There is an old joke…
There was a man who fell in a hole and couldn’t get out. He had a friend walk by above and he called out for help, but the friend kept walking. After some time he saw a second man he knew and called up. The second man looked down into the hole, made eye contact, then checked his watch and kept walking.
Then, the man in the hole, looked up and saw John. “John, its me. I’m stuck down in this hole. Help me out.”
Then John jumped in the hole.
“John, what the heck are you doing? Now we are both stuck in the hole.”
“That’s true,” answered John, “But I’ve been down here before and I know how to get out.”
. . . . .
Spiritual dryness and desperation are all but inevitable within an honestly lived life. The hope, the dream and the drive is that God is available to us, even when our actual spiritual experience may provide little supporting evidence to that fact.
Since starting to write my new book, ALOOF, more than two years ago, I have interviewed hundreds of people on the topic of God’s tangible presence. To be clear, I am not talking about God’s spiritual presence (John 14:25-27, Hebrews 13:5, Romans 8:38-39), I am talking about God’s tangible presence.
This tangibility is modeled in the Bible in scenes like the burning bush, the Mount of Transfiguration or the road to Damascus. It is also indirectly promised by our religious services where pastors regularly declare, “God spoke to me this week” and worship songs fill the room with visceral and sensory metaphors.
Yet, most people of faith, when pressed about God’s tangible presence, have few if any stories to tell. And those stories are, more often than not, filled with conjecture, circumstance and the stuff of the common human experience.
If you are someone whom God audibly speaks to and/or tangibly touches than I envy you.
If you are more like me and God feels distant most the time…
Here are five things to do when God seems ALOOF:
- Take a Deep Breath. What you are feeling is very normative throughout human history. There was 400 years of silence between the close of the Old Testament and the coming of Jesus. That is a long silence.
- Embrace Your Place in a Significant Club. You are in great company. Possibly the most beloved saint of the Twentieth Century, Mother Teresa, once wrote about her life with God, “As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.”
- Shake It Up. One of the things that keeps us closed to the Divine is complacency and routine. They foster the illusion of self-control and self-control is the opposite of God dependence. So, try something to bump your spiritual life off balance: fasting, prayer walking around your neighborhood, find a prayer-labyrinth, go on an “Ignatian Adventure” or visit an old church (Roman Catholic or some other tradition that feels ‘uncomfortable’.)
- Be with the Marginalized. Bono, in his unforgettable speech to the National Prayer Breakfast in 2006, rightly applied Jesus teachings in Matthew 25, when he said: “God is with the vulnerable and the poor. God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them.”
- Make a Friend with Someone Unlike You. Space here is limited, so I will ask you to take my word for it. Friendship, true spiritual friendship, with someone who has a distinctly different racial, cultural, religious or class background than yours, will open soul to things you have never considered before. And that open soul may lead to fresh experiences with God.
In Romans, chapter 8, Paul talks about “the groaning” and he equates the “groaning” within us to the “waiting.”
Dear friends, this time under-the-sun is a time of waiting. It is exactly like a fiancée watching the horizon for their beloved who has gone on a long, long journey (Matthew 25:1-13.)
Embrace the waiting.
May you know God’s nearness.
Tony Kriz is the author of the new book, Aloof: Figuring Out Life with a God Who Hides (Thomas Nelson, 2014). He hopes, through words both written and spoken, to give people permission to authentically feel/speak/struggle and to honestly express their faith-filled affections. He has a doctorate of ministry in leadership and spiritual formation. He teaches in colleges and universities around the country on topics of authentic faith, spiritual formation, cultural integration, cross-spiritual communication, and sacred friendship. His writing life involves books, articles, and playful profundity through his blog.