Day 123 | The Silence of God

July 10, 2017

This morning Brett did the laundry for me so that I could have some time to focus on journaling and prayer. I told Brett last night that I know I’m not in a spiritually healthy place and I really need to start processing my questions and griefs. The trouble is, I feel scared and overwhelmed. He encouraged me that I just needed to take that first step.

You see…

Six years ago, my life looked very different than it does now. I was newly engaged and getting ready to move to Mississippi because I had been accepted to train with my dream ballet company. I was coming out of a season of intense darkness after a long battle with anorexia, self-harm and depression. For once, I was happy to be alive and excited about what the future might hold.

I had visions of a fulfilling ballet career, a fruitful ministry and a happy life with my soon-to-be husband and future children. It’s not that I thought life should be easy, but I guess I sort of imagined that I would, for the most part, get to choose the challenges myself. Life would be difficult but only because I was going to give everything to love God and love people. I was going to voluntarily sacrifice my comfort to give my all to what I felt called to. I was going to do my part to heal this broken world little by little.

Just over a year later, my life looked completely different than I ever could have imagined. My dreams turned into a nightmare filled with suffering like I had never known before. Suffering I did not choose and suffering that didn’t seem to be accomplishing anything. I fell severely ill and was left disabled and bed-bound.

Suddenly, here I was… trapped in a deteriorating body unable to even go to the bathroom by myself. I was completely dependent on the help of my husband and family. I wasn’t doing anything great to love God or heal the hurting. I was “the hurting.”

At first, I brought my pain and doubts and questions to God in the form of journaled prayers, just like I always had. But God did not answer. And as my body and brain continued to deteriorate I lost my ability to write or even focus long enough to pray more than a sentence at a time. I felt like I had been cut off from God. Or maybe, the more honest way to say that is… I felt like God had cut me off.

I hated when people said that God “carried” them through their suffering and that He drew closer to them in their darkest times. Christians said that a lot, almost as though seasons of darkness always went hand and hand with an experience of deep intimacy with God.

And I wondered… Why not me? Why don’t I get the comfort of God drawing near in a special way? Why is He not only withholding His presence but also taking away my ability to communicate with Him? I can’t read the Scriptures, I can’t sing, I can’t gather with other believers and I can barely pray a couple words at a time.

My greatest comfort was that God chose to include prayers like these in the Scriptures:

“How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 
How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?” 
Psalm 13:1-2

“O LORD, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me? Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.”
Psalm 88:14-15

I was not the first person to experience what felt like a cold shoulder from my Creator and so I decided to let it go and trust. I had done my part and God knew just how much I wanted to know and be known by Him. I could not control Him or the circumstances that were keeping me from engaging in, what Christians call, the spiritual disciplines. So, I would just have to suffer faithfully even without the special comfort of feeling God near. I would wait patiently for Him to break the silence.

So, I waited and waited and waited… and the distance only seemed to grow.

Now, four years of waiting later, I’ve finally regained my cognitive functioning. I am able to read and pray again but it has only caused me to feel the distance more keenly. The ugly truth is, I don’t remember what it’s like to read the Scriptures because I love them. I don’t remember how to pray from a raw and honest place. It feels foreign and uncomfortable.

In my suffering I have come to know God as sovereign and mysterious and infinite but I have forgotten what it’s like to know him as Father. That became so clear to me this morning as I was journaling and praying. I don’t feel at all comfortable approaching God with my questions and griefs. I’m terrified. I am just so aware of the discrepancy between my helplessness and his power, my smallness and his greatness.

I see the God who says,

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements, surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?”

Job 38:2-6

But I have forgotten the God to who said,

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Matthew 11:28-30

“But Zion said, ‘The LORD has forsaken me;
my Lord has forgotten me.’ 
Can a woman forget her nursing child,
 that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? 
Even these may forget, 
yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.”
Isaiah 49: 14-16

Yet, my God is both. He is powerful and gentle. A lion and a lamb. So, if I want to find healing for my soul, I’m going to have learn to be vulnerable again. It’s a risk I have to take. I’m going to have to uncover those ugly wounds and trust that He knows what I need even more than I do.


