This week marks a painful anniversary for our family. On December 1st, 2013, armed thieves broke into our house and stole money and computers. Thankfully, even though the men fired a gun inside the house, no one was seriously injured and after just a week or so, my scrapes and cuts from wrestling with one of them near the doorway had mostly healed. Now while the outpouring of love and care we experienced after the home invasion helped us begin to recover (check out my original post about the break-in to read more about that), less visible signs of the trauma are taking longer to heal.
Since the break-in, a specific phrase has become a deeper part of my prayer life. It has become a cry of petition and of thanksgiving. I've found myself praying for and thanking God for: 'seeing us through the night.' When a mango falls on our tin roof and startles me from sleep, asking God to 'see' Rachel, the girls and I 'through the night' has helped me find a place of peace. I've been learning to give thanks in the morning hours that the God who never tires has watched over us and given us the blessing of a new day, he's seen us through the night. I've found that phrase to be helpful in pointing me towards hope while still recognizing honestly the reality of the darkness.
That prayer has been important because in the dark it's easier to feel that I'm on my own. And that emotion can be suffocating. So this post is going to more vulnerable than usual - I'm going to write about what to do when we feel abandoned by God.
I feel the need to write about this topic to help with my own healing and I'm sharing it in this format because I have a hunch that there are others (maybe some who are serving cross-culturally) who could benefit from my disjointed reflections on dealing with feelings of abandonment. I am under no illusions that my experiences of pain or suffering are somehow greater than most, but these experiences are the ones that I've had to wrestle with. So, over the next few weeks my plan is to share my reflections about dealing with feelings of abandonment on this blog.
There have been a number of occasions during our time in Mozambique when feelings of abandonment have pressed in on me. The moments after the robbery certainly count as one of them. The guards did the right thing, I guess, by running away to tell the police when they saw the guns (and certainly I could have done a better job of preparing them for this scenario ahead of time). But, the eerie silence after the thieves left our house and I stepped out into an empty yard hit especially hard because in it were echoes of other times during our time in Mozambique when I've felt abandoned.
There was the time two men from Cambir came to our house to tell me that the aunt that the church had prayed and fasted for had died - apparently "our God wasn’t powerful enough to heal her," they said.
Then there was the time I was called into the gov't office to address some allegations and even though the room was full of people I counted as friends, people I had helped in the past, none of them came to my defense.
My struggles with feelings of abandonment seem best expressed like this: What do I do when it seems like God has failed to show up? What's the best response when I feel like: "Hey, I'm bringing my 'A-game,' Lord. I'm giving it all I've got and showing up and being fully present in these challenging moments. So, God, why aren't you showing up, too? "
Now, I know there are a number of theological statements and even some anecdotes that could serve as a quick fix to take the edge off that feeling of abandonment. But, I've been convinced that short-circuiting the doubt and going for the 'quick fix' would cheat me of something important that I need to learn at a deeper level.
Part of what I've struggled to handle is how to discern the mix of emotions. After the break-in, for example, we felt thankful to be loved and cared for by people and by God, and yet the feelings of violation were compounded by other experiences of abandonment.
One passage that has helped anchor me as I've wrestled with the heaviness of abandonment is Psalm 118.
"When trouble surrounded me, I cried out to the Eternal.He answered me and brought me to a wide open space.The Eternal is with me, so I will not be afraid of anything.If God is on my side, how can anyone hurt me?The Eternal is on my side, a champion for my cause.So when I look at those who hate me, victory will be in sight.It is better to put your faith in the Eternal for your security than to trust people.It is better to put your faith in Him for your security than to trust in princes."(Psalm 118:5-9; the Voice translation)
This passage has meant a lot because while it certainly points to hope, it doesn't claim that troubles and difficulties do not exist or will magically disappear. That's the kind of faith and trust that I want to have. I appreciate the commitment of the psalmist to engage with God even in the midst of difficulty, even when it seems that God is far away.
For those of us trying to live a life of faith, it seems inescapable that there will be certain seasons or events cause feelings of abandonment. The healthiest orientation is not be a stance of supreme confidence in our own success. Neither is it the choice to remain seated, wallowing in doubt. Instead, the posture that has been the most life-giving, the one that most allows for acceptance and growth is one of petition/request and thanksgiving. Choosing to orient myself that way, has meant learning to ask and thank God for "seeing us through the night."
May God sustain us and see us through dark nights, even when we feel lost and abandoned.
Grace and Peace,