21 September 2008

bottles of tears & desert places

What a cop out, I thought sardonically.

One sentence from the pastor's prayer reverberated through me: God, You are the answer to every question.


I felt a hard and bitter lump at the back of my throat; hot tears pooled behind my eyes, stinging at the corners. I had plenty of questions. And I had reached out to God with those questions, time and again. Making no effort to disguise my need, I stretched forth my arms and held those hungry questions in my hands. They were hard and cold and He had not offered satisfaction for a single one of them. Starved of answers, they started to feed on my heart, picking at it like buzzards. He knew it and still, He held back and let them nibble at my innards.

At least that is how it felt. Though in my mind I knew God was present and that He cared, in my heart I felt abandoned. And I was so tired of trying to talk myself out of feeling that way.

I don't often attend the monthly evening services at church, but I went that night as an act of faith. I wanted to touch the hem of His robe, to see if His power would course its way through my body and make me whole. But my Comforter seemed out of reach. I imagined Him standing in the shadows, arms crossed and motionless as He took in the sights and sounds of the scene before Him: my arms reaching out for him, my faltering voice calling to Him from a raw throat. If not answers, then comfort please, I begged. Come and find me here.

I wrapped my hands around the edges of the chair in front of me to steady myself. What could I do but wait? I didn't need to know why this was happening anymore or even when it would be over, but could He give me a word, a hope, a bit of comfort -- anything to sustain me? How, God? How is this good? It felt at times as though He loved me in a more generic "I love the whole world" kind of way. I started to feel small and invisible, as if God were too busy with hurricanes, wars, and famines to attend to me.

I started to trust in His presence in the same way I might trust that the Titanic sank: as a true and historic fact, but one that had little in the way of a compelling connection to my present. Nothing could or would change the truth of it, but it was a cerebral truth, one that was acknowledged more or less academically. Asking my heart to believe it was to invite a tension and conflict within myself that was incapacitating. I couldn't make any sense of it, and so I didn't want to encounter it. My heart was a puddle and my head was already splitting; I could not afford nor bear to invite additional strain.

I've been studying the book of Job in this season in order to find a new lens through which to view my own experience. As I wrote my most recent post reflecting on God's silence throughout the bulk of the book, I pondered in the final paragraph:

I wonder what [God] is doing in the shadows as He listens to Job's friends all but accuse him of some vile sin time and again. I wonder what was in His heart as He watched Job scrape at his sores with bits of broken pottery. I wonder what He was thinking as Job and asked why?, over and over again. I wonder how He held himself in silence when Job requested an audience with God so Job could make his case. I wonder how His heart felt as He counted and collected Job's tears.

The last sentence was a new thought for me and honestly, a bit of a throwaway as far as I was concerned. It's something I tacked on at the end of the paragraph, due in part to the fact that I had recently said to someone, "If it's true that God gathers every teardrop, then there is an Olympic-sized swimming pool in heaven with my name on it." The jest belied how deeply my heart was hurting; I desperately wanted it to be true.

Less than twenty-four hours later, I received an e-mail from Sarah that nearly made me fall out of my chair:

... you came to mind. I started to pray, that god would be with you, that you'd feel his nearness, that he'd protect you from the enemy. And then I prayed something I haven't prayed before ... I don't know if I've ever thought it before. I prayed that you would know that each tear you cry is precious to him, that you would know he's catching them all in his hand and collecting them because they matter to him, because YOU matter to him. I SAW it, you crying, him catching.

Now, this never happens to me ... not ever. I mean, I get images, but I don't think I've ever been woken up to pray something like this before.

And then I read what you wrote ...

But the amazingness did not end there. The day after that, I went to Stuff Christians Like, a blog I look at only infrequently. I read this post about feeling too small for God, and what should I read but:

... every now and then I come across a verse that shakes my deep belief that I am beneath God’s radar. One that I love is Psalm 56:8. Here, in what hopefully makes me look pretty smart, is the King James Version:

“Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?”

But maybe you’re not old school, so here’s what the New Living Translation says:

“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”

I think that’s beautiful. Can you imagine that? Can you picture God doing that? Taking His giant hands and tenderly picking up every single one of your tears? Knowing why they came, understanding what they mean, placing them in His bottle, so that He can comfort you.

In the space of a day, I had been reminded twice that truly: He gathers every teardrop. He gathers my teardrops. He spoke to the ache and the need that I simply had no words to describe. I was reassured that my tears mattered to Him, that they had not escaped His notice. He spoke to the need behind my pleas for healing: He answered my doubts about His presence, about what His love for me looked like, about whether or not I really mattered to Him. I had gone from feeling deserted, as though I was an infinitesimal blip in a crowd of humanity to feeling like I was the only soul on the planet for whom God cared.