By the way, Brett and I made a beautiful PDF of my favorite resources for suffering souls. I created the content and he made it look fancy with his superduper graphic design skills. It’s available for free to my email subscribers. Click here to sign up and receive 5 Resources for the Suffering Soul.

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37 Comments

  • Alyssa

    Wow, Ana, that’s heavy stuff. Thanks for sharing. I’ll definitely be praying for you in this area. And it’s good that you know at least intellectually that God is both transcendent and imminent…I pray that you will know that experientially, too.

    Way to jump into the deep end in trying to sort out your spiritual life. I pray that as you draw near to God, he will draw near to you in a new, fresh, and loving way (James 4:8). xoxo

    July 12, 2017 at 6:34 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Aww… Thank you Alyssa! This is so sweet.

      July 12, 2017 at 6:38 pm Reply
  • Marita Wilson

    Thank you for writing this. I know you are not alone in your feelings. It’s not easy to talk about this because of the way the church pretends suffering will automatically bring you closer to God. Maybe it will bring you closer, in the end – but the road is often lonely, and the destination out of sight. It must have taken a lot of courage for you to share this, and so I want to thank you again – so that people who haven’t had to walk your valleys can learn from you, and people who’ve walked their own lonely paths can see that they’re not, in fact, alone.

    I love you, friend – and I hope God lifts the veil from you soon.

    July 12, 2017 at 7:22 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Wow… Thank you so much for acknowleding this Marita! It was very very hard for me to write this. It felt really vulnerable and scary but I felt it was important to share. Thank you for the encouragement and understanding.

      July 13, 2017 at 9:04 am Reply
      • Marita Wilson

        I know it’s scary, because I’m not as brave as you. 🙂 But I’m glad you had the courage to be honest. You make that path just a little bit wider for those that come behind.

        July 13, 2017 at 9:42 am Reply
  • Martín Fernandez

    Are you sure you are set aside from God? from knowing Him? His Power? I’ve just read a perfect description of His Love and Power, I can’t count the times you’ve testified of Him.
    Do you realize of the 123 reasons to give Him glory and even more on the other post hope thing….
    I must be honest with you…. You are closer to God than what you think, you’ve got to know Him more than I know, and you have depicted the scriptures precisely. You’ve come to a great conclusion that many Christians don’t have. God is, and that’s enough.

    I pray for you to realize the testimony your life is to us, you said that you wanted to do your part, how sure you are about not doing it? You are, trust me. You are both fulfilling a great ministry, and helping a lot of people. Your life has taught me so much.Maybe it didn’t happen the way you dreamt, but it is happening.
    Be encouraged, love ya.

    PS: pardon my poor English.

    July 12, 2017 at 7:27 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Thank you so much Martin. This is really sweet. I agree that I am not objectively far from God. I certainly, didn’t mean that I don’t know who God is or that I’m doubting my status as a child of God. Rather I was talking about the absence of his felt presence and comfort.

      July 13, 2017 at 4:28 pm Reply
      • Melissa

        Thank you for sharing everything you did! I have sure had similar feelings! And people who haven’t suffered depression, etc., don’t really understand therefore they can’t give helpful advice. They want to but they can’t . I appreciate more than you’ll ever know your sharing your honest struggle and not just platitudes! God bless you! The Bible verses help too!

        July 15, 2017 at 10:21 am Reply
  • Mom and Dad

    We’re proud of you Ana, and I’m sure your Father is so pleased as you courageously choose to continue to trust and be vulnerable. We love you so much.

    July 12, 2017 at 8:16 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Aww… 😘😘😘 So encouraging! Love you both. ❤️

      July 13, 2017 at 4:28 pm Reply
  • Maria-Simona C.

