'You just need to pray harder.'
Those words still echo round and round my head. It’s been years now since they were spoken into existence, but like a bad smell they just seem to linger, taking me by surprise whenever insecurity strikes.
Right, come on. The standard pep talk. Deep breath. I sit down in the usual place and put my Bible in front of me.
I slip the pages open to a friendly looking chapter. Please, just give me something here.
I pause before allowing my eyes to drop down the page to a familiar phrase. They scavenge through the words, greedily searching for treasures to unlock from its depths. I get to the end of the verses, my heart expectantly waiting to hear that quietly reassuring voice, to feel that comforting presence, which comes from sensing God draw near through his Word.
Another deep breath. The clock ticks on in the background, tutting at my efforts. I sit, and wait. Nothing, the silence stretches on. I tuck the loose strand of hair behind my ear and quickly flick to another section. Nothing, again. The air feels heavy in the waiting, the silence overbearing.
Come on. I urge. Please Lord.
Please what? I don’t even know what I’m expecting. So I shut the book and put it back in its place on the shelf, leaving the room as quickly as I can.
That pattern became all too familiar.
Those apparent silences which greeted me whenever I tried to read my Bible filled me with such dread, that they often became the subconscious - or, in all honesty, conscious - reason for me avoiding lifting it off its shelf in the first place.
For me, they were the irrefutable signs that all was undoubtedly lost. I was no good at any of this. I convinced myself I obviously wasn’t worth His time or words.
As these thoughts mounted up, my attempts to push them off abated until I felt snowed in under an unshifting weight, destined to sit at the side line, watching others revel in the love I wished I could feel.
Unable to walk away but incapable of joining in, I was trapped, wracked with uncertainty.
When I think back over those times, I realise a lot was wrong with my view of myself before God. It was a relationship based on my thoughts, on my feelings, and on my circumstances. If things were going well, I would praise Him when reminded. If things were ok, I would urge myself through it.
If things weren’t going according to plan, I would pull back from Him, hurting and crying out that He was ignoring me - when in all honesty, I had been ignoring him for a long time.
It was in this hurting that I found Psalm 77, whose words made me catch my breath - not in their beauty, but their familiarity.
I was speechless.
That longing, those questions.
Painfully present in my heart, yet uttered thousands of years before its existence by a man who seemed to find himself equally lost.
However, unlike me - ending my prayers there, dismayed and despondent - the Psalmist pushed on, urging himself to look beyond his immediate feelings and to recall the incredible faithfulness of the Lord.
Reading over His words again and again, my stomach tightened as I realised that I wasn’t looking to the Creator of the heavens to be my Master, as I had led myself to believe, but instead to my fickle heart.
Something which leapt from joy to fear in a second, from excitement to trepidation in a moment. Something wholly unpredictable.
The truth of the matter is that our feeling of His presence has nothing to do with whether or not He’s there. He is so much greater than a feeling, or a sensation, or a notion.
He is a person, a person who again and again reminds us of His unshakeable presence and power - regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in. He assures us that He will never leave or forsake us, that there is nothing that can separate us from His love and that He can always be found by those who seek him.
Yes, there will be times when you feel like you aren’t strong enough, like you’re alone, or like you’ve been singled out - I know that well enough. But, through it all, hope endures. Not one rooted in circumstance or feelings. One far more durable than that.
A peace which only comes when you rest in the knowledge of who your Father truly is, and what He has done for you. Remember, when unrest looms, you are forever bound to the One who has overcome all troubles, and nothing can ever break such a bond. Although I don’t know why God permits these moments of apparent silence, I do know that He continues to work through them, regardless of what my feelings say. He is forever near, and even when I can’t necessarily feel Him, I have faith in His promises.
So, when it all is overcast by confusion, when the silence seems to press in on all sides and you find yourself questioning His goodness and love, please take courage. Hear these words of love and reassurance.
Still your shuddering heart and strengthen your faltering feet, for you aren’t alone, you haven’t been forgotten, and you will never be left behind. In those still spaces, He is still speaking.