For the past few years, I've been going through what I refer to as a spiritual wilderness. A time when I feel alone. When I'm battling trials in which it seems as if nobody understands. Earnestly, I cry out to Jesus in desperation. I long to hear His voice. Yet there is no response.
As the days progress into weeks and then into months, the quietness surrounds me. Overwhelmed, I soak myself into praise and worship music. It's my positive distraction to keep sane. To take my mind off of the silence. To sing out loud the uplifting tunes. To immerse myself into the words that promise Christ hasn't forgotten me.
What does it mean when the Lord is silent, despite our frantic pleas? Does it mean that He's abandoned us? That He doesn't care for us? Or that we've done something wrong to cause Him to turn His back on us? These are the questions that baffled me. The kind of thoughts that kept me awake at night.
This is when it seemed as though God was far away from me. When I've experienced the quiet echoes of unanswered prayers. Like last March when my mom lay in the hospital bed after brain surgery to remove a tumor. Her doctor explained the cancer spread and all he could do was try to keep it at bay. Regardless of chemotherapy, radiation, and modern medicine, my mother's battling stage three brain cancer.
Three months later, an opportunity presented itself for me to work full-time as a licensed beauty expert. Initially, I was torn over it since I want to support my mom and spend more time with her. Financially, our one income family was in a crisis. We truly needed both my husband and I to make ends meet.
Something had to give. I felt it was necessary to give up my writing dream in order to bring in consistent paychecks. I prayed. I pleaded with the Lord to open this door if it was His will for me to work outside the home. After four interviews and three long months, I was offered the position. Joyfully, I did the happy dance in celebration!
During my first week on the job, I discovered it wasn't all that it was cracked up to be. There was not much focus on providing beauty consultations or makeovers. Instead, it became apparent that this position was a glorified stock person. Within four days, my Fibromyalgia was flaring, my low lumbar area was spasming in pain, and I couldn't stand up straight.
Bewildered, I questioned why God would allow me to gain employment only for it to abruptly end with a physical injury. Where was He? How come my prayers were answered only to lead me back to square one? Why did He desert me?
The silence was deafening...
Unrelenting, I refused to stop praying. Instead, I created the most audacious prayer. Maybe it was pure lunacy or a last-ditch effort to grab God's attention. At this point, what did I have to lose since I had already quit my job and had no clue what to do?
Sometimes, drastic circumstances require drastic measures. In my case, I asked God to do something a little bit crazy. Yes, that's right, I boldly took a leap of faith when I asked the Lord to not only answer my pray, but to use tangible evidence to prove it. Kinda like extra assurance that Jesus hears me and it's a way to confirm it.
So on a beautiful autumn day, I fearlessly prayed, "Jesus, I know You're here. I know that You have a specific plan for me. I sense that You may be calling me to write my fourth book. A sacred wandering for others who are traveling a spiritual wilderness. If this truly is You and not me, could you please show me three red cardinals at the exact same time?"
No sooner did I say this when I kid you not, the cardinals disappeared. POOF! Just like that they were no longer in my yard. Wherever I went, there were no cardinals anywhere. This is when it became comical. I started reminding the Lord out loud of what I prayed for.
My prayers became more strident: "Father, I am not appreciating your humor. This silence and missing cardinals is not funny. I boldly stepped out in faith and now would be a great time to hear from You."
Apparently, we can't tell God what to do. I get it. He's not a Santa Clause or a magician. We can't expect to get answers to prayer when it's not in His timing. Oftentimes, we may impatiently be tapping our foot waiting for His response when part of His plan is simply to test our faith. Will we mumble and grumble like a toddler having a temper tantrum? Will we quit praying before the blessing comes?
Following weeks of silence, I realized that my prayer didn't have a timeline. That it could be months or years before I would hear from my heavenly Father. In the humdrum of my daily routine, I humbled myself before God. Perhaps, my faith was being stretched, but I knew what I knew what I knew about Him.
His Word says that He will not forsake me. He promises that He will not abandon me. He declares that He won't fail me. (Hebrews 13:5)
Sitting alone in my room, I pressed into my Savior. I approached Him with confidence and concern. "God, I believe that if You want me to write this book then You will show me three red cardinals. In the past, You have always been faithful. You have continuously worked powerfully in my life. I believe You. This isn't too difficult for You. I may not know when You're going to do it, but I trust You will."
Several weeks past by. Still no cardinals in sight. Only silence. It was a teachable moment to grow my faith in the dark. That even when we can't hear the Lord's voice or feel His presence, He is still near. I love an inspiring quote by Tony Evans who says, "When God is silent, He is not still. God does some of His best work in the dark. Trust Him – He's there.”
One morning, I was doing my gentle stretches to reduce my Fibro pain. I was laying on my bed with my backyard in perfect view. Out of nowhere, I saw a red cardinal fly into my yard. Quickly, I sat up. This caught my attention. Then a second cardinal came into my yard. I rushed to my window and peered out. To my surprise, a third red cardinal flew into my backyard. I was blown away!
All three birds were meandering here and there. They flew around, but not with one another. Suddenly, the cardinals flew into alignment. In the blink of an eye, they were in a horizontal line. For a second, it was as if time stopped. As if Jesus joyfully shouted, "One. Two. Three. Look what I did!"
In awe, I admired the three red cardinals in this brilliant moment when God stepped in to graciously answer my prayer. Prior to this remarkable event, I had never in my life seen three red cardinals at the same time, nor had I seen any birds fluttering together in a horizontal line.
To me, this amazing demonstration from God (using three cardinals as a tangible sign) was confirmation to write my fourth book, Sacred Wondering: Growing Your Faith in the Dark. Had I not seen the red cardinals at the same time, I would not have believed it was the Lord's will for me to write this nonfiction. The lesson learned: Silence can be the birthing that God may be doing a new thing. We may not visually see it, but that doesn't mean it's not happening.
Along this sacred wondering, I've gained valuable nuggets along the way. God's silence doesn't mean He is absent. When we struggle with not hearing or sensing the Lord is near, reading scriptures helps strengthen our faith. It's a weapon to use against the enemy who wants nothing more than to destroy our faith or place doubts in our mind. As we ponder the silence, we must return to the Word. For it is the lifeline to our Savior, especially when we can't hear His still soft voice.
In quiet moments, lean on the Bible that proclaims, "Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you." (Deuteronomy 31:8 NLT)
Next, a season of silence is an opportunity to create a hunger for Him. Could it be that His silence is meant to reignite intimacy with our Father? For us to dive in deeper to our Heavenly Maker? In my own experience, I came to realize that I no longer needed "stuff" from God. Rather, all I wanted was Him. To sit at His feet and know Him more. For the Holy Spirit to be in my presence. That wherever the Spirit moved and stirred, I was right smack center of His midst.
Lastly, when God is silent it builds our trust. We learn to trust Him with both the small and large details of our lives. We trust Him when our teenager drives our car alone for the first time. We trust Him when the diagnosis is terminal and we're laying in a puddle of tears. We trust Him when we lose our home and our bank account is empty. We trust Him as our spouse walks out the door to never return.
As we grow our faith, as we wait in silence, as we listen for His voice, we have hope that He will speak. It may not be a loud boom or thunder, but a soft whisper. He may use a song, a butterfly, a sermon, a stranger, or even a red cardinal, but there is hope that God will come through for us.
Today, I encourage you to not lose heart even in the silence and solitude. Be patient and wait on it. For Christ can't be heard through the clatter and noise. It is only in the silence and stillness that God's mighty work is done.
“My soul, wait in silence for God only, For my hope is from Him.” Psalm 62:5 (NASB)