    My heart felt as if it was being poked with a cold metal rod whilst reading your words. The way you described how you felt in your distance from God during your 5+ year battle with chronic physical illness is exactly how I felt during my 5 year battle with mental illness.
    It felt like as soon as I was lifted out if one illness, my mind and body would succumb to another (severe manic-depression to anorexia, anorexia to bulimia, bulimia to binge-eating disorder, binge-eating disorder to severe anxiety, and severe anxiety to mood disorder; with self-harming all throughout). I’ve been a born-again Christian since I was little girl, and I was still serving the Lord–but half-heartedly. I had one foot serving in God’s Kingdom, and the other foot exploring the “pleasures” of the world when the deep depression was in its middle stages. I was angry at God for letting me suffer in the way I was. Frequently in the dead of night, I’d be lying in my bed with a box of tissues, a sharp file, and a little Bible right next to me as I sobbed uncontrollably; I felt like Jesus had on the cross at Calvary as I cried “God, my God, why have You forsaken me?!”. I thought God ” ‘loved me’, but didn’t really like me”, that He wanted me to suffer, that I deserved having a demonic thunderstorm cloud over my mind everywhere I went. The majority of my friends knew what I was going through, but were either going through the same thing, didn’t know what to do to help me (except be there), or had no idea how serious this was. And my family?–they love me, always, but I wore a happy mask around them that I wove out of lies; my mother and my youngest brother had a slight suspicion that I was not in a good place, yet nobody knew the full extent of what I was suffering through until I spilled it a year later . My church back then was the type of church where almost everyone was “fake”. There was barely anyone who it was safe to go to for counsel and hope without your suffering being twisted, manipulated, and spread into weekly church gossip. Sure, powerful sermons were preached and all that jazz, but the body of true believers was deteriorating, so I couldn’t ask for help there. ((Thank God, my family and I swapped churches a year later, and we’ve felt safe, loved, free, and accepted in the church of true Christians that we’ve been attending the past 4 years.)) I felt like I was facing my illness almost entirely by myself. Music, writing, reading were my comforts, my escapes.
    Slowly–ever so slowly, it felt–God revealed He had not abandoned me, and would always stay with me. He not only still liked me–He still loved me!–and always would love me unconditionally. The Lord showed me that my troubled mind and unsteady emotions were lying to me, and that I needed to rely fully on God, and open up to my family and other believers about what I was going through in order to start the process of “being okay”. God, my family, and my friends would see me through. I had to learn to live by faith, not by sight.
    The mental illness started when I was 11, and I received the above revelation from God when I turned 12. It was a rough, difficult, up-and-down, story-filled, and often painful journey, but here I am–4 years after the Lord’s still, small voice gave me a shred of hope to reach for on one of those sob-fest nights–free of any mental illness or disorder, praise God!
    Honestly, to this very day, I still struggle with certain sins, unstable emotions, a gets-tired-easily brain and body, discipline in my daily quiet time, uncertainty about the future (and a billion other things); but this I do know, and will always try to believe, even when it doesn’t feel like it at all: God is a Best Friend, True Love, Good Good Father, and Master of the Universe rolled all together–He will never stop loving us, being there for us, and will never leave us nor forsake us.

    Ana, my dear sister-in-Christ, I want to encourage you in this: the Lord is waiting for you. As you start this pursuit of God, I pray that He opens your heart, mind, soul, and spirit to truths and revelations you never knew before. I pray as you learn to be more vulnerable in the Lord, that He overwhelms you with His love and tenderness. I pray that even in God’s silence, you’ll be still and know that He is still God, and He is still with you always, even when your emotions and the world tell you otherwise.
    I may never truly know the level of suffering you’ve been through in the past 6 years or so. But I pray that you take comfort in the peace of God, and in the understanding of your friends and family on this blog and abroad. As someone who knows suffering as well, I pray God keeps you and Brett in perfect peace, and just know: You will get through it.

    God bless you, Ana! <3

    July 12, 2017 at 9:06 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Aww… Thank you so much for sharing your story so openly Maria! I too have struggled with mental illness and at times it was worse than the physical symptoms. I’m so sorry that God asked you to walk this road but am glad to hear that you are clinging to him through it and are now in a better place. Thank you for the encouragement sister! 💕

      July 13, 2017 at 4:35 pm Reply
      • Maria-Simona C.

