A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to speak to a class of freshman Intercultural Studies students at my alma mater. During the break a student approached me to talk about some of the things in my story that I had shared. With tears in her eyes, she wanted to know if God would ever feel close again.
I knew exactly what she meant. In fact, I could see my reflection from ten years ago staring back at me in her eyes. I struggled to respond to her question because, really, there isn’t a good answer. Yes, after we walk through the fire with God, after we experience a season in the darkness and loneliness of the desert, God eventually reveals Himself again. But no, we will never again encounter the God that we knew before we entered the wilderness because the whole point of the desert experience is to burn away the idol that we made Him into and reveal this wild, unsafe, uncontrollable, awesome God who actually IS. And there is grief in that death that is very, very real.
In the end, all I could do was share the experience of my own dark night of the soul. I told her of the pain that was so severe that I can still recall exactly what it felt like. I remember very well the days of feeling like I was grabbing God by the collar and screaming, “I am not going to let you go no matter how much you ignore me! I am in this no matter what you do to me!” I remember stumbling through the darkness with my arms outstretched having only hope – but very little expectation – that when I fell, I would be caught. The lessons of that long season are many, but maybe the greatest was realizing that God cannot be contained by my human mind or my human hands. I do not own Him. I cannot command Him. I honestly cannot even understand Him.
Perhaps this experience is why I am particularly fond of the story of when Jacob wrestled with God for one long night (Genesis 32:22-32). “I will not let you go unless you bless me!” Jacob was blessed… but he walked with a limp for the rest of his life. I firmly believe that when we get close enough to God to wrestle with Him, we will be permanently marked. There is simply no way to get near His holiness without being scorched by His glory.
A better question might be, “Is it worth it?” Is it worth wrestling with God when there is no joy in doing so? Is it worth exchanging a safe, comfortable faith for one that is dominated by questions and uncertainty? Is it worth giving up wholeness for a wounding after an encounter with the Creator?
Again, I can only speak to my own experience. For me, the answer is an easy “yes,” but not a yes without tears of remembrance. I’ve left behind places of confidence and safety to run after my wild God who takes me to completely unexpected places. What is different now than before is that in the moments that I cannot see Him and have no idea what He is doing or why He is doing it, I have complete confidence that He is there. I know now that at those moments when I was screaming at Him that I would not let Him go, He was marking my heart as His eternal possession. I am deeply confident that every experience of pain has purpose. Even the deepest pain of the death cry, “Father, why have you abandoned me?” gives birth to Easter morning.
Hillsong United “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)”
This song is incredible in every way. I feel like it is the rhythm and lyrics of my life in this season – confidence of a life with a history with God and a longing for the greater depths that I can see ahead of me.