Let me say that again: it's incredibly freeing to realize that not being able to trust God doesn't make one a bad Christian, doesn't make one a bad person, and isn't the cause of one's problems.
The one thing people kept telling me to do throughout the past 3 years (aside from “hang on”) was “trust God.” Usually followed by some assurance that he had a plan and would help me if I only trusted him.
And I tried. Oh, I tried. I prayed, and I listened, and I did my best to love others and to serve them and God in them. I said that I trusted him, over and over, as if saying it would make it true.
Nothing seemed to happen. I didn't feel convicted of sin, but neither did I receive strength or grace to go on. I didn't break (quite), but neither did I receive help from outside myself—only attempts to fix me, only admonitions that almost shattered my spirit, only a sense that if I didn't have anything to give to others, they would surely and truly abandon me.
I still felt that God was near, but he refused to answer me. He left me to myself and to my own devices, and did not care that I was drowning. He left me in deep water, and could not be bothered to rescue me. I was not worth his time.
I wrote this last summer, reflecting that whole year:
The emptiness I feel, the crushing downcast black hole inside,
is not like anger, nor yet apathy.
It's more like betrayal.
It's much more like grief.
I'm grieving—and do not know how—the life I lost for You.
As indeed you requested from your disciples,
to lose our lives if we wished to save them,
I lost myself, my desires, my loves, my direction, my self in You.
And I got nothing back.
Where are the promises you gave?
The peace, the joy, the ability to love?
The deep truth of Your own love for us?
I am empty, hollowed out, poured out like Paul as a drink offering,
but without replenishment and (almost) without hope.
You taught that those poor in spirit
(and never have I understood that phrase before)
had ownership of heaven's kingdom.
So why am I not royalty? Why do you treat me like a stupid slave?
Why am I stripped of power and voice? Why is there nothing to fill my emptiness?
I had a couple of weeks that August when I doubted, for the first time in my life, that God even existed. I had tried everything I could think of to get work, and no one wanted me. I was on the verge of being homeless, hungry, and without hope.
If you love me, why don't you help me? The emphasis was on the “if.” I could no longer trust, because there was no reason to. If God was there (as I still felt he was), he did not care that I sought him, did not care I was hurting, did not care that I had no hope. I could not rely on him—or at least I had no reason to believe I could.
I had never felt that I had experienced God's salvation, his power exerted on my behalf. I grew up in a church where many people had literally been saved, pulled by God's active power out of deeply destructive lifestyles, additions, abuse, illness. Saved, healed, delivered. I never felt any of that. I grew up learning right from wrong, and tried to live rightly always, in God's strength. I was not broken enough, not ill enough, not bound enough for God to demonstrate his greatness to or through me.
I never had proof. Only faith. And now? Faith was not enough. When someone tells you again and again to trust them but does not back up their words with actions, what do you think? That they don't mean it, or at the least that they cannot deliver on it.
At the bottom of that doubt, where the faith I had held to my whole life dissolved away, I found only one thing: a gut-deep wordless longing to see my Creator in person. Even as I wondered whether he was real, I longed to see him.
Where can I go to find you
in this world of mixed-up colors, of wind and water,
fluid and chaotic and more than just mystery?
How can I seek you
when all seeking ends either in
the denial of anything absolute and whole,
or the denial of paradox itself?
When is the day of salvation,
every day, or no day? Did I miss it?
And how can I answer that question
if I cannot even unlock the place
where you and I come face to face:
almighty and ever-imperfect,
perfect and ever-empty,
love and the hunger for love?
Why do you place yourself so far,
far from my eyes,
from the words of my groaning?
Why did you promise to be found by me,
yet refuse to answer my calls?
What are you? Who are you, oh blessed I Am?
I would know. I would know you. Not about you, not what you are not,
but you, everlasting, all-fulfilling, all-loving,
creator who fills all in all.
I would know you.
But where can I find you?
And when will you answer my call?
I read the Psalms a lot, the past few years. One thing about the laments in that book is that one eventually finds that there's nothing metaphorical about prayer. We're so often taught in church that the prayers are meant to be prayed about our own hearts, about sin, about deliverance from our own ignorance or hard-heartedness. There are prayers about that in the Psalms. But in most of them, the writer cries out to be delivered from some tangible sorrow or hardship, from evil men or betraying friends, from illness and poverty and violence. The cry is: God, come here and fix this! Help me! Show me your love and your power in your actions!
We humans need to see love in action before we believe it exists.
Yet we're not taught this. We're taught to walk by faith. We're taught that those who do not see and yet believe are blessed, as Jesus said to Thomas when Thomas insisted on touching him to be sure he was real.
But Jesus did allow Thomas to touch him.
For the past several months I've been seeing a spiritual director, someone who is mature in faith and trained to look for God's work in an individual's life. It's like having an extra set of eyes. One of the first things I told her, weeping, was that I couldn't trust God anymore. She never told me that was wrong or that I should change it: she saw that it was a product of what I had been through, and allowed me to express my doubt, to call God out for not helping me. Even when I used a metaphor I wasn't entirely comfortable with (describing my relationship with God as if it were an abusive or neglectful marriage), she wasn't weirded out.
Having that permission not to trust opened up my heart to a lot of things. To awareness that I felt discarded, unloved, unappreciated. I've been reading the story of the prodigal son very differently for a while now: I'm convinced that the elder brother wasn't in the wrong as much as he was simply desperate for affirmation and attention from his father. All those years of faithful filial service, and no acknowledgment. No wonder he was jealous of his brother. No wonder he begged his father for recognition.
As close as I have felt to God over the years, as much as I have loved and served and sought him, I still didn't have active proof of his love for me.
Jump forward in time about 9 months. Present day.
I find that I can now trust God easily. But it's because he finally sent me his tangible salvation. I trust Him because I finally have proof that I can. Because in his kindness God loved me enough to give me that proof.
It took months even to consider that. When I was in the middle of trouble my boyfriend reminded me that sometimes life just sucks, and it doesn't mean that God hates me. But the corollary to that would seem to be that when good things happen, you don't feel like God is involved in that, either. Maybe it's just an accident that anything good happens. Maybe it doesn't mean that God loves me, any more than difficulties mean that he hates me.
For the first time in my life, I have a job that I actually enjoy. I have a fiance who loves me, whom I adore and cannot wait to spend the rest of my life with. I'm beginning to find in myself the strength and permission to try things that I may not be good at, to trust myself, to see my own beauty and brightness and wisdom. To open myself up to the possibility of loving again, of not being alone and independent and brittle.
All of that came to me while I did not trust God.
All of that, while I learned that he didn't mind, that trust wasn't a requirement for him to bless me. All of that, gently pouring into me everything I've needed for so long, everything I've never thought I could have.
God ministers to us where we are. And if we listen—both when we cannot trust and once we can—we don't stay there.
If you don't have proof of God's love for you, ask him for it. If you don't feel comfortable asking, at least know that God can handle your doubts. Own them; own that you are loved and beautiful despite them, even because of them; keep walking.
Then you will see the salvation of God, whatever that looks like between you and him.