One time, my friend asked what had become our custom practice at the end of our calls: “What’s one intimate prayer request I can pray for?” By that, she meant a prayer request that’s close to my heart, but not something I’d throw out on Instagram.
It was probably telling that I didn’t know what to say.
It was one of those periods when my times with God were short-circuited: whether due to me sleeping in a little later because it’s spring break, or a child waking at a weird hour, or my lists of to-do’s, or just my own inability to know what to interact with God about, and sensing less clear direction from him.
This also reminded me of another friend’s lament: “I keep doing all the right things. But a lot of times I don’t feel close to God, you know?” My friend described their time in Scripture and prayer, their attempts to live in ways that pleased God. But the sense of intimacy they were aiming for still seemed far away.
I definitely believe there are things we can do to move closer to God. But I also know what it’s like to feel like God seems so silent and far away from you.
When to stop and just be
To borrow an illustration from author Ruth Haley Barton, my relationship with God often resembles a jar of river water. It needs to sit awhile for the sediment to settle. For the water to become clear.
But it’s hard for that to happen with the constant flurry of activity we’re so used to. Not to mention the thinking that if something isn’t happening, we need to do “more” to make it happen.
I thought about it in the context of a romantic relationship: For example, I could do all the “good wife” things, serve my spouse in all the right ways, fulfil the scheduled date nights, get the Starbucks order and the shoe size right.
But I know how my husband often wants me to stop the “good wife” things in order to just be with him and let his love settle around me, like that perfect ivory throw on my bed, folding around me on those cold, bitter nights.
In my flurry of activity in God’s name, I find that He’s asking me more to stop and remember that He calls me Beloved. In the book The Lord Is My Courage, author K.J. Ramsey writes:
God reminds David where he came from, who he is, and whose he is. “I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you.”
God reminds David through Nathan that it is God’s activity that is at the center of this story. . .
There’s a refreshing concept tucked in there for the achieving, effortful Christian I am. While I believe God finds my efforts to seek Him beautiful, ultimately, He is the Potter, Creator, the Breath: “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).
His work lies at the centre. My efforts to find him with all my heart must also recognise that He’s the one who initiates the passionate search-and-rescue efforts (Jeremiah 29:13, Luke 15). Somehow the same God who inspired Paul to write about “pressing on toward the goal for the prize” also wrote about how our strength is in quietness and trust (Isaiah 30:15).
Wherever you are, God is right there with you
In the book Seeking God Together, author Alice Fryling writes:
“[In spiritual direction,] the question asked is not ‘What should be happening in my life?’ but ‘What is happening in my life?’ We look for God here, now, because the place we are in our lives is the place where we find God.” (emphasis mine)
So I’ve poked around online to look for questions that might help give me spiritual direction—to see more of what is happening in my life and see God’s hand in it. And I’ve come up with some questions of my own that I hope can help you take your relationship with God deeper:
To keep an eye out for lies about reality and yourself that you’re tempted to believe when you’re low and vulnerable:
- What’s something that you haven’t been able to get out of your head this week?
- What’s one lie in your head that you find hard to shake off? How did it get there, what does it steal from or destroy in you?
- List three adjectives you sometimes wish you were but aren’t.
- Describe ways God created you to be in five words.
To dig deep into the whys of your distance from God:
- What do you most want or wish for that you haven’t seen realised?
- At what times in your life have you felt closest to God? Is there any pattern to them?
- If you could hear right now one thing you have been wanting to hear from God about, what would He say?
- What’s God been doing in you lately?
For example, when I tell Him what I haven’t been able to get out of my head, I can get curious. Where and how is He moving in that emotionally unerasable set of thoughts? Like how Jesus came to “dwell among us” (John 1:14), how does God want to dwell with me in my daily experiences? How does He want to interact with me there, to pull close to me, disciple me, and relate to me?
Or take what I wish God would be saying. What does that tell me about my longing? In the Psalms, David brings his longing and emotion right into the sanctuary, into his prayers. Like David, can I ask God for how I long to experience Him, or allow God to shape what might be wonky in those longings?
See, sometimes when I don’t know what to say, it’s not unlike any other relationship—like sitting down with a close friend for coffee. There’s no script. No box to check. No “What’s the purpose of this coffee date?”
The goal is to just bring your presence. To enjoy one another, even if it means sitting in silence. To bring your whole self, receiving and being received.