“Do you want me to keep trying?” My team leader looked at me, and I looked back at him. I couldn’t answer around the lump in my throat. Even if I had been able to answer, I wouldn’t have known what to say. How could I say no? But he had already tried everything he could.
We were in the airport in Paris, halfway between our departure from the States and our destination in West Africa. As we had boarded the plane, the gate attendant had pulled me and my daughter aside. We didn’t have the right Visa paperwork.
Everyone else on the team had gotten the right paperwork. We had tried the new Visa process, and only now, halfway around the world, did we discover that we had done it wrong. Everyone else on the team had boarded the plane, and now it was just us and the team leader. He was trying his best to sweet talk the gate agent into letting us on – make it the destination country’s problem! If we could just get on the plane, we could figure it out. But the gate agent was adamant. Without the right paperwork, we couldn’t get on.
So, finally, our team leader boarded, and we were left behind. It felt like being abandoned.
There was one other time in my life where I had been abandoned. I had a tiny two-month old baby, when my husband called from military bootcamp to say that he didn’t want to be married anymore. He just wasn’t “cut out” for marriage, he said. I could take our new baby and, well, do what I wanted. But he didn’t want to be part of it.
In counseling, my therapist said this hurt so much because it was abandonment. When we needed him most, my husband had abandoned us. We were alone.
But at that time, we weren’t alone. My parents took us and loved us well. The community around us took care of us until we knew that we weren’t alone. We had been abandoned by one person, but not by God, and not by His people.
But now, here I was again. Alone. Only this time it felt like being abandoned by God.
After all, so many doors had opened to take this trip. Time and time again, the impossible had happened to allow us to go. I felt confident that God wanted us in West Africa. But we weren’t in West Africa. Instead, we were in France, with the looming task of finding six large suitcases in a maze of an airport, and an even larger task behind it of finding the right embassy and getting the needed visas. Where was God?
Many people said to us that there were certainly worse places to be stuck than Paris. And it’s true – it could have been worse. People have gone through many more difficult things in many more difficult places. The difficulty was not in being in France, the difficulty was in feeling like God had left us.
I have spent a lot of the last year answering this question, and the answer has come in a variety of ways. At first, I looked for the reasons “why”. Why were we stuck in France? There certainly were answers to this question. The housing situation in Africa would not have been good for those three months we were in France. The team didn’t find good housing for us until close to the time that we arrived. Jamie needed a time of transition. She experienced a lot of big emotions and our time in France gave her a chance to work through them before we got to Africa. There was a family that we met that had questions about the Bible. We were able to share with them about the Bible and hopefully be part of their faith journey. Lots of good reasons.
But even with seeing those reasons, I still felt distant from God. I needed more than just intellectual understanding. On those lines, a second thing that helped was an experience with healing prayer. I know that healing prayer can be controversial, and I’m not going to give the theology behind it here. But, what helped was to have the freedom to bring the hard questions to God with the guidance of other Christian women, and to spend time listening for His answer. Healing prayer can involve “visualizing” God in the situation. I know this can also be a controversial practice, but it helped to see in my mind’s eye where God was in the situation – to go from seeing myself alone, to seeing that God was there but distant, to seeing that He was there and that He made that walk with us away from the gate and through the airport.
Again, this helped, but things still felt unresolved spiritually. Another piece of the spiritual puzzle came recently while my family was at Maranatha, a family vacation and Bible conference. Our speaker, Mark Vroegop, taught on Isaiah. Mr. Vroegop’s teaching first struck me when he said the whole Bible is written in times of conflict and difficulty. I realized that perhaps I had slipped too much into our cultural idea that “normal” life is easy, and that difficulty is abnormal. The Bible shows us the opposite. Normal life is difficult. Christian life is difficult. When you read the Bible, you quickly see that there is not one character in the Bible who had it easy! Not only that, but normal life and Christian life involves times of fear. It’s not wrong to be afraid, and Mr. Vroegop noted that God’s goal is not to remove fear, but to help us see that He is in control. The one thing that is stronger than fear is hope, and hope comes from knowing who God is. When we are in times of difficulty we want to know why those things are happening, but in times of difficulty in the Bible, God rarely answers the question of “why”. Instead, He responds by showing us “who” – “who” is the God that will save you. In Isaiah, the Israelites go through fear and difficulty when they are sent into exile. Now, they do know “why” it happened – their own disobedience. However, in comforting His people (Isaiah 40-41), the focus is not on their disobedience, but on the character of God. These chapters are set up like a trial where God invites His people to test him compared to other gods around them. Who is strong enough to save? Who is good enough to take care of them? reviewing God’s character in stark contrast to the nature of other gods (41:21-24) shows clearly that God is powerful (40:10), sovereign (40:22-24), gentle (40:11), and a help in trouble (41:14, 17-20). Even when we don’t understand what is going on in our own lives, we can trust these promises. Living based on those promises gives us hope (40:31), and hope holds us up through times of fear.
Mark Vroegop particularly had us look at Isaiah 41:10, which has five promises of God. These are promises that give us hope to live by in difficult times. Starting in verse 9, it says, “You are my servant; I have chosen you; I haven’t rejected you. 10Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will hold on to you with my righteous right hand.”
It’s important to remember, as it says in verse 9, God has chosen me. Even when it seems like I have been abandoned, I haven’t – God says, “I haven’t rejected you.” Verse 10 gives the five promises: I am with you, I am your God, I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will hold on to you.
Before our time in France, I knew these promises. But through that time I had to learn them in a different way. I was faced with the little seed of untruth that had worked its way into my heart through my divorce, which said, “The One who loves you will leave you.” I had to, through experience, learn that God would not leave me – that the promises He made hold true even in times when all the little supports that I have put around myself to keep myself secure are gone. He is not gone. He keeps His promises, and even when I don’t know what is happening in my own life, I know who He is – He is faithful
I knew these promises before, but I also needed the reminder that I am not the only person who has felt abandoned by God. God reminds His people over and over again that He will never leave because many people go through times of feeling “left”. Both in the Bible and at other times in Christian history, many great people of faith have struggled with feeling like God has abandoned them. God dedicates a great deal of space in the Bible to reminding us that He has not left us because He knows that this is a common experience. In the midst of a deep struggle of faith, it’s so good to know that others feel the struggle as well, and have made it through. I am writing this partially in hopes that others who may feel as if God has left them can find hope and encouragement in my story.
The day that God left becomes the day that God was there when we know who God is, when we hope in His promises, and when we walk together in faith. May we know the God who is faithful!