I am surprised, maybe even a little ashamed, to find that I am writing about having experienced what were for me some unsettling doubts this past week, especially given that it was the week during which we celebrate the most significant events of God’s interaction with humanity.  Perhaps it’s because I still have much to learn about about prayer as a dialogue (rather than a monologue), but speaking to God more frequently has sharpened my awareness of the fact that God, by contrast, doesn’t speak back that often – not in a way that I know how to hear.

Yes, I did say that He doesn’t speak back that often in a way that I know how to hear.  There definitely have been times when I felt that God was asserting Himself in very obvious ways, and they were all associated with prayer: The time when I was 13, praying as I lay in bed, and I could feel His presence in the room as plainly as a visible person; the time when events shifted in response to my prayers for God to deliver me from the trouble I’d gotten myself into; the times when I suddenly felt compelled to pray about particular things and then learned later that significant events had taken place regarding those things;  the time when I was at a restaurant and God interrupted my distracted thoughts with a sudden and strong notion that I needed to understand that He provides all things, and then, as if to drive the point home, when it came time to print my check, the printer broke and so I was told that my lunch was free.

Still, too often, I find myself demanding that God meet me on my terms, and then when He doesn’t, the troubling whisper of a thought crosses my mind: “Is God really there?”  I forget that God rarely meets us on our terms, and that while there are exceptions in the Bible, they are truly exceptional, and that most of the time, God speaks when He’s ready.  Joshua and the angel. Moses and the burning bush.  Samuel and the Voice at night. God’s call to Abram.  God’s call to any of the prophets.  Saul and the blinding light.  When I search for the phrase “the word of the Lord came to” in my online study Bible, there are 101 results.  The word of the Lord came to so and so, not so and so came to the Lord.

There were two things that were comforting to me during those times of doubt and silence.  First was the fact that many others have been there before.  I first read about this experience in Richard Foster’s Prayer, in the chapter called The Prayer of the Forsaken. This is not to say that I experienced anything very close to what he describes in this chapter, but it gave me a glimpse.  It’s also been referred to as “the dark night of the soul” by St. John of the Cross.  It’s encouraging to know that others have experienced far worse and survived with their faith intact.

But in our own way, you and I will pray this Prayer of the Forsaken if we seek the intimacy of perpetual communion with the Father. Times of seeming desertion and absence and abandonment appear to be universal among those who have walked this path of faith before us.  –Richard Foster

I was encouraged most, however, by thinking about Jesus Himself and about His death, resurrection, and the logical evidence to support the claim that it actually happened.  Hebrews 1:1-2 says that “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son.”

God also speaks to us not only through the Living Word (Jesus) but by the written word (the Bible) as well.  This is not to say that this means that we can’t or won’t hear from God any other way.  Jesus Himself comforted His disciples, who were saddened to learn that He would be ascending back to His Father, by telling them that it was actually better that He return to the Father so that He could send the Spirit, who would be in them – and us – and would teach them and remind them about all things.

Since I work at a church, I’ve had a very busy week, full of planning and preparing for the observance and celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and so my mind has been very occupied, and I’ve been working long hours.  Being tired and a little stressed will, obviously, influence one’s mental state.  It’s ironic that as I plan services which are intended to help people realize the presence of God, my mind has a difficult time focusing on Him.

I believe that the silence that I perceive is not the lack of God speaking, but my distracted-ness and inability to hear.  Sometimes God shouts above the din and reveals Himself plainly, and this is how most of us want Him to speak all the time, but God isn’t like video on demand.  He’s a Person with a will and a plan, making choices about how He will do things, and when He does make Himself visible over our blindness, the usual response is “Surely God was in this place and I was unaware.” (Genesis 28:16)  As we try – in vain – to bend Him to our shape, He’s working to bend us back into His shape.