Feeling Abandoned by God

I have not posted anything for several weeks as my wife and I were preparing and taking a long trip to Italy and Greece. We have been home a few days now, and below is an email I wrote to a friend who is growing through a rough time.  I thought it might be useful to others in similar situations.

Dear beloved child of God, I want to share some thoughts about your concern that you feel abandoned by God.  First of all, we’ve all been there.  As Frederick Buechner, one of my favorite authors puts it, “Doubt is the ants in pants of faith.”  Like our physical muscles, our faith only grows stronger when it is stretched and tested.  I guess that’s the “no pain, no gain” school of theology.  The first thing that came to mind in my addled jet-lagged brain last night when I heard your concern was Jesus on the cross saying, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  We’ve all been there, including Jesus.  By the way, that is a direct quote of Psalm 22:1.  50 of the Psalms are Psalms of lament from people feeling the absence of God’s presence, and those feelings are so common we have a whole book of Lamentations in the Bible.

I know it’s not much comfort to say “misery loves company,” but I share all that to just say it’s all part of the normal human experience, no matter what the prosperity gospel or the toxic positivity proponents tell us.  And those periods of loneliness and doubt can seem to last forever.  Jesus was tempted in the wilderness 40 days.  Elijah hid on Mt. Horeb for 40 days when Jezebel was after him to kill him.  The Hebrews wandered around in the desert for 40 years before they got to the Promised Land.  The disciples hid out after the resurrection for 50 days before the Holy Spirit came to them.  All of those numbers are not exact dates: they just mean it was a damn long time.

One of my favorite Scriptures is in Isaiah 40 where God is assuring the Hebrews in Exile in Babylon that they will be set free.  The whole chapter is worth reading, but I find the closing verses very helpful when I’m feeling at the end of my rope:

“Have you not known? Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

The Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary;

his understanding is unsearchable.

He gives power to the faint,

and strengthens the powerless.

Even youths will faint and be weary,

and the young will fall exhausted;

but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,

they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary,

they shall walk and not faint.”

“The song “On Eagles’ Wings” is a great source of inspiration from that scripture.  

Sorry if I got preachy, but I mean these words from my heart and hope they help.  And one final thought – don’t beat yourself up about what you have done in the past.  God understands despair and hopelessness and accepts and forgives all of our weaknesses.  We love you, God loves you, and you are never alone.  

Prayer for 11th Sunday after Pentecost

O Eternal One, the beauty of the summer season at my peaceful home battles in my mind with the harsh realities of life in our broken world. I feel like E.B. White when he said, “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savor the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”

The 24/7 news cycle bombards us with news of desperate migrants from Africa overwhelming a Greek and European economy teetering on the brink. The next news story describes nursing homes in Japan exclusively for survivors of atomic bombs dropped on them as children 70 years ago this week. Wildfires destroy homes and force evacuations in draught stricken California while typhoon Soudelor ravages Taiwan and China. I turn the page of my newspaper, hoping for some good news, and read that 2000 Iraqis have reportedly been executed by ISIS.

My God, have you forsaken us? The scope and number of world crises is overwhelming, and that doesn’t even begin to count our individual concerns about illness, grief, employment, relationships, and our failures to be the kinds of caring people we want to be. We know we are supposed to respond to the needs of others, God, but the needs are more than we can cope with; and sometimes it all seems so hopeless we don’t even know how to pray.

Help us not to despair and lose faith. We are not the first to feel overburdened and lost, nor will be the last. Even Jesus on the cross drew on the lament of Psalm 22 when he felt forsaken. St. Paul, who is always so strong and certain in his faith, acknowledges times of doubt in Romans 8 and assures us “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” Yes, God’s Holy Spirit intercedes for us. When we are at the end of our ropes, God prays for us!

But we have to be open to that intercession to receive it. Draw us close in our times of fear and uncertainty, God, like a loving mother comforting a child shivering in terror from a nightmare. Do not let doubt and fear drive us from you, Holy One, for it is exactly in such times that we need you more than ever.

We believe, Lord, help our unbelief. Let our weakness and helplessness in the face of everything happening in our lives and world be the motivation that brings us humbly back to you, admitting we can neither save nor savor the world without your divine guidance and eternal strength.

Pray with us and for us, O God, our hope and salvation. Amen.