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.