by Pamela Brown-Peterside
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I have always been intrigued and perplexed that I don’t always sense that God is with me and for me ---even though Jesus told his disciples before he left them:
And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28: 20).
In fact, I have had long seasons, some that stretched out for months, where I tried to show up and meet with God each day—prayed, read scripture, tried to recall verses I’d memorised, attended my small group, and joined other believers on Sunday for worship --- but I wasn’t convinced God was (really) there. Or, if he was there, I didn’t think he was paying much attention to me or my particular problems and needs. It happened without any warning.
God just seemed to go silent, and I could never quite understand this.
Why would the God who has called himself my Father and adopted me into his family (Romans 8:15) as his precious child through what his dearly loved son Jesus has done (John 3:16), go quiet all of a sudden?
One of the most dramatic times of God’s silence was soon after I turned 40. Burned out from an AIDS job in the South Bronx in New York where I was living at the time, God opened up a chance for me to volunteer with missionary doctors in rural Uganda. They’d started an incredible program to prevent the transmission of HIV from pregnant mothers to their babies and invited me to join them for three months. Flying into the district in a single engine mission plane over spectacular lush mountains, I fell in love with the people, the place and the work. But the love affair began to unravel quickly when I learned in my first week the doctors I’d gone to work with would be leaving. And I’d have to take over as Acting Director.
Some people might’ve been thrilled at this opportunity but all I felt was disappointment, fear, and sadness all at the same time. Though I was an African and had grown up in Nigeria and had advanced training in public health, this was not what I had signed up for. I definitely didn’t want to be in charge.
Had God brought me all the way here for this? Where was God in all of this anyway?
Those were difficult, lonely weeks. I did a lot of pouting and then it got worse. I got sick and slipped into a spiritual depression. It was a painful time and the ugliness of my heart was laid bare. However, what that experience did teach me is that God sometimes “leaves” us so that we can face ourselves. He gets out of the way to expose spots we’d otherwise remain blind to and to bring into sharper focus our misconceptions about him. I can still recall my face flushing with heat when flat on my back, weak, and feverish, I began to gain clarity about my selfish ambitions, my driven-ness and my overdeveloped sense of responsibility. That hurt and I felt naked and exposed, but my vulnerability also became a significant turning point for me toward growth and emotional health. By the time my body recovered, those wounds in my soul were starting to heal as well, but that process took much longer. Still, I returned to New York more humble and more self-aware.
In recent months, I’ve been thinking of those lessons learned on the other side of the globe. I have not been alone in sometimes sensing that God has gone quiet, or wondering whether he really sees us in the midst of all the losses and uncertainty we’re encountering. Perhaps you, too, are asking if God really cares, and if he is really with you?
Rest assured he is with you.
Remember, he promised he will be with you always. That said, in this unsettling, and perhaps quite unfamiliar place, what might God be inviting you to face? What might he be challenging you to really look at and see for the first time? Might he be nudging you to pay more attention to something you’ve sensed was there but now you have an opportunity to see it in a renewed way?
The time for you to respond to this invitation from God might be right now.
To answer the call isn’t necessarily going to be easy. To move beyond ourselves, we have to risk. We have to be courageous. But it will be worth it. Because God offers us a reward for risk.
Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8:32)
No matter how scary it seems, or how risky, it’s ultimately an offer to you to see yourself as you really are. He who has loved you with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3) sees you all the way through and he loves you regardless. And in that strange way, to face yourself, is to take up God’s offer to move toward freedom and authenticity.
So, you may still be in lockdown or emerging from it, but the real question may be: do you really want to be free?
Pamela Brown-Peterside is an Irish-Nigerian writer who lives in London. To learn more about the story she shares here, pick up a copy of her spiritual memoir, African Pearl: AIDS, loss and redemption in the shadow of the Rwenzori Mountains, released earlier this year and available at www.PamelaBrown-Peterside.com.