If you have been following our family for awhile, then you probably know that there is one common theme in our story every year, especially around this time. Need. Great need. And an undulating rhythm of surging faith, waning faith, fear, prayer, peace. Repeat. Over and over again.
Some years, God is so present, and seems to answer our prayers almost before we pray them. Other years, he stays so quiet that we begin to think he’s forgotten us. Then we start to wonder if all of the things we believe about him are true. As the fear grows, we pour our hearts out to him and seek for any reminders of him in words of Scripture, songs, writings of those who walked this path many years before us leaving behind examples of their own humanness and struggles. We cry out to God to show himself. Please answer us. And so often, the reply is a deafening silence.
This year is one of those years of long silences, great need, and recurring doubts, followed by little assurances here and there that he hasn’t left us. Little whispers to ease that terrifying silence very briefly — just about the span of a breath. But tangible, nonetheless.
This morning, I woke up feeling sad and heavy. I am having terrible pain in my neck again, and God has felt so far away as we pray and pray for so many great needs. I didn’t really even want to do a quiet time, thinking that maybe I would choose instead to indulge in self-pity and to stroke and nurture the fear and doubts that were clouding beauty all around me.
Eventually, I made myself do a bit of a quiet time and ended up posting this quote on my Facebook page:
“Prayer brings heaven down to man. Prayer is pouring out the soul to God, crying, ‘Abba, Father!’ A prayer in a moment can fly to the highest heavens. It is a sweet savor to God, a terror to the devil, and a shelter to a Christian. Prayer is the midwife to bring mercies to the believer that were conceived in the womb of promise. God commands his people if they are in any perplexity to call upon him in the day of trouble and he will hear.” ~ George Swinnock (1627-1673)
A little while later, a friend commented on that post, and I replied to her comment. I mentioned that I loved the sentence, “Prayer is the midwife to bring mercies to the believer that were conceived in the womb of promise,” stating that when God is so quiet and seems to be absent, promises are sometimes all we have to hold onto.
As I was typing with her, this vivid memory filled my mind. It was so powerful that I felt like I had been transported right back to my childhood in an instant.
I must’ve been about five years old. My mother had taken me to a hardware store in Center Point, a suburb of Birmingham, AL, where I grew up. I was always a pretty fearful child — afraid of strangers, terrified of fires, paralyzed by the thought of getting lost or kidnapped, often scared even when I didn’t know what I was scared of. But in spite of that fear, I had developed a habit of wandering away from my mother in stores. I never ran away from her, I just always kind of wandered away. And even though she had warned me and scolded me for this before, I did it again that day in the hardware store. This time, my wise mother just let me go. After I had wandered for awhile, I looked around to find her so I could move back to her side. When I couldn’t see her anywhere, I became panicked. I so clearly remember that feeling of fear and of being utterly alone in the world. Everything seemed huge and black and hopeless, and I felt so unsafe as I quickly moved into a state of terror and started to cry. I remember the smell of new tires. I wonder if they sold tires there? She allowed me to fully experience these emotions just long enough to learn my lesson, then she just suddenly appeared beside me and calmed me. I never left her side again in a store.
What I didn’t know until later, though, was that she had been standing behind a tower of coiled and stacked garden hoses, watching me the whole time. She never took her eyes off of me. I was as safe as if I had been physically holding her hand. I felt so loved when she told me this. So safe. Even when I thought she was gone, she was right there, mothering me; teaching me; loving me; keeping me safe under her wing. I know now, as a mom myself, how it must’ve hurt her heart to see my fear and hear my cries. What courage it took for her to stand her ground and see that lesson through to keep me safe in future situations.
That memory has stayed close to me all day, and I’ve thought about it a lot. Why did that particular memory pop so suddenly into my head and heart at that moment? I believe God was giving me a clear and concrete picture — one that even my stubborn, fearful, weary heart could hold onto — of how he loves me as a perfect and all-wise parent.
He seems to be ignoring me. He seems to have left me behind. He seems cold and uncaring as I cry out to him for help. In fact, in my devotional book I wrote these words this morning: “2021 God, do you really hear?”
I believe he answered that question when he breathed that memory into my mind and whispered, “Yes, I do hear you. I see you. I’m right here, behind the garden hoses. I’m watching, even when you wander away, I’m timing everything exactly the way it needs to be. I know what you need more than you do. And I know when you need these things better than you do. I know you are scared. But trust me. Believe me. I won’t leave you. I will step out of the shadows, shine light into the darkness, and answer you at the perfect time.”