You know how sometimes life feels “meh” and “blah” and you wish you had a new and deep vision of God in the middle of your ordinary life? We know that God reveals himself through his Word and that careful study of the Scripture leads us to know God more familiarly as days turn to weeks, months, and years. But sometimes we long for special encounters where through his Word deep calls to deep — where the truth of who God is as revealed in the Scripture resonates with our spirits and renews our imaginations, encouraging us to continue being faithful. Especially when life is hard.
Years ago, a few years into my role as a campus minister to college students in Sri Lanka I had one such encounter. For the most part, I was living out my Christian life faithfully and though I believed in the truths of God — including his love for me — spiritually I felt dry. I was resigned to continue in that mode, of being unable to sense God’s deep personal love in an experiential way.
It also coincided with a mostly “successful” season of ministry, showing me early on that ministry output does not necessarily mirror our spiritual health.
Feeling spiritually dry doesn’t always translate to “I must be doing something wrong.” We might be walking in obedience, yet feel sad that our hearts don’t feel warmed by God’s presence. We can hold on to the reality that he still loves us and is with us even though we may not feel it. We don’t have to clamor for God’s attention, we are already known and valued by him.
I was enjoying seeing students coming to grips with the prophet Ezekiel‘s message in a series of Bible studies that I had culled out of the book. But at a personal level, God just felt far away. And as I continued to press in to studying Ezekiel to help my students’ own vision of God expand, one day God overwhelmed me with a sense of his own deep personal love for me, right in the middle of my preparation for the next study. Meeting God in this way carried me for years after that.
Twenty years on, in his generous love, God offered me another such encounter. And rather than intense emotion, this time around it is simply a vivid image of God that is firmly entrenched in my mind. This picture of God from the words of Scripture is just what I needed to hang in there in all the hard that life seems to have become.
All of us are living in times that feel surreal. Two years ago, we would not have imagined our normal lives becoming what they are today — marked by masks and social distancing, staying home as much as possible, working from home, learning from home, not being able to see friends and family. Those of us in parts of the world where the vaccine rollout has been swift are beginning to slowly experience a return to a more normal way of life, but even so we are uncertain what to expect as the summer euphoria evaporates. What will going back to “normal” academic life look like? What will going back to school feel like for our kids? How will I manage loneliness when social structures still feel fractured?
We empathize with those in other parts of the world who are experiencing the worst of the pandemic now, waiting for vaccines that are hard to come by while others at home refuse vaccines that are easily available. As graduate students and faculty connected to a global fellowship of university ministries, we grieve with those hardest hit — like our sister movement in India (UESI) that by mid-June had lost over forty of their own people. Hard lives in the majority world have become considerably harder.
And yet even though you and I might not be facing the pandemic where our daily hard is not in the scale of people who have it harder because of where they live and the circumstances that impinge on their lives, our hard is no less significant to God, even though we may live amidst affluence and resources. We still must deal with taking care of aging parents several states away, kids with learning issues, teens dealing with the stuff of growing up, health conditions that are taking a toll on our bodies, a friend struggling with a life threatening disease, constantly cleaning our homes and cooking for a family that is always home while managing our own work, or managing the loneliness of pandemic life as a single person. If we weren’t in therapy before, we probably need to see a therapist now.
As we struggle to stay afloat in a sea of hard, this is what God says:
“To them I was like one who lifts
a little child to the cheek,
and I bent down to feed
them.” (Hosea 11:4b)
These are God’s words to Hosea about his love for his stubborn people, the Israelites. Yet they are also God’s words to all his weary children today. Reading through the minor prophets recently, these words from Hosea have helped me to envision God afresh.
Will you allow a fresh vision of who God is to re-invigorate you amidst your hard?
Take a few minutes to be still. Let’s relax our bodies, quiet our anxious thoughts, and in the silence anticipate an intimate vision of God.
Close your eyes and imagine God carrying you — to him you are like a little child whom he has lifted and is holding cheek to cheek. Soak up the image of nestling against him cheek to cheek, with your arms wound tight around his neck. That is the security and the comfort he longs to give us. This image conveys to us a warm picture of a loving parent — a mom or dad soothing a restless child. And he tops it off by presenting to us a picture of him bending down to feed us! Where age is respected and seniority is honored, having God stooping down to feed us almost feels like an action beneath his dignity. As our divine parent, God prioritizes our well-being over showing himself in his God-ness.
I imagine God kneeling to my eye level, just like we would kneel to be of level height with a child and make eye contact as we speak to her. In fact, I imagine God not only kneeling to my eye level, but also coaxing me to look at him, because I’d rather look away. I see myself as the toddler with her mouth firmly shut while my divine parent is gently trying to feed me. Feeding a small child can be messy business — as those of us who have ended up with food splattered on our clothes know — and I marvel imagining God unruffled with what his children splatter as he personally nourishes us. And as I see him look at me, the weariness recedes, and I am reassured by his gentle strength.
The Lord is with you as you go through your difficult situations exacerbated in the backdrop of this relentless pandemic. If you sense his presence, rejoice! If you are weary, persevere with your spiritual habits even though you don’t feel spiritually refreshed. I don’t know how long it will take before you recover your longed for intimacy with God — whether your own spiritual dryness will last two weeks, two months, or two years — but God is faithful and will honor our faithful obedience.
May the One who bends down to feed us sustain you as you face your hard.