My health issues continue to be a part of my current reality, and I won't pretend that those don't matter. I suppose from that vantage point, nothing has changed. But the world as I knew it was turned upside-down when our great big God became small enough to let me know that He saw me, that He collected every single tear I cried and regarded them as something precious. There was nothing generic about it; it is by far the most intimate God-experience I've ever had. He drew me to the desert and whispered His love to me there. And everything changes radically when you know for sure that you're fiercely and dearly loved.


  1. Wow, Kirsten. I continue to be stunned by this story and to thank God for being so personal to you in a place and a season when His personal-ness felt nonexistent. This is such an incredible story. I'm amazed that He did this for you. It makes me shake my head and bow it down.

    I don't know that this will be in any way helpful to hear, but it has echoed in my mind a couple times in the past week concerning you and then echoed inside again as I was reading this. I couldn't help thinking of St. John of the Cross again. You read the Ascent of Mount Carmel earlier this year, but I'm not sure how much that work feels connected to what you've been experiencing even more intensely in these past couple months. I'm also not sure how much that work delves into the dark night of the soul concept that he works out in detail in his book by that same title. So, for what it's worth, I just thought I'd share that it keeps coming to mind.

    If that's what this is, a dark night of the senses or spirit, then I'm not glad for you about it, but I'm also aware there is something deeper within your spirit that is being cultivated there . . . something to do with trusting His presence in a more profound way than the senses have ever experienced. (Of course, I don't speak from my own experience in this, just from what I remember reading or have been told by others who've been there or studied it more. So, again, for whatever it's worth . . . )

  2. Dear friend - I read you posting and realize how I wished you lived closer so we could spend more time together. Not that it would change the situations at all, but to have someone who is truly authentic and is in the same stage of her life as me is something that I truly long for. I know that I am not, but I feel so alone, and everywhere I look, my feelings are "confirmed". I was at church tonight, and went looking for a friend (who ended up not being there). Walking through the gathering area outside the sanctuary, I saw several people i know, and yet I feel like I was walking through a crowd of strangers, or was completely invisible. My heart was saddened, and I drove home longing to see him. Longing for someone to wake me up and tell me that the last month and a half was all a dream (and not a good one). Longing to check my email and hear from him. Longing to not feel alone. I feel like the feelings are getting worse before they get better. Before, I was just numb to the fact that this actually happened, and now i'm starting to feel more and more the loss. I was talking with a friend tonight (the one who wasn't at church), and said "I know this will get better, and i won't be in the same spot 6 weeks from now, but i just want to hit fast forward."

    God knows my heart better than I do, and truly does hold my tears - I've cried more in the past month and a half then I have in a long time.

    All of this to say, while I cannot physically stand by your side through this, know that your words are an encouragement to a woman in Kirkland, and that I think you are amazing. I know hearing that doesn't make the stomach/health/etc. stuff go away or get better, but it has always helped me to know that because of what I am going through, someone who is going through something deep is able to feel less alone because of my sharing my experience with them. I believe that so many of us feel alone in this world. Yet, we don't realize just how similar we are to other people - our stories may not be the same at all, but the feelings and emotions behind those stories are ones that we all experience - true and raw and in the core of our being.

    Love you my dear friend.

  3. i hear this kirsten. i feel it. it's a dart in my belly that you're still suffering the way you are. i know something about that from my own life. i'm feeling this with you.

    i wish i could be more help. i know i've been unforgivably silent lately, but i have been listening. my fingers just don't know what to say.

    much love, little sister

  4. kirsten, you don't know me and aside from reading some of your blog a time or two, i really don't know you either. BUT i want to affirm you in your experience. i understand sustained wilderness experience ... extraordinarily so! i understand the cycle of grief that one moves through and the hope every so often that maybe the desert's verge is in sight. i understand feeling invisible. your sharing of this experience is so important ... mostly for you i think. as i right this now, i imagine you finding a stone of remembrance that marks the day that God met you so profoundly. may you return to this memory whenever the expanse, which seemingly engulfs you, appears to go on without end.

  5. Kirsten, you're totally right. Knowing we're loved personally makes all the difference. I love how you put it, and how I know it has changed the last few days for you. I'm so, so glad your heart knows now, as well as your head.

    This is so beautiful to read...I love how it coalesced ;)

  6. What I hate about Job: God never answers Job's question. He never tells Job what was going on behind the scenes. (But He shows up. And when He shows up, He really shows up. He knows how to make an entrance!)
    What I love about Revelation: God will wipe away our tears. He doesn't tell us we have to stop crying. He doesn't tell us to suck it up. He takes His thumb and gently swipes it across our cheek.

  7. so glad that you shared this.

