“Do not think that the Lord has abandoned you. No! He is always with you and invisibly sustains you, even when you forget Him. He will not burden you with trials beyond your capacity. Fear nothing, but with total humbleness and devotion bear your cross and pray.” (St. Innocent of Alaska)
It is easy to feel at times that God has abandoned us. Loss of a job, sickness, death of a loved one, struggle with an addiction, situational or chronic depression, temptations we struggle to overcome, and many other things can make us feel helpless and alone. Scripture testifies, as do many ancient and modern Christian teachers, that God never allows us to endure what is beyond our capacity. The Bible also says in several places (e.g., Hebrews 13:5, Deuteronomy 31:6,8, and Joshua 1:5) that He will never leave us or forsake us. Of course, it never feels that way when we are enduring whatever it is we are called upon to endure. It always feels like we cannot possibly handle any more burdens. We only realize, retrospectively, that we were able to handle it.
But what do we do when we are in the midst of whatever is causing us to feel abandoned by God? So much of wisdom is counter-intuitive and we often instinctively feel the urge to do the exact opposite of what is best for us. I remember when I learned to kayak. The instructor told me when the kayak flipped over I needed to fold my body inward to undo the protective skirt so I could perform what was called a “wet exit.” He warned me that my instinct would be to arch my body instead of fold it. Even knowing this, when he flipped me over for practice, panic set in and I arched my body and could not get out. I would have drowned if I was alone but he was there to rescue me.
When we feel abandoned by God, we tend to draw inward and increase our self-focus which makes us feel even worse. But what we need to do is reach out. We need to share what we are feeling and experiencing with others we trust. Once, when I was going through a situational depression and was feeling alone and abandoned, I isolated myself, though I was not consciously aware that I was withdrawing from people. My friend recognized this, having once gone through something similar, and reached out to me. He would call me often and come by the apartment I was living in then. I did not know it at the time but he was protecting me and this simple act of friendship helped me tremendously. In a small, but meaningful way, he briefly reflected God because he reached out to me with no other motivation than love – not love as in an emotional feeling but love defined as true concern for another’s well-being.
As hard as it is, when feeling abandoned by God, it is also the time, ironically, that we should completely abandon ourselves to God. In my case, I was feeling so low and hit rock bottom mentally and spiritually that I turned to God. Because I was so empty at that moment, I was receptive to God and it began a journey with Him that continues to this day. Emptiness, though it feels awful, can be a good thing. When we are empty, we are also ready to be filled. If we turn to God, and not destructive behaviors as we often do when misguidedly seek to fill our emptiness, God does fill us to the measure we are ready. He also continues to fill us. This I why I can write with confidence that when we feel this way, we need to turn God even if even if it feels forced.
He will not leave you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)
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