One late afternoon a few weeks ago, my husband Ben and I walked out to the driveway as he prepared to take one of our boys to an activity. We were in the middle of our conversation when he exclaimed, “look at those clouds.” I turned around and was astounded by the big, fluffy white clouds hovering just above the rooftops of the houses around us. The sun highlighted their beauty. I felt as though they were close enough to touch.
In that moment, I felt closer to God as well. Amazing how viewing the mountains or the ocean or a gorgeous sunrise can make us feel that God is near to us. Nature is not the only way we feel God’s presence obviously, but it is a common source of awe. The Psalmist was also inspired by God’s handiwork: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:3-4 & 9). When we sense God is close, we may be filled with peace, wonder, and admiration. We may feel small in comparison to God’s magnificence, but still feel like an essential part of the larger universe.
At other times though, we may feel distant from God. We may feel isolated, weary, and abandoned. We wonder if God hears our prayers or cares about us. The Psalmist understood those emotions as well. Bluntly, he asked, “Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1). Nature provides the imagery for these times too. We may feel we are wandering in the dry, unrelenting heat of the desert or lost in the tangled maze of the wilderness. The people of God experienced the confusion and despair of the arid desert when they escaped slavery in Egypt. (Exodus 16). And Jesus knew what it meant to feel separated from God when he spent a challenging time in the wilderness. (Luke 4).
When we start to believe that God is absent, we must remember that almost everyone has experienced similar episodes. We are not alone in our feelings of frustration and anger. It’s okay to reach out to others and ask for their support and encouragement through the times when our souls feel empty. And we must remember that God is not gone even though it may feel that way. God will help us find our way back. When I couldn’t feel God’s presence, one of my favorite verses has helped me: “This is what the Lord says— ‘Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.’” (Isaiah 43:16, 18-19).
We must hold on in times of desperation and believe that God will restore us. That God is still in relationship with us when we feel darkness only. God has provided us with his creation in nature, which includes both beautiful and harsh environments. When we feel we are trudging through the desert or the wilderness, let us know that God is working on new ways to reach us so we can once again feel the nearness of our God.