The year was 2008 (that was a watershed year for me, by the way). It was a year of great spiritual struggle for me (yes, pastors struggle spiritually). It was in this year of great struggle that I was given a most profound thought that resonates with me still. I received this profound insight from a diminutive little Catholic nun. What was her profound statement? Simply this: “Perhaps God is so close you can’t see Him.”
I was doubting my call to ministry. I was doubting God’s love for me. I was doubting there was even a God, at all. Actually, since 2008, my life has pretty much (I said “pretty much”–I didn’t say totally) been an open book. I’ve been quick to share out of my own struggle as a means of encouraging others who are struggling spiritually. There is hope. We have to keep looking.
One of the places I looked for hope was in a relationship with a spiritual director. A spiritual director is a person trained in helping another discover the reality that God is present everywhere. Okay…let me make it easy for you…it’s like going to a therapist, but this therapist’s purpose is all about trying to help you see where God is at work. Sister Katherine, that diminutive Catholic nun, was my spiritual director.
Some may be asking why I chose a Catholic as a spiritual director. Honestly, (here’s part of the open book–and part of the reason I needed help in the first place) I went to the Catholic tradition because I didn’t want anyone in my own tradition to know I was struggling as greatly as I was struggling. It was the sin of pride. I thought I could go outside my tradition and no one would be the wiser. I’d find the help I needed, get the advice I was seeking, and keep moving. My pride was part of the reason I couldn’t sense God’s presence.
Something else that keeps us from sensing God’s presence is our busy-ness, and the distractions that are everyday life. Over a stretch of 18 months, many events had combined to keep me distracted. First, I began a weight loss regimen that led to a 60 lb. reduction in weight (it was life-changing in more ways than one!). I was focused like a laser on losing the weight. It became all consuming. Second, I lost my dad unexpectedly (that’s another post I need to write–still not sure I’ve processed all that was involved in that event). Next, Vanessa and I were involved in a car accident that left me unconscious for an extended period of time (did I tell you the story of the best Blizzard I never had?). Next, was a building project at the church I was serving. Throw in a capital campaign, a growing church, a couple of staff upheavals, and all the expectations of being a husband and a father (hmm? Do I sound like the Apostle Paul listing his struggles?), and you have a recipe for busy-ness that can easily take a person’s focus off the things that matter most. I simply wasn’t paying attention to God who was with me all the time.
Another reason I was not sensing God’s presence was the fact that I was trying to control everything. I was trying to control everything that was happening in my life. I was like a puppeteer trying to move all the strings in all the right directions. Another analogy I’ve used to try to describe that stage of my life was that I was trying to keep all the plates spinning. I was afraid if I allowed even one of the plates to fall that I would be a failure. A failure was the last thing I wanted to be. It was probably the first thing I needed to be. My need to succeed kept me from seeing the God who always sees me.
I could write about a few more reasons that I wasn’t sensing God’s presence during that period of my life, but then my life would be totally an open book, and that wouldn’t be beneficial to anyone (you’d really find out why I’m not the perfect pastor). Suffice it to say that after several visits with Sister Katherine, she’d probably heard all she wanted to hear of my whining and complaining about not being able to see God or feel God. She just looked at me on one of my visits and said, “Perhaps God is so close you can’t see Him.” Something so simple, yet so profound. I’d given my life following the call of God, and it was a concept I never considered. I’ve subsequently heard Len Sweet say it this way: “Jesus can be so close (‘closer than a brother’) to us it is like asking a bird to see air or a fish to see water.”
I never went to see Sister Katherine again after that meeting. I didn’t feel like I needed to. Oh, don’t misunderstand…some days there are still doubts. I still wrestle with pride. I still get too busy and distracted. And, yes, the fear of failure still rears its ugly head from time to time (along with a few other fears). But, in those times I simply remember that if I can’t see God, it’s probably because He’s so close I can’t see Him. I’m not sure if that offers others hope, but it sure gives me some.
Until next time, keep looking up…