When God Shows Up

when-god-shows-up-flower

What does suffering or chronic illness do to your faith? How do you experience God when you are undergoing long-term hardship?
 
These are the questions I constantly circle back to in my life, because they intrigue me so much.
 
Some people experience God as closer in hard times. Some people experience God’s presence more vividly in times of acute distress or emergency. Some comment that their relationship with God has deepened since they have undergone chronic hardship or some kind.
 
Others, like me, are more difficult. I have written about how, during times of suffering, God can feel utterly absent. This is an important story, since it’s not just my own: others also have felt God’s absence, rather than God’s presence, during the worst times of their life. Some have quit the faith because of this. (It’s not hard to understand why.)
 
Since becoming housebound with severe ME six years ago, God has felt more absent than perhaps any other time in my life. It is at the hardest time of my life that God has been most silent.
 
But in the interest of sharing the full picture, I need to tell you about this year’s holiday.
 
***
 
It was about two days into the holiday, staying in a gorgeous, peaceful apartment halfway up a mountain on a Greek island. Jon had taken the boy out for the day so I could rest in the sun, and I was lying on my sun-lounger, watching the bright pink flowers floating in the breeze, as they hung down from the roof of the apartment. It might have been at that point.
 
Or perhaps it was later, when the wasps buzzed sleepily past my head and disappeared into their hole in the wall.
 
Or maybe it was when I looked out to sea, and could see the wake of the ferry – a glittering, messy white trail cutting through the smooth blue-green glass of sea.
 
Whichever moment it was, I had a sudden experience of God beside me. I felt God’s love in my gut, in my chest, and I cried for a while, because I always find it overwhelming to be filled with God’s love.
 
After months of silence, God showed up.
 
Greece Skiathos fronds frame
 
***
 
So many Christian books are based on techniques of prayer, or methods of worship in order to become close to God and experience God’s spirit.
 
Some emphasise the spiritual disciplines, which can be enormously helpful, but other books seem to imply, ‘if you do X, Y Z, and perfect these techniques, you will experience God’s presence with you all the time.’ To do this is to take a lasso to God, as though God were an animal to be captured.
 
Others take a more condemnatory tone, ‘God’s presence IS with you all the time, so if you’re not feeling it, it’s your fault. You are doing X wrong, or perhaps ABCDEF and G. Really, you need to be more H.” There are elements of truth in this, of course, but the danger of this approach is that it renders God as an unmoving and unmoved force, which again can be manipulated for your benefit (if you repent of all your sins, continuously, never sin again, and simultaneously banish all negative emotions from your life).
 
Some Christians find these books helpful, and that is fine. For me, though, I have come to see God more as Aslan, the Lion from CS Lewis’ Narnia, who pops up only sporadically, though continuously ruling as a good leader. I think of Jesus’ wordsthe Holy Spirit is like the wind – invisible and hard to predict – you don’t know where it’s come from, or where it’s leading.
 
You can’t schedule God in the same way you can’t schedule joy – they both just show up, unannounced, in unexpected places.
 
God is wild and loving, not a thing to be tamed or lassoed, not a static force.
 
***
 
This summer, I have saved it all up – the joy of the holiday, the beauty of the place, the glorious presence of God and assurance of Jesus’ love. I have feasted, so that when the days of spiritual famine come, I can live off the fat.
 
Last year, on holiday, I was so overwhelmed by grief and exhaustion that although I saw all the beauty on the island, I felt sad. I gave space for God, and felt nothing.
 
Perhaps I have changed between last year and this. No doubt the grief, exhaustion and illness play their part in it all.
 
But I rather wonder whether this was just God’s particular timing for me. This year, my soul, which seems to take up residence in my solar plexus, has remembered that God is pure love, and pure goodness. As I watched the flamboyant pink flowers, dancing in the breeze, halfway up a mountain on a small Greek island, I discovered that God is beautiful – and wild. I am learning – still learning – that God is real and present, and to be found in unexpected places.
 
pink flower close up
 
Tweetables: 
 
'God is wild and loving, not a thing to be tamed or lassoed' - @Tanya_Marlow - When God Shows Up: Click To Tweet
 
'You can’t schedule God in the same way you can’t schedule joy' - @Tanya_Marlow - When God Shows Up: Click To Tweet
 
'The Holy Spirit is like the wind - invisible and hard to predict' - @Tanya_Marlow - When God Shows Up: Click To Tweet
 
'God is real and present, and to be found in unexpected places.' - @Tanya_Marlow - When God Shows Up Click To Tweet
 
 
Over to you:

  • When have you experienced God in the unexpected places?
  • How do you cope during long periods of God’s silence?

 

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19 Responses to When God Shows Up

  1. Liz 7th October, 2016 at 8:57 am #

    So true Tanya. I went through similar when I had extreme pregnancy hyperemesis – God seemed frighteningly, frustratingly absent for most of that 9 months except for one small moment at night whilst I was hospitalised for the condition; I clung onto that moment for a long time. But you are so right: Aslan is not a tame lion.

    • Tanya 9th October, 2016 at 11:48 am #

      Hi Liz – thanks so much for stopping by to share some of your story! Your hyperemesis experience sounds really frightening – it’s hard being so suddenly and completely disabled, alongside all the usual worries of pregnancy. It’s really interesting to me that God seemed absent for you, too, at that difficult time. Sending much love

  2. Gayl 6th October, 2016 at 10:41 pm #

    Tanya, I love this! “You can’t schedule God in the same way you can’t schedule joy – they both just show up, unannounced, in unexpected places.” So true. i can’t think of a particular time right now when God showed up, but I do know that on many occasions I have been given a peace that I could not manufacture myself.

