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A few months ago, I got a letter from someone I’ll call “Emily.”
She wrote to ask for my encouragement, which is always humbling and I take these requests seriously.
Emily said she and her husband are both Christians, but right now neither is close to God. She said her husband is depressed and that makes her anxious and afraid, unsure of when and if it will end, and what will happen because of it.
She wants to help him, but he doesn’t want her help. So not only does she feel helpless, but she’s beginning to feel hopeless because God is silent. His silence she interprets as his disinterest. That’s the source of her real pain.
“I’ve tried to be close and lean on him, but it always leads to disappointment,” she wrote. “Not depending on God is better for me because then he doesn’t let me down. I’m not one of those ‘fired up for Jesus’ Christians, but I’ve always wanted to be … I could really use some encouragement.”
I wrote her back, saying, “I know exactly what you mean by not being a ‘fired up for Jesus’ Christian, because I’m not one either.”
I told Emily that disappointment with God comes from expecting him to do things the way we want him to, and sometimes he does. Mostly, though, he doesn’t. (But ultimately, he does things better.)
Recently, I polled some people on Facebook, asking if they had ever shaken their fist at God in anger and frustration. One woman replied that after her father worked hard all his life, shortly after he retired he had a massive stroke and ended up hooked up to machines until he finally died days later.
The man’s daughter said she remembers screaming in her back yard, “How can you do that to Daddy? What kind of a God are you? You’re cruel and heartless and I’m never going to believe in you or serve you again!”
Almost 30 years later, this woman has since watched her mother, husband and brother die from long, lingering illnesses and said, “Looking back, I realize that God was very kind to my father (and to my mother because Daddy was not long on patience and would have been a terrible patient for my mother to have to care for!). Being an invalid would have been hell on earth for Daddy. So, God’s timing is always perfect, even though we might not think so at the time.”
Another woman said it’s not so much fist-shaking anymore as it is still holding a bit of a grudge with God ever since her brother’s best friend committed suicide years ago.
“My fist-shaking is twofold,” she said. “One, of course, was why did God take him from us and why did it happen that way?”
More than that, however, is how it affected her brother’s faith.
“He already struggled with his relationship with God. Did God think this would make the relationship better? Ever since then my brother has had an ‘issue’ with God. He hasn’t forgiven God for taking his best friend at a young age,” she said.
“I still shake my head at God, if not my fist,” she said, “because I’ve tried ever since then to repair my brother’s relationship with him. I still haven’t learned a lot from this, and I’m not sure I will, although the situation brought my brother and I closer. Other than that I’m still waiting to see why this happened.”
Back to Emily: I told her that in her disappointment and not wanting to be close to God, there will be people who will tell her, “Read your Bible more! Pray! Give thanks!”
I told her that these are all good and needful things, but sometimes when you feel like God is far away and you’re not all that fired up for Jesus anyway, maybe the best thing you can do is get alone with God and duke it out with him.
The psalmist, King David, is famous for yelling at God, telling him exactly how mean he (God) is and that he hated the situation he was in.
When we do that, God just sort of lets us pound his chest until we’re spent and then brushes aside our sweaty hair, picks us up, holds us close and tells us everything will be OK, even if it looks like everything is not OK.
Emily recently wrote back: “Even though I’m still angry and frustrated and feel like this trial isn’t teaching me anything but pain and suffering and I still don’t feel like getting closer to God because I see him as the source of my frustration, I can’t ignore him either … I’m not sure what the outcome will be, but I will get through this as honestly as I can.”
Sometimes, that’s all we’ve got, and that’s a start.
Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria — I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at (352) 564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via email at email@example.com.