nothing that’s said or done in church fills this empty place.

When I pray, I feel like I’m talking, and that’s all. I don’t feel like I’m your child and you are there delighting in me. I feel you are far away.

It’s like you moved on and didn’t leave your address. It’s like we lived in the same house, but you’ve moved out without telling me where you went.

I cried out to you last night. Over and over. I want you to hear me. I don’t need to get your attention. I believe you’re close by. But I can’t see, sense or feel you. I feel alone. Like I am talking to myself.

I am starting to resent those who know you are close to them. Why am I different?

When I knew less, when I was considered young and ignorant, I felt you close to me. Then I grew up, and now I’m in the middle of life. It feels like I have lost you along the way. Somewhere in the crowd I let go of your hand, and now I’m alone. I’m calling out, but there is no answer.

There are people who will ridicule me for saying I want you. They will say I’m too interested in emotion. I don’t care what they say. This isn’t about my theology. My theology is as good as I can make it by all my efforts at study. No, this is about being able to stop and say “God is close to me. God delights in me. God is my friend, my father, my ever-present Abba.”

Where did you go? Why did you go away? Did my sins make you go away? Are you teaching me something? Are you taking away your presence so I will walk on, by faith, without you? Is this the “trough” C.S. Lewis wrote about? Will there ever be an explanation?

I’m weary of explanations and answers. I’m worn out with principles and illustrations. I’ve heard talking for what seems like an eternity and it doesn’t bring you closer to me.

When this happens, I hear voices telling me I shouldn’t need to feel you, and I shouldn’t even want to feel you. They will say I’m not reading and believing the verses. They will tell me I’m not trusting.

I may not be trusting you as I should. It’s harder and harder to trust you in this loneliness. It’s hard to turn away from this emptiness and tell myself you are real. I believe all of the right things in my mind, but my heart is aching to have you close to me again.

You’ve seen my tears. I don’t suppose they impress you. Maybe they are selfish, or sinful. I just don’t know anymore. Those tears are my way of saying I want you again. I want you in the way I experienced you before anyone said “Heâ’s smart” or “He knows about God.”

I miss you so much.

Please come back to me. Please tell me what to do. Please.

• • •

Previously unpublished

Comments

  1. Christiane says:

    ” For God alone my soul waits in silence . . . ”

    (Psalm 62)

  2. Susan Dumbrell says:

    Our Diocese is in great financial trouble.
    Churches may close.
    Big meeting next Sunday.

    We hope God has not left us.
    The quietness is palpable.

    Prayers please.

    “God is our refuge and our strength
    A very present help in trouble”.

    • Susan Dumbrell says:

      76 churches in Tasmania have closed with a similar financial problem.

      • Pellicano Solitudinis says:

        Yes, that’s a pretty important and complicated issue down here at the moment. Not Anglican myself, but I’m following it closely out of concern for the communities affected, as well as the heritage/conservation ramifications.

        I hope your church is given the strength to weather this storm, Susan.

        • Susan Dumbrell says:

          The disruption and fracturing of worshiping communities in Tassie must be immense.

    • Christiane says:

      Hello Susan,
      sorry to hear of your Church’s troubles . . . I know your Church has been a comfort to you in difficult days, and may it continue to be there for you in future

      God bless!

    • Robert F says:

      Hoping and praying that things work out for you and your church, Susan.

  3. Robert F says:

    It’s hard for me to relate to this post, because I’ve never in my entire life had such an affective, intimate relationship with and experience of God to feel the loss of. Even though I received religious instruction in the Roman Catholic Church from as early in my life as I can remember, I never felt God’s closeness, or was relationally sure of his presence. I guess, in that respect, mine is a consciousness formed thoroughly by modernism; that means that not only is it hard for me to relate to what Michael is saying, but it’s hard for me to relate to much affective religious language, including that in the Bible. I suppose that’s why I was so attracted to and interested in Buddhism for such a long time: affective relationship to, and language about, a deity is not required for its practice.

    • Pellicano Solitudinis says:

      Same. Probably because I’m ASD (cf the most recent Brunch post comments).

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I wonder if Evangelicalism has emphasized “Jesus & Me”, “PERSONAL LORD and Savior” to the point they’ve gotten way out of balance. What about the rest of us who don’t go All Sloppy Wet Kissy-Kissy? Those of us other than God’s Speshul Pets who since they Said the Words have NEVER EVER doubted or had any dark times or problems, just skating with their feet off the ground in their Secure FAITH FAITH FAITH? (And are always “tsk-tsk”ing those of us who don’t have angels to hold us aloft 24/7 lest our feet strike against a stone.)

      • Yet for the classic mystical writers, a deep experiential relationship with Christ goes hand-in-hand with times of doubt, longing, and despair. I believe Michael’s lament qualifies as an expression of the “Dark Night of the Soul,” which was coined by a mystic.

        • Rick Ro. says:

          This is what I’m discovering, and leaning into more, this time around, in my current desert experience. Last time I didn’t have a good grasp of Jesus’ role in things. This time… Hugely dependent on Jesus just carrying me through. Very much able to relax despite the longing, doubt and semi-despair.