        You’re welcome, Ana. And thank you for being such an encouragement and inspiration as well! <3

        July 14, 2017 at 8:28 pm Reply
        • Ana Harris

          💕

          July 14, 2017 at 9:45 pm Reply
  • Audrey

    Hi Ana!
    I agree, it is so easy so easy to forget that while God is infinite and powerful, He’s also our loving father who is so close to us. I was watching a testimony tonight and it reminded me of you. This young woman is also recovering from debilitating chronic illness. Maybe it can be of some encouragement to you. 🙂 http://www.awmi.net/video/the-inside-story/episode-44-emily-townsend/

    July 12, 2017 at 10:59 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Thank you so much Audrey! 💕

      July 13, 2017 at 4:37 pm Reply
  • James

    Thank you for sharing so deeply. I hope you understand the unique and powerful service you are providing by publishing this blog and thereby lighting the way for other chronically ill patients. While it is not the service you imagined for yourself six years ago, it appears to be what God has in mind for you right now. I’m sure your ongoing prayer and healing will continue to reveal the path forward and that with time you will again find the closeness to God that you seek.

    July 12, 2017 at 11:17 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Thank you so much for this encouragement James! I think you’re right that this is what God has for me now. I’m sorry your comment got caught in spam. I have no idea why.

      July 14, 2017 at 11:23 am Reply
  • AnnaChristie

    “Though He slay me, yet I will trust Him.”

    Dear One, Beloved of God, you have trusted Him as He has stripped it all away.

    Keep trusting Him as you are, and He will lead and provide for the healing of your heart. In the end, the healing will be more whole, intimate, breathtaking, and good than you could ever imagine.

    “Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces will never be put to shame.”

    July 12, 2017 at 11:35 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Aww… Thank you Anna! Amen! What a hope we have in Christ!

      July 13, 2017 at 4:39 pm Reply
  • DebraP.

    Thank you for your words. I have experienced suffering but am often unable to express what is going on in my heart. You did it so well and it was balm for this soul. Thank you.

    July 13, 2017 at 4:10 am Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Thank you Debra! It’s so good to hear that it was healing for your soul. That was my hope. That it would encourage others who are suffering through similar dry seasons.

      July 13, 2017 at 4:40 pm Reply
  • Heather Van Dusseldorp

    Ana, I found your blog recently and have been deeply inspired by your story and your heart. My husband and I were also greatly encouraged in reading Brett’s words on an article on The Gospel Coalition from 2014. He said some profound things that resonated with us.

    I have recently started down the path towards a CIRS diagnosis after a long battle with a mystery illness. How refreshing it is to my soul to know that another believer is suffering down this road also. I have gone back and read every posting of yours, each one being like a new page of a gripping novel. Your words give me courage to move along.

    Thank you for your honesty and genuineness. Reading your story feels like you are a sweet sister of mine, and we are grieving together our losses and celebrating our gains. It makes me wish I were right there with you so I could give you a huge hug! Know that we are cheering you guys on and praying for your journey!!!

    Lots of love from Iowa,
    Heather Van Dusseldorp

    July 13, 2017 at 6:41 am Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Wow! This comment really encouraged me. It’s comments like these that keep me going. Thank you! It’s humbling and exciting to hear that my story is inspiring others. I hope we can meet in heaven someday and have a long chat. Thank you for praying. I pray that you find healing and strength to endure for as long as He calls you to.

      July 13, 2017 at 4:44 pm Reply
  • Carolyn Young

    Love this and your frankness. Praying for peace and comfort and joy as you seek Him out.

