Confession

My eyes are dry.
My faith is old.
My heart is hard.
My prayers are cold.
And I know how I ought to be:
Alive to You and dead to me.

Keith Green phrases it well.

My prayer life is not what it used to be. My spiritual life is not what it used to be.

I say the words. I mean them. I believe in the One to whom they are addressed. I believe He hears.

But I am not sure about what He does with those words after that.

I have friends who have lost their faith. I have a friend who went from missionary to atheist in a matter of months. I have another who went from preaching to doubting in a matter of months.

I have other friends who have out-wrestled Jacob AND Job to keep their faith … having lost those dearest to them, yet remaining in the ministry. Some have remarried; brought new children into their hearts and families through these marriages.

And I am not my friends.

God and I are not exactly on speaking terms.

That is, I talk to Him and He does the listening. He doesn’t seem to say much of anything back anymore.

Not like He used to.

Except – and He’s funny about this; He’s a divine comedian, in fact – except on Sunday morning.

I teach at a tiny church in the slightly bigger town next to where I live. I don’t preach, because I’m smart enough to know I’m not gifted at preaching. And there’s no need for preaching. Preaching is for people who haven’t heard the gospel. There are, on a good Sunday, ten of us at my tiny church and we’ve all long since heard the gospel. So I teach. We try to dive deep into the word. We discuss. We argue sometimes. I try to keep it loving, or failing that, civil. We midrash. I teach.

And I am the worst. As far as the teaching paradigms go, I am the worst teacher ever. It doesn’t work to set out a course of study weeks or months in advance and nibble on each Sunday’s preplanned message a little each day and slave over it in prayer and meditation and practice standing behind a lectern because I teach sitting down from a chair and because God isn’t talking to me that way anymore.

He used to. I’d study and stew and pray and read over something pestering my soul for hours and be able to sit down at the keyboard with a pretty good idea where things were going to go because I felt deep inside that it had been made clear to me, bit-by-bit and bite-by-bite and byte-by-byte.

Now He is silent.

So this blog has been pretty much silent, too.

However, on Sunday mornings, things are a little different.

My little church family has requested a study of prayer. So we are studying prayer from its first instances with Abraham and Isaac’s chief servant through the Old Testament and on to the New … exactly the way we studied the Holy Spirit for more than a year. They are gluttons for punishment. They knew I was going to do this.

On Sunday mornings now, I select four readings. They’re not from a book. They are not necessarily in scriptural order, but I try to keep them in chronological order to the best of my ability. I read them over breakfast. I seek any clarity that’s desperately needed from my books or — cautiously — online. I pray that God will help me be honest.

And once I thought He was trying to communicate to me that was all He was asking for.

Then I go to the little parsonage where we meet and I teach.  I try to tell the truth.

When I don’t know, I say, “I don’t know.”

When I have a theory, I say, “That’s just my thoughts on it.”

When I think a doctrine we’ve all heard before is out of whack, I say so and I give my reasons why and I say, “But that’s my line of  thinking on it. Yours may be different. I don’t think God is going to judge you based on what I believe, but on what you believe.”

I don’t care where the best insight of the morning comes from or who puts it into words.

I’m just there to sing, pray, worship, break bread, drink a sip from a cup, remember Jesus and live out His love for others while keeping a discussion about Him on track. (It’s always about Him. Even in the Old Testament where we are studying now. It points forward to Him. The gospels point to Him. The Acts of the Apostles  and the epistles point back at Him. The Revelation points forward to Him once again.)

And then I go home.

During the week, I pray for my friends and my family. I meet with my church family again on Wednesday evenings, and except for the remembrance at the Table, we worship and do some more midrashing.

Sometimes I poke about in the word because something is distressing my soul. Sometimes I pray about me. Sometimes I pray the rest of Keith Green’s lyrics.

What can be done
for an old heart like mine?
Soften it up
with oil and wine.
The oil is You, your Spirit of love
Please wash me anew
in the wine of Your blood.

But I don’t hear the same response that I used to hear … the wording of verses from scripture that were uncomfortably poignant or illuminating or uplifting. Simply silence. Just His silence.

So I thought I’d confess that I’m a bad teacher. That I am struggling with a God who only seems to speak when He feels like it. That our relationship is strained.

Thought I’d try my hand at this blog again and see if I would know in advance how it would come out.

Nope. I didn’t.

And I sure didn’t expect that I’d be this honest.

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12 thoughts on “Confession

  1. Sigh. I typed a long long reply – only to have issues with logging in, and it all disappeared. Suffice it to say that at a time in my life, I had very little belief in a loving God. After all, if there really was a loving God, then why did my parents lose everything except their lives in a fire, why did my relationship end, why was my life the mess it was, why, why, why? I didn’t feel God in my life, in my heart, or in my soul. And I ranted and raved and cussed at God. And He let me. And I realized that I still believed in Him enough to rant and rave at Him. And slowly, I started to feel Him again, in my heart, in my soul, in my mind, and slowly I started to see Him around me again.

    Thanks for being honest.