        • Christiane says:

          ” Will there ever be an explanation?”

          ‘Dark night of the soul’ has been one phrase used to describe the spiritual ‘bell jar’ experience that God is no longer near.

          another way of expressing this:
          “What people don’t realize is how much religion costs.
          They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.”
          (Flannery O’Connor)

          to feel ‘forsaken’ is something Our Lord spoke about on the Cross

          to experience the Presence of God, that the Lord is near, is something that is not so easily shared with another person who does not understand;
          but IF a person who has known the nearness of God in their life, then experiences an episode of feeling forsaken, THEY will come to understand, within themselves, the pain of others who live with a great loneliness of the spirit

          Does ‘the dark night of the soul’ increase a Christian’s strength to help ‘bear one another’s burdens’? I think it may help to increase our capacity for compassion and empathy, you bet.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            And those who have always been Serene and Secure in their Unshakable FAITH have no occasion to grow in that way. That’s probably why they come across as Righteous Scolds and Sin-Sniffers.

            Wasn’t there a Flannery O’Connor story that ends with such a Christian having a vision of Heaven, with all the losers and crazies entering in ahead of them while they bring up the rear having “even their Virtues being burned away”?

            • Christiane says:

              Yes, you got it right, Headless

              ‘Resurrection’ (I think)

              the famous character ‘Mrs. Turpin’ who is given the vision after she demands of God
              ‘Who do you think You are?’

              but for grace all of us would be Turpins, I suppose
              . . . thank God for His interventions to bring us down where we ought to be before its ‘too late’

    • StuartB says:

      It’s hard for me to relate to this post, because I’ve never in my entire life had such an affective, intimate relationship with and experience of God to feel the loss of.

      Same. Some days I miss trying so damn hard to make it real and have it happen though. Like I miss being a child and being taken care of. Sometimes I miss the endless praying and crying, desperate for any feeling from Him at all, any sense of enlightenment or answer to prayer or being heard.

      But I also don’t miss it. Because I know how much that ruined me. And when I let it all go, and ever since then, I’ve had more peace. But also an emptiness I haven’t filled yet because from age 4 to idk 28 or 29, that was all I knew.

  4. Stephen says:

    “If this is how God treats his friends, no wonder he has so few of them.”
    -Teresa of Avila

  5. Rick Ro. says:

    I can relate to this post so much. Exactly what I felt during my 5-7 year spiritual desert journey/wandering. I can go down, line by line, and tick off every one of the things Michael highlighted and relate to them.

    –> “All of the activities that go on where you are talked about don’t bring you to me. Nothing that’s said or done in church fills this empty place.”

    That, perhaps, was one of the hardest ones for me, too. Very depressing to enter into the one place where you should feel God, but not get it at all.

    Curiously, I’ve found myself back in the spiritual desert again. Maybe more at the edges, but definitely there. The good news is that my approach this time is much healthier (I’m kinda telling myself, “so I don’t sense God’s presence, so what? Been there, done that…and it’s won’t be the end of the world.” Oh, and I’m also trusting in Jesus and the cross much, much more this go-round.)

  6. In an eastern sort of way, my solution to this problem is to outsilence the silence and outdark the “thick darkness where God [is].” Sometimes, if I am disengaged from feeling, the secret is to disengage the brain chatter through contemplative prayer. Stop the noise. Be, without any agenda whatever. Without a desire for closeness or any other thing. Some call that navel gazing but that’s only if they’re looking at their navel. Others call it practicing the Presence. You could call it waiting in attendance on the King. What we have gathered as a race of people over thousands of years, the consensus if you will, is that, from our perception on this side of the physical/spiritual conundrum, God dwells in silence. It would seem that the avenue for finding (experiencing presence) Him would be akin to that. It wouldn’t entail a lot of chatter and anxiety. This has genuinely helped me and I feel blessed to have come upon it. I fully appreciate that there is no panacea. Still I see no downside to this sort of engagement with God. If nothing ‘happens’, it was still time spent honoring the King. Frankly, the whole point is to attend to Him, not to seek the benefit of something happening for me. It is in the act of loving that we find love, not in the act of looking for love. I can forget my wound and tend His. That’s never a bad thing regardless of ‘result’. Funny thing is that I begin to ’feel’ more, a lot of the time, without having looked for it. We have all known people who complain that nobody loves them. They are often the most unloving. Liberation comes in the process of getting out of self and giving. The same can hold true in our prayer life. There is often a liberation that comes from getting in the prayer closet and taking care of His business, not my own.

  7. When did MS write this? I’m curious. I see it’s previously unpublished. Wonder what was going on.

    This post is beautiful–most, obviously not all, of us can relate at some point(s) in our lives. His soul could speak for so many, thankfully.

  8. This was originally published back in summer 2007 but very quickly disappeared; apparently some people felt that this level of transparency and vulnerability from a pastor was just too much. It’s real out there in the TR blogosphere.

    Thank you very much for digging this up and reposting, Chaplain Mike.

  9. When I am in this desert of feeling God is not there I listen to Andrew Peterson’s “The Silence Of God” and it somehow comforts me.