    July 13, 2017 at 10:08 am Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Thank you for your prayers Caroyln! I’m so blessed that you’re still praying after all these years. 💕

      July 13, 2017 at 4:45 pm Reply
  • Jen

    Thank you for sharing so honestly Ana. That’s hard to do. I’ve also dealt with lyme and mold for pretty much my entire life. My symptoms got worse during college, and right after graduating I moved back to a moldy house and that’s when I started rapidly deteriorating. Instead of beginning my adult life like my peers, I became increasingly disabled and isolated. It would take 8 yrs to get diagnosed with lyme and even longer to learn about mold. I had only been a believer for a little over a year when all that started. During those 8 yrs of being extremely ill yet not knowing what was wrong, I felt spiritually very similar to what you described. I would like to say God restored me like Job, but so far He hasn’t. I got cancer a few years ago after another mold exposure, and that proved to be a major setback. All the illness has dragged on much longer than I ever anticipated. But in spite of how I’ve felt about God over the years, He has never let go of me. He put Psalms like Psalm 88 in the Bible. He understands our range of emotions. There is a lot I don’t understand about God. Like why He allows so much suffering and distributes it so unevenly and why some prayers seem to go unanswered and why He sometimes seems to turn His back on His children. But there is one person who truly knows what it is like to be abandoned by God. On the cross Jesus cried out to God, but God was silent. Maybe you can begin to connect with Jesus over the silence you’re feeling. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, and He graciously meets us wherever we are spiritually. Praying He will comfort and encourage you as only He can.

    July 13, 2017 at 10:24 am Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Really powerful words Jen! What you said really resonated with me. Thank you! You’re exactly right, Jesus knows just what this feels like and he’s the only one who was truly abandoned. Have you heard Tim Keller’s sermon on Psalm 88? It’s one of my favorite sermons of all time.

      July 13, 2017 at 5:00 pm Reply
  • Joy Veldman

    I haven’t come through a terrible disease, but this article really touched me! I’m the same, growing up in a Christian family, and with a very strong personality, it’s so hard for me to be vulnerable so I thank you for your honesty! Your blog is an encouragement to me!

    Hugs, Joy V.

    July 13, 2017 at 12:05 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Thank you joy! Being vulnerable is just so hard! I’m glad this post encouraged you.

      July 13, 2017 at 5:02 pm Reply
  • Kaitlyn Smith

    My sister sent me this blog a couple days ago, and I have been reading it through to catch up. Anna, you are a wonderful testimony of the work the Lord is doing through you. I know you don’t understand why — and it is precious to read through your posts and see that all you need is Christ. He is enough. And He is glorifying Himself through your seemingly messed up and broken life. I appreciate your honesty in this post — I have heard many saints say that sometimes God leads them through hard places and they don’t feel especially close to Him. I think that sometimes we need to know that He is great and we are small. That He is infinite and we are finite, mere creatures of dust. I can’t fathom suffering like you have been through — but I do know Who holds the future. I will be praying for you, and checking back here often =)
    In Christ,
    Kaitlyn

    July 14, 2017 at 1:22 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts of encouragement Kaitlyn. 💕

      July 15, 2017 at 11:12 pm Reply
  • Lisa Dedinsky

    Hi Ana,
    When I read about your feeling abandoned, I immediately thought of Mother Teresa. Unbeknownst to most people, especially the public, she encountered what she called the dark night of the soul for 7 years. During that time, she was compelled to continue her mission of caring for the poorest of the poor but did not feel Jesus’ presence at all. There is a book written about this time which is a compilation of her journal. Come Be My Light.
    During my treatment for cancer and ensuing chronic illness, I was not strong in my faith at all but did feel Christ’s presence often. I am one to always want to know “why” things happen. Now, 30 years later, I more often ponder “why” and “how” this too will fit into God’s bigger and better plan for my life. I hope one day to know and understand when I am on the other side. I am comforted and encouraged by the example of Jesus on earth and of the lives of His mother and the apostles. Your sharing is inspiring not only because of your perseverance but also because of your willingness to face your fears and use the power behind them to move beyond them. Thank you for your honesty! God bless you!

    July 14, 2017 at 2:43 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Thank you so much for this Lisa! I did not know that about Mother Teresa. Now I want to go find that book. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I too find great comfort in Jesus and the fact that he too suffered.

      July 15, 2017 at 11:14 pm Reply
  • Courtney

    Praying for you! But just so you know, I think you’re on track, because you’ve been very vulnerable on here. 🙂

    July 24, 2017 at 4:27 pm Reply
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