  8. christianne
    i just don't know what to say to the outpouring of love that you offer me. i continue to be stunned as well (God dropped Ps. 56:8 in my lap again today) & am just so thankful that God has lavished His love upon me in this way.

    i've been thinking of st. john too. i've held back primarily because i thought the dark night really wasn't relevant for me. that's for spiritual giants, right? but maybe it's like reading job: maybe i'm cutting myself off from some really good things by not allowing myself to access the wisdom in those pages.

    your presence and your words are worth a lot to me. so thank you for continuing to share them.

    love you.

    i wish i could be where you are right now, because i would just throw my arms around you & envelop you in a big hug. i know you're walking through a gnarly & painful season yourself right now. i see such beauty unfolding in you -- the kind of beauty that is only possibly when we surrender ourselves totally to God, letting Him have his way in our hearts & souls.

    i know it hurts, and i'm so sorry. but i'm sure He's doing such a great work in your heart & i love watching it unfold in you.

    sigh. i've missed you so much. i read your most recent post & i know you're so busy, so extended beyond your natural abilities, and experiencing so much strain of your own. and so your presence here means so, so much knowing that you time and your energy and your heart are such precious things.

    thank you for being here & for extending the love, acceptance, and care that you do. i love you.

    i can't thank you enough for saying what you did. even though i don't know who you are, your words pierced the heart of the matter. thank you for your affinity with me in this place, for recognizing the work of God here.

    i think i will set up a pile of stones, i will raise mine ebenezer and remember what great things God has done.

    i'm so thankful that you've gotten to play such an instrumental role in this story. it baffles and confounds me, but then again ... so does God. thank you for being available and willing, for serving both Him and me in this way. i love it, and i love you.

    though i've not gotten to it yet in my series of posts, i have the same exact beef with the book of job. God doesn't answer those questions. as an ENTJ, i'm a compulsive answer-seeker, so it drives me nuts.

    but you're exactly right: He does show up in a very powerful & unmistakable way. that's my God, alright.

    thanks for stopping by. sounds like we all need words of faith these days!!

  9. Okay, maybe I'm obsessed. Keep being drawn to the icon of swimming. And here I see you and God swimming in that Olympic-sized pool together. Maybe you're drowning in the tears and He's lifting you up. Maybe He's helping you learn to float on your back. Maybe He's teaching you the butterfly. Whatever's happening in that pool, I'm sure He's in it with you. Glad, glad, glad you have experienced His With-ness in the midst of the downpour!

  10. So if you want to know how to make a preacher cry, you just did it. I read with tears, then with joy, and then I read your post again.

    Your soul is on a great journey and I am so glad you take the time to share your journey.

    Thanks for sharing your strength with the rest of us fellow travelers.

  11. Kirsten! Hey there girly! I truly like coming here to hear what amazing things you experience and that you too also question GOD. These days I seem to be questioning quite a bit! My plate runneth over with things...
    Hang in there sweetie and know that I am praying for you!

  12. Beautiful post. Honest. Painful. Searching. Loving. Faithful. You are amazing.

    I'll be praying.

  13. Kirsten
    I have neglected you lately my friend, forgive me? It is really easy in all the chaos to lose touch, but even in that loss you are still in my thoughts, and i mean that honestly.

    I know you are suffering through a lot of stuff. I can ever hear the pain in your words and your conflict or wrestling with God in the midst of it all.

    Believe it or not i really do understand. The suffering part. We may be flipped around on different sides of the same coin, but the coin is the connection, does that make sense? It may not.
    My thoughts (even when my voice is not) are always with you.

  14. "Fiercely and dearly loved"!!!!!

    Fiercely and dearly LOVED.

    Oh to really absorb how fiercely and how dearly we are loved... and then continue to spill that love out on others.

    peace, Kirsten!

  15. joelle
    i love that image & the thoughts it evokes: He's with me in it, holding me up, knowing better than i do how i'm safe and will not drown. so thankful for His presence here.

    oh no, i made you cry?! but i agree with you: this is some journey i'm on and someday in heaven, i hope to see how he weaves my story (and others' stories) into the far greater & grander tapestry of His story.

    thanks for stopping by, gorgeous lady!! and i'm with you on the questioning thing. it's good to know that even though He might now answer our questions, He can handle them and is with us in the midst of them.

    your words are so powerful. thank you for your presence & your prayer.

    i've missed you too & have had my fair share of absenteeism from blogland. and the coin of suffering? yeah, i think i get what you mean by that. thanks for being here.

    amen, sister!! from one fiercely & dearly loved girl to another: that love changes everything.

  16. hi, Kirsten. I stumbled across your blog by way of L.L. Barkat's - and, honestly, I'm not even sure how I first found hers. The little that I've read of your words these past few days has encouraged me far more than you'd think - or at least than I thought - that a random person on the internet's words would. :) Thanks for writing!

  17. sarah
    thanks for stopping by this space & for your kind words. i hope you'll come again!!

  18. This is a beautiful post, Kirsten. I am moved at how God has reached out to you and I love the image of God collecting our tears.

    I am so sorry you have been through "it" with your body so many times over.

    p.s. What's up with the disappearing photo on your "shadows & light" post?