  2. God isn’t. Or he is. The bible, Israel’s stories of its faith and its God and their relationship told across centuries, tells me that God is, and I see God’s hand in creation around me. I sit and wait. I’m either praying to the inside of my eyelids and talking to myself or there is Someone Other listening. Do I seek God for my own interests? Or do I seek God because God is existence itself, that old unpronounced name? It’s the Dark Night of the Soul question. I seek God Too much for Myself.

    These days I am sitting and waiting. And trusting. The stories we tell about Jesus — I wanna be like that. I turn my mind that way, now and then. And I am a better person for it. Fighting darkness with light, Don Davis would say “get your gleam on, be the flavor,” and in darkness burn brighter. Bring peace. I don’t know what I believe some days. But I want to be light and salt, the flavor and the gleam. The silence – is God waiting, as much as one might say a tree grows waiting. (CS Lewis.) As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. One day I will know face to face. Or I won’t know and it will all be over. Today. I will get my gleam on, because I choose. The choosing matters to me.

    I was away from God for decades. I ignored him to the point he didn’t exist in the universe I lived in. As true as that idea can be expressed in the universe God created. The silence today is different than that silence.

    I sit with you. In the silence.

  3. Dear Keith, you are not alone in the wilderness!! If it’s any help or encouragement to you, you were the one who inspired me to do the 3 p.m. prayer on FB.

    As tempted as I am to say, “Something I do when my prayers are dry is . . .” I don’t think that’s what you need. I do believe that God is holding you up!!

  4. I am thankful for your honesty. The times in the desert, alone, are real for all of us, or at least for me too. I tire of people telling me how God is working through them and talking to them when I am hearing nothing. I need someone to be honest enough to also admit that they struggle…… so thank you. And thank you for meeting with the small church of 10. I know they love and appreciate you so. (My Mom’s little church is about the same size) .

  5. Keith, yours is the first post I’ve read that expressed this … estrangement. Thank you. Please allow me to tell my story, in brief, here. I don’t want to be identified – the statements are so risky to say as it is. I am terrified to tell and part of me is screaming “fool” as I sit here, typing.

    But here you are – and here I am. And so I must.

    My soul was thrust into this same terrifying place of separation from God after I, a survivor of sexual abuse as a young child and adult (the typical trajectory – it just gets worse as your life unfolds, despite your best efforts to hide to protect yourself when no one else does), and after I, a new Christian, was courted by and married the son of a prominent church family who deliberately concealed the fact that he was a convicted violent predator of women, discovered (after he had kicked me out of our house along with our children) that our youngest son, then barely three, had suffered the same abuse (and more) at the hands of the licensed child care provider with a licensed agency I had screened and chosen to trust when I was forced to go to work by the social service agency I had been promised would provide for me while my children were toddlers and pre-schoolers.

    Something died in me – simply vanished – and I found I was unable to talk to God. I could not talk. I could not even come to Him.I could not look at Him.

    Attending church had also disappeared – ostracizion is an excruciating punishment to endure. No one called. I focused on providing for and raising three small children. It was beyond difficult.

    Seven years later, a small prayer suddenly emitted from my soul, three short words – and within three hours, happened to meet a compassionate, completely present man who saw me like no one ever has in my life. A human, being. I instantly and suddenly lost my grip on the thread of a branch I’d been holding fast to my entire life and fell hard, unable to save myself in any way. I laid, awake, at the bottom of the mountain, breathing, but barely alive, grateful to finally know I was barely alive, no longer able to keep up the brave front of pretense.

    For the next two decades this man was the only human being who called me every day to see how I was, to invite me for coffee or a meal together, to tell my children all the benefits they were receiving from me as their mother, to treat me as if I was a human being, like no human being had treated me before. He sensed every time I was crying inside as I said the words, “I’m fine”.

    I still am not able to read myself clearly or provide for myself fully. I struggle with seeing my value.I find social situations incredibly stressful. The world remains dangerous and I, still unable to read other people’s intentions, walk into landmines intact others would know to avoid.

    This man has become like my seeing eye companion. He is keenly attuned to need and responds quickly, wholeheartedly. But he worships idols – was born and raised in such a culture. In light of Paul’s admonition, how do I separate myself from the closest I’ve come to love (as far as I can tell) and stand alone and apart again? This man would see this as an evil act, heartless and cruel.

    I have gone back to church – this one, that one. I soon discover each are more of the same that brought such harm into my life decades before. Some were closer to Christ’s love, I thought, from appearances and statements, but when situations tested the truth (the rubber hits the road), the cold reality was exposed. I return home, heart crushed, spirit deflated. I no longer go out. I can’t survive another loss.

    My body has broken down to the point of disability. I pray healing verses. I pray for more faith. I pray for a way to earn income so I can be self-sufficient. I pray for those who avoid contact with the broken pieces of people, even when he or she is their own. I pray for ministers. I pray for priests. I pray for kings. I pray for Christ to come.

    Still, something’s missing.

    This verse just came to me and I wonder about it still: what did Jesus mean when He said to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling?

    Is it relevant to this?

  6. Dear Witness,

    I have read your comment several times since it first appeared in my email inbox. I have no advice or sage wisdom. Just an acknowledgement of the inner power and empathy that you have gained from your pain. And a prayer that you might find joy and/or peace in the midst of your suffering.

    Blessings, Bob

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