Have you ever been at a place in your spiritual journey where you feel like you are stuck in place? You don’t feel enthusiasm or passion anymore and you go through the motions of spiritual disciplines because you know you should and not because you want to.
I have been in this season for quite some time now. I don’t know exactly when or how it began, I didn’t notice until I was there. Then I began to feel as though my life had always been that way and always would be for the future. I can relate to the heart cry of King David from Psalm 13, “How long, O Lord?” but God seems silent in response.
How long, O Lord?
- Psalm 13
I have never minded being alone. I recharge by myself and love activities, like taking long walks in nature, where it is just me and the beauty of creation. It brings peace to my soul somehow. But physical aloneness is different than spiritual aloneness. For me it brings anxiety. "What do I do? I must be missing something, doing something wrong. How did I get to this place? And more urgently, can I get out of here, now, please?!"
It reminds me a lot of a horse in training, learning to rest under pressure. The trainer puts the horse in a stressful situation and the only way it can get out is by remaining calm, relaxing and just waiting for the next command.
The horse’s first and natural reaction is to run. It likely thinks: “Now I am going to die for sure! This silly human is trying to kill me, and I want to get out of here at all costs.” But gradually the horse realizes that when it stops running and fighting, the pressure lifts. It learns to trust that the trainer has its best interests and safety in mind and finds a place of peace and calm, by resting at his side.
I think God has placed me under pressure, so to speak, in a stressful training situation these past weeks and months by allowing silence, not giving answers and asking me not to run, but to rest. This has been incredibly challenging and painful for me.
This training session has played out in a few different ways. My health is one main area. This past year I have had some ongoing health challenges that have tested my endurance, my faith in God’s good plan for my life and in all honesty, made me want to run.
The physical and spiritual aspects of our lives are very much intertwined. If one area is undergoing battle, then the other area will be profoundly affected. In the thick of things, though, it is hard to remember this. I questioned: “God, am I doing something wrong? If I just had more faith, more will-power, would I get better? Is this all in my head?” I have worked so hard to get well, visited several doctors and don’t seem to be getting any answers or results. Not feeling well can easily lead to discouragement and it has been hard to keep a positive attitude.
One night I was laying in bed, pondering and praying through the challenges I had been walking through. Gradually, a sense of peace began to come into my heart, and in my spirit, I knew God was saying, “It’s going to be okay.”
I wasn’t asking God to speak to me then or even asking for answers. I had just come to a place where I knew there might not be an answer and I was okay with that. Somehow, finally, I could accept that if this is what God is asking me to walk through, He is going walk through it with me.
I began to realize that maybe He has been speaking to me. His voice is there even in the silence. It just doesn’t always look like I think it should. The Lord helped me understand that sometimes His voice is heard through my roommate asking me, “how are you doing this morning?” Or maybe during the Psalm readings at our daily prayer times, when a friend prays with me over the phone or simply when He gives me the strength to get out of bed another day.
It is a little like hanging out with your best friend. You don’t have to be talking the whole time because you are just satisfied with being in each other’s presence.
In a book I recently read, the author shared an encouraging incite that helped me realize, silence is not something I need to fear:
“Do not be afraid if all you seem to hear is silence. Sometimes the “silence” of God that we experience in prayer is a simple affirmation that we are where we need to be. God wants us to simply “be” and not overthink the work he has right in front of us. God’s silence in prayer can be a simple message of “you are where I need you to be, and when I want you to move, you will know it.” -Bobby Angel *
Sometimes the “silence” of God that we experience in prayer is a simple affirmation that we are where we need to be.
- Bobby Angel
I believe I am gradually coming to a place, where I can be ok with silence and accept that God has placed me where He wants me to be. Like the horse in training, I can rest in my master’s presence, even under pressure. When all my natural instincts are telling me to run, I remember He is ultimately good and has my best interests at heart. I can stay in this place, wait it out and trust that in His presence I will be safe.
Sometimes difficulties just happen, not because I’ve sinned or missed the mark or I’m not good enough, but because that is the way life is. If my focus is on beating myself up and wallowing in self-pity, I will miss the learning opportunity that is right in front of me. I am also learning to be ok with not accomplishing everything that I want to when I am feeling physically weak. I am beginning to let go of my expectations for each day and trusting that whatever I do get done, is what God intended for me to accomplish for that day.
I am grateful for this time because it has taught me more about who I am in Christ and how He sees me: I can persevere through more difficult times than I thought I could. I am not a failure or disappointment. God has not abandoned me or set me aside on a shelf to forget about me.
It’s also taught me more about who God is: He is completely and ultimately good, He never fails or allows things to happen by accident. My sickness, loneliness and struggles have not escaped His notice. Knowing who my Father is brings deep peace. On the good days and the bad, in silence and pain, through it all, there is assurance of His love and care over me.
I know this is not the end of training. The lesson I am currently in is not complete and there will no doubt be more down the road. But, like the horse, there is a deeper level of trust and love established between me and my Trainer. And even though the lessons might get harder, I am becoming stronger. Whatever comes I will be more equipped and prepared to face it with Him by my side.
I take comfort in the fact that King David, too, found peace in the silence and the waiting. He ends Psalm 13 with these words of faith and praise:
But I have trusted in Your mercy; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me.
- Psalm 13:5-6
* Pray, Decide, and Don’t Worry: Five Steps to Discerning God’s Will - by Jackie and Bobby Angel in collaboration with Fr. Mike Schmitz