When God Withholds His Presence

October 13, 2017

I realize this post may not apply to all my readers since many of you believe differently than I do. As always, my hope is that everyone who comes to my blog can find a reason to hope whether they share my faith or not. I talk about my faith from time to time because it’s so much a part of who I am that it affects how I engage with everything. Anyway, I love all of you and I’m not trying to alienate anyone. 

Some of you may feel that this is very unlike your own experience. You may say ‘I’ve never had the sense of being helped by an invisible Christ, but I often have been helped by other human beings.’ That is rather like the woman in the first war who said that if there were a bread shortage it would not bother her house because they always ate toast. If there is no bread there will be no toast. If there were no help from Christ, there would be no help from other human beings. He works on us in all sorts of ways: not only through what we think our ‘religious life’. He works through Nature, through our own bodies, through books, sometimes through experiences which seem (at the time) anti-Christian. — C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

I came across this quote a couple weeks ago when I was reading Mere Christianity. It reminded me of something I believed to be true but hadn’t fully grasped. God works through human beings. This truth soothed my aching heart in a way it never had before.

People of faith often talk about how God drew near to them in their times of suffering. They talk about “being carried” through painful seasons. They talk about experiencing this overwhelming peace in their souls even as the world around them falls apart. They talk about God’s presence being with them. They talk about this unshakable conviction that they are loved. Some go so far as to speak of suffering as though it were a season of joyful intimacy and sweet fellowship with their Creator.

I heard things like this so often from other believers that I almost expected my experience of suffering to be covered in a warm blanket of divine comfort. I knew that God’s children often experienced painful seasons of spiritual dryness but I didn’t think those times usually coincided with intense physical, mental, and emotional suffering.

I reasoned that God might withhold his presence from time to time to increase our longing for him and help us to grow deeper spiritual roots. He might also allow our earthly comforts to be taken away to increase our dependence on him. But surely he wouldn’t allow both at the same time. If God allowed deep suffering in our lives wouldn’t he provide us with an equally deep assurance of his love and presence?

I couldn’t have been more wrong. My sickness was a season of intense physical, mental and spiritual pain. With one exception, I experienced absolutely no divine presence or comfort. Not only did God not reach down to comfort me with his presence, I was so sick that I also lost my ability to reach back towards him. I couldn’t go to church, I couldn’t sing, I couldn’t read the Scriptures. I could barely even pray. Like the psalmist in Psalm 13, I felt forgotten. My cries for God went unanswered for so long that I stopped crying out for him. I came to the conclusion that I was going to have to do my best to trust and “wait patiently for the Lord.”

What the C.S. Lewis quote helped me to realize was that while God withheld his felt presence he did not withhold his actual presence and help. It is true that there was no feeling of warmth or closeness in my relationship with him but that doesn’t mean that he was ultimately absent from my life.

He was present in the help I received from other human beings. When my husband held me in his arms as I sobbed, that was help from Christ. When my mother cooked special foods for my sensitive stomach, that was help from Christ. When getting a letter from a friend made my day, that was help from Christ. When I found solace in listening to the Winnie the Pooh audiobooks, that was help from Christ.

When my pastor’s wife came to massage my feet, that was help from Christ. When believers gathered together to pray for me, that was help from Christ. When my little brother filled my water bottle for me, that was help from Christ. When my brother-in-law organized a fundraiser for us, that was help from Christ. When my friend who also has a chronic illness texted me in the middle of a long night of insomnia and pain, that was help from Christ. When my ballet friends came to visit me, that was help from Christ. When medical marijuana finally gave me a break from the agonizing pain, that was help from Christ. When my sister-in-law told me about mold illness, that was help from Christ. When the ranchers let us camp on their property, that was help from Christ.

If there was no help from Christ there would be no help from human beings.”

