The first time I felt deep in my core that God was real I was 17, kneeling on a cold hard pew in a Catholic church that always had a lingering smell of incense and snuffed-out candles.
At the time, a group of Christian musicians was visiting from another church. I’d never heard worship music like theirs before. Hymns I loved—singing them brought me joy—but they did little for me spiritually. This was different; these people lost themselves somewhere in the music and beyond.
And so did I.
There in the space between those notes, God found a way to reach me. Perhaps it was the modern lyrics that spoke to me, the idea that I could know God as my father, instead of a distant idol. Perhaps it was the soul behind the notes.
I felt a sense of calm I had never known before, noticed the warmth of tears on my cheeks. I wanted to hold my breath, for fear this newfound sense of peace would slip away from me if I dared exhale. Not once had my eyes lifted to Jesus in the 17 years before. But that day, I was His.
When the music and the band were gone, I disappeared too. Back to the way I was, to that distant lonely place where God didn’t seem real at all.
Through my twenties and early thirties, I was no longer obliged to go to church by my parents. God became little more than a question mark in my life, a passing thought in times of trouble. The more I floundered, the less I believed, holding on to the misbelief that if God were real, God would save me from my pain. And the day came when the gap between us was so large, I didn’t believe I had the right to ever try and fill that space.
But I did find God again. After having my first child, I wanted to give her a chance to let that question mark hang over her head too; to maybe explore. I had no idea that God was pulling me back in.
Sitting in the warmth of the church I now call home, listening to the words of my pastor calling me to a life and place that so connected with my heart, I couldn’t stop the tears. I believed without a doubt, just as I had for that brief moment in time on the rise and fall of a single melody all those years ago.
I still believe.
But I find myself in the messy middle of my faith where this question weighs heavily on my mind: What happens when we reach a place where it seems God has turned God’s back and we’re walking alone? When grief hits? When relationships die? When illness sets in?
When there are just no answers.
What do we do when God feels like he’s slipping through our fingers like falling grains of sand?
I’ve never prayed more than I did when I went through my worst bout of depression last year. Down on my knees, hot tears sliding down my face, the safety of darkness allowed me to breathe again. And so I prayed. And I begged.
I even gave thanks.
But my God—the one I have willingly given my life to time and again, was nowhere to be found. I looked for God in the moonlit shadows, the orange sun rising behind black spindles of trees and in the rhythm of the ocean waves. I looked for God in the silence of the night.
And I found myself alone. Completely alone.
I got to thinking, Am I missing something? Do other Christians know something I don’t?
I felt convinced that I must be doing something wrong. Perhaps I should be praying harder, reading my Bible, giving more, seeking more?
But is a relationship with God really meant to be that difficult? When I called on God’s name through six months of darkness, was I wrong to expect a glimmer of light? Do I ask too much in wanting to be cradled by the One who loves me beyond all stretch of the imagination?
Sometimes I find myself wondering if God even exists at all. I feel small in my faith, like a baby bird still trying to fly but who has seemingly broken her wing whilst flailing so hard.
My prayers have dwindled to a late night sleepy whisper. And I realize I’m holding a grudge. I’m mad at God for not seeing me through those dark times. Mad that I had to resort to medication for my depression, instead of being rescued. Mad that when I needed that long embrace, the only arms there to hold me were my own.
Then I pray for forgiveness for being mad.
And so the “middle” goes, like a walk around a mountain where I’m back at my starting point time and time again.
Why do I seek to get it right when I can never “get it right?” When my questions linger and my prayers go unanswered and I make the same mistakes over and over again?
Sometimes I just want to let go. Not “let go and let God,” but let go of God.
But I cannot. Not because I feel compelled, or because I think I’ll be damned. But because of that still small whisper that captured my heart at 17 years old, and again at 34.
I seek that whisper in my small daily steps, that breath that catches me and holds me as fleetingly as the soft quiver of a butterfly wing.
I know I will always seek.
Maybe in the middle of it all I’m starting to learn I can’t always expect to be rescued. Sometimes the hard stuff just has to be done alone.
But the one thing I am sure of in the smallness of my faith is that God will always pull me back to Him.