    Thank you for sharing this part of your life with us! Much love to you!

    • Tanya 9th October, 2016 at 11:49 am #

      Thanks so much, Gayl! It sounds like for you that peace given to you is God showing up for you. I love the way you faithfully follow God in all circumstances. You’re amazing.

  3. Elaine 6th October, 2016 at 10:36 pm #

    Feel so encouraged. Thought I was alone when I found it hard to cope with the “manuals” that tell us to do this or that and like you say, God will “appear”. I don’t think we can chain him up and make him comply – or at least so it seems to me. I also felt as if all the joy was squeezed out and a terrible failure when I just felt sad. So glad he appeared for you in Greece. He knows which moment to pick. Often we seemed to blame each other for not feeling positive or for not “fighting”. “Fighting the cancer” or failing to fight depression by not having positive thoughts. There are loads of times things just happen and it is just hard. It isn’t our fault and it is just hard. It’s lovely to hear that the joy came to you without you having to think positively to bring it on as well.
    Excellent!

    • Tanya 9th October, 2016 at 11:50 am #

      Thanks so much, Elaine, for encouraging me that I’m not alone in this! Sending you a solidarity high-five. “It isn’t our fault and it is just hard” – a thousand yeses to this. Thanks for stopping by – and if you haven’t yet downloaded your free ebook, please do!

  4. Carol Vinson 6th October, 2016 at 3:09 am #

    “I discovered that God is beautiful – and wild.”

    I love this! So beautiful.

    I have also found that I am most likely to find him in the small, ordinary moments. Those moments have become holy ground for me.

    • Tanya 9th October, 2016 at 11:51 am #

      I love that thought of finding holy ground in the everyday. It’s very Moses, isn’t it? Thanks so much for this – I do hope you’ve downloaded your free ebook, too!

  5. Catherine Verney 5th October, 2016 at 10:02 pm #

    Thank you Tanya. We are currently going through a difficult time of our own on top of imperfect health. I really needed to read this tonight. God bless you in your ministry to others.

    • Tanya 9th October, 2016 at 11:52 am #

      Today I’m praying for you in your difficult time. Sending much love

      • Catherine Verney 9th October, 2016 at 2:34 pm #

        Thank you so much.

  6. Penelope Wallace 5th October, 2016 at 5:55 pm #

    Thank you, Tanya, for a wise and moving blog. I have been fortunate enough to have good health, but I know a bit about the quietness of God.

    • Tanya 9th October, 2016 at 11:52 am #

      Thanks so much, Penelope, for stopping by here. “The quietness of God” – I love that phrase. (If you haven’t already downloaded your free ebook, please do!)

  7. Liz Eph 5th October, 2016 at 4:28 pm #

    Can I contribute my two pennyworth ? This is something I’ve had to give a lot of thought to.

    I had an epiphany talking with an old friend who had experienced deep spiritual deserts on and off over the years and was again in one. In his case he temporarily couldn’t believe that God loved him. I suddenly thought to ask him who he felt did love him. Despite being a very popular person, at that moment he couldn’t think of anyone except his parents, not even his wife and kids. On further questioning it turned out his feelings were more a reflection about his general health and well being than anything specific to God. He was ill and missing his experience of God and friendships in a familiar context, but he really wasn’t well enough to go out and get those perfectly normal needs met in his usual way.

    A lot of his most satisfying ways of meeting with God, or anyone else for that matter, had been what he as an extrovert, thoughtful, lively, kind, intelligent person had gone out of his way to look for. Finding ways of substituting all that with ways and means more appropriate to someone weakened, foggy, discouraged by illness was a whole new set of skills which don’t come to him nearly so naturally as to others. In fact maybe all of us who live with chronic illness have to deal with those issues but give it other names.

    And the sort of “deadness”, not feeling/coping-with much at all, that can go with our sort of illness really doesn’t help that side of things. Actually I think some of it is not actually psychologically pathological or depression as such, I think it’s a defence mechanism. Our bodies and minds shut down some functions in order to protect us and release what little energy there is for much more basic coping activity. Have you heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs ? So when we can’t cope with anything like the number or depth of relationships we’d normally maintain our perceptions of anyone, even ourselves, let alone God, can easily drift.

    • Tanya 9th October, 2016 at 11:55 am #

      Hi Liz – always glad to have your two-pennyworth! It’s a really interesting question, isn’t it – how much our psychology and physiology influences our experiences of God. There’s definitely something in that, I’m sure.

  8. Pippa Strickett 5th October, 2016 at 4:16 pm #

    Dear Tanya,
    As ever, your blog post gives a powerful and meaningful insight into your life and how you’re waiting on God, and on the nature of God Himself. Reading your words is inspiring and helps open the door for me, as someone who could easily take being well and going out for granted, to be thankful and mindful of the very real gift and joy that that is. As you write about how God and the world look through your eyes, I hope I am learning more compassion for those who, like you, experience long term illness and physical constraints, and also understanding more about the Father. Your graciousness with the experiences and opinions of others is also a powerful reminder and testimony to God’s work in your life! Thank you!

    • Tanya 9th October, 2016 at 11:57 am #

      Dear Pippa – thanks so much for writing this – I find your compassion tremendously encouraging, and really appreciate you taking the time wot encourage me. (and do download your free ebook if you haven’t already!)

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