So dear heart, if God seems absent in your life look for him in the places you wouldn’t expect. Look for his goodness in the eyes of your family and friends, in the beauty of nature, in books. Look for him in the comfort of a soft bed, in help from a medication, or in the temporary relief of a hot detox bath. He is there.

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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  • Lizbeth

    What a great post, this was really what I needed to hear, thank you! I loved when you said that even when you thought God had left, now you can see a lot of the little things were gifts from Him. That was so beautiful.

    October 13, 2017 at 3:55 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      I’m so glad it was what you needed to hear Lizbeth! Thank you for the encouraging words.

      October 13, 2017 at 7:47 pm Reply
  • Ellen Pederson-Lewis

    Ana, beautifully written, as always. I agree, so much. Spiritual help comes in many forms… including the help and love of others, nature, books, art, poetry and the single, texted word, just at the right moment…❤

    October 13, 2017 at 5:32 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Thank you so much Ellen! 💕

      October 13, 2017 at 7:48 pm Reply
  • Alice Kennison

    This is excellent, Ana! What a great reminder of God’s presence when we are too ill to be “spiritual.” Thank you!

    October 13, 2017 at 7:20 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      You’re welcome Alice. Thank YOU!

      October 13, 2017 at 7:51 pm Reply
  • Samantha

    Thanks for sharing that awesome C.S. Lewis quote. I’m glad you can now see ways God was with you when it felt like he wasn’t.

    October 13, 2017 at 9:31 pm Reply
  • Ruth Meyer

    True words, Ana, so true! Thank you for being some of that help from Christ in my own life. Your posts always encourage me, even and often especially the ones you think say the least. You are a blessing, just as you. Thank you

    October 14, 2017 at 1:17 am Reply
  • Amanda

    We have near similar stories. Needed this encouragement, thank you.

    October 15, 2017 at 11:08 am Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Oh, I’m so glad to hear that Amanda. God’s presence be with you sister.💕

      October 15, 2017 at 8:38 pm Reply
  • Charis Rae

    Loved this, Ana! So beautifully written and amazingly true. 💕

    October 16, 2017 at 8:27 am Reply
  • Jennifer Merrifield

    Love this! I’m recovering from mold illness and during my illness I experienced the desert. I look back now and see how the Lord was with me even though I didn’t hear His voice or feel His peace. That waa so much worse than the sickness. Thanks for sharing

    October 16, 2017 at 9:20 pm Reply
  • Jason Zimmerman

    This is beautiful, Ana! This has been so true for me. The grace of God is often best seen through the grace and love of other men. Love you sis!

    October 22, 2017 at 6:45 am Reply
  • Jason Zimmerman

    This is beautiful, Ana! This has been so true for me. The grace of God is often best seen through the grace and love of other men. Love you sis!

    October 22, 2017 at 6:45 am Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Aww… I love you buddy! Thanks for commenting! 😘

      October 23, 2017 at 12:08 pm Reply
  • Ashley

    I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death and have felt that God was not there. I constantly cried out to Him for solace, but He turned His face away. Those times were some of the hardest in my life. But now, reading your post, I weep because God provided incredible friends for me in that time, and He supported them while they supported me. Thank you for opening my eyes, Ana.

    October 22, 2017 at 4:49 pm Reply
    • Ana Harris

      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and share your thoughts Ashley. This really encouraged me yesterday when I was feeling a little down. I’m so humbled and happy that my writing has had a meaningful impact.

      October 23, 2017 at 12:10 pm Reply
  • Alayna

    Ana, this is incredible. I have been reading your blog for months now. You are sealed by the Holy Spirit. The fact that you have any faith at all in God is truly an incredible, mysterious, beautiful miracle. While my story is not a drastic as you, an injury has pulled me away from dance for the past two years (and possibly forever). This post reminds me that, while I feel like my prayers go unanswered, He is providing for my needs through many, many people around me. Thank you for sharing so candidly and humbly. You are such an encouragement!

    October 27, 2017 at 7:50 pm Reply
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