If you are a person who prays, or believes in prayer, you know there are times you feel unheard. Oh yes, we know God hears, but it is another matter to feel he hears. We want to feel God listen to our pleas, not just know it. But sometimes, God is nowhere to be felt.
What does this mean?
A few weeks ago my wife and I took our adorable, 5 year old niece Addison to the waterpark. Well, as Dr. Seuss would say, Addison’s big personality outsizes her tiny body by about 12 sizes. She ran around the park in wonder; tall water slides, wave pools, lazy rivers, she wanted to do them all, and she had no time to wait for the slow grown-ups she dragged in tow.
Now if you have ever been with a 5 year old, you know it is their life’s ambition to prove their ability, competence and know-how in any number of disciplines. The phrase I hear most from my niece is “I know!” followed by a demonstration to prove just how much she knows.
Addison recently learned to flail wildly in a pool. She describes this action as her ability to swim. So when I jumped in the pool, she jumped in after me. I grabbed her body and held her above the water; she did not appreciate this at all.
Addy (which is what we call her for short) screamed “get your hands off me!” She believed she knew how to swim, and she was going to show me!
I obeyed her command. And instantly, her eyebrows dropped, eyes widened and limbs flailed. Her smile disappeared; in its place an expression of pure panic.
“Help!” she screamed.
Not one second had passed when I scooped her up again and held her safe in my arms.
Addy quickly discovered she still had something to learn about swimming. She discovered this in the in-between moment.
The scariest, most unsure moments of our lives are the in-between moments; the moments we feel God has let go, let us drift off into the waves to sink like a rock. It’s the feeling of God’s silence.
These are hard and terrifying moments, but we need them. We need to be reminded how God’s sustaining power holds us above the waves. We need to be reminded that our feet don’t touch bottom, and that’s alright, because he holds us. These moments of pain, fear, and suffering are the moments which drive us to scream “help!” If not for these moments, we forget it has been his strong hand holding us above water all along.
Of course, Addy was never in any real danger, although she may have felt like it. The in-between moment meant she could no longer feel my hands, but I was right beside her and she knew it. She also knows I would die myself, before I let her head go underwater. Which is incidentally exactly what God has done for us; he has died himself, to save our heads from going underwater.
So though she did not feel me, I had her the whole time. So too does God have us. It’s scary when we can’t feel him or hear him, it feels as though he is silent, but He knows what he is doing; he is right beside us, he wants us to learn how to swim.
And this is the essence of faith. The ability to hold onto something we know even when we do not feel it. Or as C.S. Lewis put it, “faith is the art of holding onto things in spite of your changing moods and circumstances.” Feelings are helpful, but often unreliable.
So yes, we do have the in-between moments when we feel unheard. But though we may feel God is silent or absent, we know he never is. He asks us to trust him. To trust he hears, is present and teaches us in the more unnerving moments of our lives. This is the kind of faith required to swim in God’s waters; to brave the waves. It’s the kind of faith God teaches us in the in-between moments; in the moments of silence.