Thank you for your message and your interest in spiritual direction with me. You mention that things are going pretty well in your life with your work and your family. You go on to say that even though things go well, you no longer experience God in the ways you always have. You say that your prayer and church worship have become “dry”, almost like God isn’t there anymore. You also say that you have had a significant loss in the past year and wonder if that has something to do with this. You asked me what might be happening to you, and if I’ve had experience with something like this.
I can’t really say what’s happening to you, but I can say that yes, I have had this kind of experience, as if God isn’t there in the way God always has been. And it’s been shared with me by many others. Often these have been times of loss and other significant changes, such as the death, or birth of a loved one, a move to another home, a job promotion or career set-back – the list goes on and on of significant external changes that put us in a place in life we’ve never been before. I’ve noticed it as well in times of stagnation, when I’ve felt stuck in circumstances that seemed impossible to change.
Before I share a little of my own story of one of those times, first let me share some psychological and theological wisdom about what you’re experiencing, and what I’ve discovered. I needed to accept and focus my attention on my external circumstances and tend to the tasks necessary to settle them down a bit. Only then was I able to tend to what was going on inside of me. I couldn’t get to the deeper things in need of my attention without settling the external things enough to do so.
And here’s the thing about God – before anything else, and above all else, beyond everything else – God Loves us! To quote Roberta Bondi, “God loves us extravagantly, ridiculously, without limit or condition. . . God loves us hopelessly as mothers love their babies, and as tiny babies love everybody who smiles at them.” We are never alone. There’s absolutely nothing that can separate us from God’s Love.
I’ll say more about this in another letter, but for now, perhaps this story will help explain what I mean by all that. Almost two years ago when the COVID-19 pandemic started and everything shut-down, I found myself isolated and too “quietly” alone. My first grandchild had recently been born and I could not get to my family – flights were cancelled, and borders closed; we were all under “stay at home” orders with no end in sight. I had never experienced anything like this before. I looked to prayer, and to the remote worship offered with others to comfort me, praying that God would stop this deadly disease, and return things to normal. But I could find no comfort, and things just seemed to get worse and worse. My sense of God’s absence just got deeper and deeper – I got panicky, angry, and then depressed with a deep sense of helplessness.
As a psychotherapist I had to “practice what I preach”, which was to radically accept the situation for what it was, and not allow fear alone to guide my actions. That required reaching-out to and connecting with others as I could, to be honest and open about how I was feeling, and shifting my attention to what was still going “right” in my life. From this, I was able to accept the circumstances and slowly begin to realize I was not helpless. Using the technology I had available to connect with others remotely, and regularly I began to experience what I call the “Life Force”. It’s hard to put into words exactly. My energy began to increase, and my sense of hope returned. I became aware of possibilities I never imagined, and a deep sense of wellbeing simply welled-up in me at times. I knew this to be the experience of God. Doing what I could and making some very simple changes in opening to God’s presence I began to feel God’s Love once again.
And so – long story short – one of the things I realized I could do was to sing a song and send a video of it to my new born granddaughter. And so I did – complete with arm gestures and all. While on a FaceTime call, her mom placed the recording where she could see and hear it in her crib and she smiled and waved her little arms – I was thrilled! And so began our regular virtual connection, which continues now in even more interactive ways as she grows. I still marvel, that such a simple thing as singing for someone could have such a positive effect on me and my baby granddaughter, and open the way to a close and deeply loving relationship. This is not to say that the difficulty of the shut-down magically resolved, but I did begin to feel better and know that God was there.
I will share in another letter some of the other ways this new, more expanded openness to God has helped get me through “stagnation” in impossible circumstances, as I mentioned earlier in my letter if you want. For now I will close with this: Please, please, don’t give up – if nothing else, simply repeat over and over – We are never alone. There’s absolutely nothing that can separate us from God’s Love. (from Romans 8, verses 38 and 39)
Know that you are in my heart, with prayer from here. Until next time,
Photo by Charles Black on Unsplash