I first felt the presence of God when I was five-teen. It came to me in the middle of the night after I had woken from a nightmare and had begun to pray. The nightmare had left me feeling dark, cold and anxious, but the presence of Jesus made me feel light, warm and calm. I either smile broadly or cry when I feel His presence, and while it almost always comes with perspective that refocuses my priorities and sets my feet on a straight path, it ALWAYS comes with an immense and overwhelming sense that, for some or other reason, I am loved.
But, I don’t want to write this post about how it feels to experience the presence of God. Instead, I want to write about how it feels when there’s no warmth, calm or light. I want to write about how it feels when there’s no perspective, only anxiety, and for every reason that you could possibly think up, you feel anything but loved. Why on Earth would you want to write about that? You may ask.
Well, first of all, Christians don’t talk to each other about it enough. There seems to be a perception out there that if your relationship with God is thriving you will be happy and frequently feel the overwhelming rush of emotion and love that we have come to associate with God’s presence. On the other hand, the perception is that if you are not happy, or experiencing said presence, then there must be something wrong with your faith. This perception has done a great amount to put the brakes on God’s intention for our relationship with him, and I intend to do my best to explain why.
The times when we don’t feel the presence of God, creates space to grow our relationship with Him that is not only productive, but completely necessary—even though it is so different to the warm ‘fuzzies’ of what we associate with His presence. It is the only fertile ground from which to build genuine faith, rather than a kind of stubborn uncertainty that does more to make Christians judgemental and proud than it does to further the Kingdom. The dark and dry place in our walk with God, when we want to yell at Him and walk away from him, and when we wander if He was even there in the first place, is the place where we are given the opportunity to choose: between him, and the multitude of other things in the world that promise love, comfort and reassurance. It is in the making of this choice, not just when we are saved, but in the difficulty of every day of our ordinary lives, that we are invited to truly believe.
Belief is meant to be hard. It is only through years of choosing Christ, and the many ways in which he then demonstrates his love to us after we have searched for it and pleaded for it, that God builds faith in his people. It seems to me that those who obey God even when they are wrecked with unspeakable doubt and sadness, are those whose faith is built the strongest. In response, we need to learn to be OK with dry patches in our faith, and talk about them more often with our fellow believers; we need to see them as the opportunities for growth that they are, seeking those who can build us up, rather than judge us for the doubt; and we need to hold on tightly to what we know of Christ as revealed in the Bible, searching and pleading, even in the dark, so that he can build true faith in our hearts.