By Olivia Vander Ploeg
“And you say that I don’t answer
Just because you have not heard
But you don’t know yet how to listen
Or to understand my word.”
~Shasta’s Complaint, Sarah Sparks
I finished high school feeling completely exhausted spiritually and I found myself in a spiritual desert. Still, during my freshman year of college, outside of my relationship with God, life was great! I adjusted well to living in a new place, I enjoyed all my classes, and I was making a lot of amazing friends. But something was still missing. The biggest growths in my spiritual life had been in the hard times, so I was completely unsure what it looked like to grow when life was good. There seemed to be nothing to compel me to read my Bible, so I rarely did. I would pray about my lack of spiritual motivation and ask God to help me, but He was utterly silent. I began to get angry with God. I read verses like, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” and “Ask and it will be given to you” with complete bitterness and confusion. I wanted to be close to God again, but I couldn’t get myself to do anything about it, and He was not helping in the slightest.
I knew I should talk to someone about how I was struggling in my faith and beginning to doubt, but I was too ashamed. Finally, I worked up the nerve to talk to my youth pastor. I called him often, crying, to talk about how far I felt from God. He offered a lot of wisdom, but things didn’t get any better. I was so angry that God would do nothing to help me in this desert.
One night in January was the worst of it. A friend from back home had stopped talking to me and wouldn’t tell me why. I was feeling so worthless. It felt like I had been rejected yet again, and I didn’t even know why. I was completely weighed down by all the possible things I could have done wrong, the ways I could have made this friend ignore me. I was weighed down by the guilt. The shame. The loneliness. The failure. The rejection. The brokenness.
My roommate was gone that night, so I felt the freedom to cry about it. I laid in my bed for hours, in the dark, crying because I felt so unloved. I felt like I had been rejected too many times. I felt completely alone in the world and that I had no one to turn to, so I prayed. I begged God to let me feel close to Him. I pleaded with Him to show me that I was loved.
There was no response.
I was so angry. Shouldn’t God want me to feel valuable? To feel loved? So why did He not answer my prayer? I felt like now I hadn’t just been rejected by many of my closest friends, but also by God.
The rest of the year and into the summer were the same. I felt the same spiritual hopelessness and lack of growth. But, as I began this school year, things slowly began to change. I looked back in my past year and realized all the times God had been there. I had been waiting for God to show me His presence in some big, obvious way, so I hadn’t noticed how He had been showing me His presence in everyday things, like a friend’s smile. God was there in tandem biking adventures with friends. God was there in the late-night conversations. God was there in friends lying on the golf course, staring up at the beautiful stars. God was there in the laughter at the supper table. God was there in my youth pastor – always willing to talk when I needed to. God was there in my youth pastor’s wife traveling four hours to be with me. God was there in professors’ little comments of encouragement. God was there in the books that I was reading. God was present. I had been focusing on all the wrong things and it was only in looking back, in remembering, that I saw what was really important. I realized that God had answered my prayer on that January night. He showed me I was loved, just not in the way I expected. God showed me I was loved by being present when I wasn’t looking for Him.
I have been focusing on all the wrong things and it was only in looking back, in remembering, that I saw what was really important. I realized that God had answered my prayer on that January night. He showed me I was loved, just not in the way I expected. God showed me I was loved by being present when I wasn’t looking for Him.
I still struggle. I still doubt. I still have days here and there when I forget to read my Bible. But God is teaching me how to listen, how to understand His word, and how to see His presence in daily life.