The silence of God

A friend of mine is walking a long, dark journey right now, one that reminds me of my own trauma a few years ago. I have been praying continually for her, but I haven't known what to say. Anything that came to mind felt trite and unworthy of her suffering. But I remembered that when I walked a similar road, the silence of friends was deafening. It can be so hard to know what to say, but not saying anything is not the right response. My friend lives four hours away, so I can't take her a meal or sit with her over coffee as often as I'd like. So I decided to share reflections from my own pain, with the hope that she might feel less alone in hers.

Andrew Peterson has a song entitled The Silence of God. Although it's a melancholy song, it speaks to the common struggle we all feel during times when God seems unresponsive to our prayers. I remember an old pastor friend telling me that God could handle my anger, so if I needed to lash out at Him a bit, that was ok. There is comfort in knowing that others struggle with not feeling heard by God. Even giants of faith question: What about the times when even followers get lost? 'Cause we all got lost sometimes.

I attended a writers workshop with Andrew Peterson during which he shared about his experience encountering the statue of Jesus referenced in the song. He was in a very dark season of his life. A friend had booked a few days at the Abbey of Gethsemani, a monastery in Kentucky, but after seeing the fragile state Andrew was in, the friend insisted he take his place. Andrew went begrudgingly. He was angry at God and bitter at the world, and his first day and a half there didn't move the needle on that. He decided to pack up his bags and leave, but as he was loading up his car, he noticed a sign pointing to "The Statues." He followed the signs and shared about what an impact the experience had on him.

Abbey of Gethsemani

A few months later I booked a stay at the same monastery, as a sort of sabbatical. It was in the middle of December, and I was feeling pretty jaded about advent. I didn't realize how long or cold the hike would be – through the woods, across a creek, beside a lake, along the edge of a wheat field, and up a hill into another wooded area. Along the trail were small statues and markers. One was a large stone with PAX on it. It was broken. Broken peace. I sat on a stump and stared at it for a long time, curious about whether it was already broken when it was placed there or if it had broken on its own. In any case, it was exactly how I felt.

Broken Peace

I continued along the trail until it ended at a set of statues. The first statue I approached was of the disciples sleeping. After studying their weary faces intently, I continued along the path. When my eyes landed on the statue of Jesus, I was paralyzed. I knew I was on sacred ground. When I finally moved closer, the anguish on His face broke me. I turned and looked from His perspective at His friends in the distance, and I instantly felt both loss for Jesus and compassion for the disciples. They didn't know what was about to happen; they didn't understand his desperation. They wanted to support him, but they weren't strong enough. In that moment, I felt grace for my friends who had disappeared during my trials, when I most needed their support. And I saw how God had raised up other people to fill those gaps in my life.

As I knelt on the ground, another powerful thought hit me: Jesus saw it all coming – every betrayal, every false statement, every lash, every step to the cross, every tear shed by his mother... I couldn't imagine the weight of that knowledge! I was suddenly grateful that God had not revealed to me in advance all the pain that I would endure over a three-year period. He showed me only what He knew I could bear at that time. My limited vision was a merciful gift; I could not see into the future, but I could remember the past and know that Jesus was with me in it, just as He is with you now and will remain with you.

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