You know when you were a kid, and you’d get separated from your parents? There’s that initial moment where you look around, and suddenly you realize you’re surrounded by strangers, yet terrifyingly all alone. My younger sister used to get separated from my mom all the time, or maybe it wasn’t as often as I remember, it’s just her reactions left a lasting impression on me. She would panic! We’d find her just a couple minutes later and already she was reduced to sobs with a circle of strangers around her trying to calm her down. She’d weep about how she thought my mom had left her, just abandoned her there in the store or wherever we were that day. My mom would always laugh a little and reassure her that she’d never do that. As ridiculous as it was to my mom, the thought of abandoning one of her own, the fear was very real to my sister.
What was the rule we always heard when we’d get separated? “Stay where you are and don’t move.” If we moved, it would make finding us even more difficult, because who knows where our little legs could have taken us. It was best just to stay in the last place you were before you realized you were lost. I think as I’ve gotten older, I still have that mentality. If you’re lost, stay where you are, don’t move. As an adult, I absolutely hate getting lost. I panic. In my faith, I’ve often felt lost. Like a child, in that moment of fear, I begin thinking I’ve been abandoned, thinking that the one Person who promised to never to leave me, has up and changed His mind and left me to navigate this difficult life all on my own.
Sometimes I stand still. I stay where I am, in hopes that I’ll be found.
Sometimes I reach out in the crowd, chasing anything or anyone that resembles the One from whom I’ve been separated.
And sometimes, when all else has failed, I sit down, start to weep, wondering why I’ve been abandoned.
It’s strange, because even though my little sister knew deep down of my mom’s love for her, she still had that fear that someday my mom would just walk away and not come back. I know that the Lord loves me. I know that He’s promised that He’ll never leave me or forsake me… but sometimes His presence isn’t always near. Sometimes that still small voice is just a little too small to be heard in all the distractions around. For a time, I’ll usually stand still and wait, like my mom taught me. Praying that He’ll return, praying that this is just a test. Praying that He’ll find me soon, because already I feel like I’m drowning. Then, after standing still for a time, I decide to do something about this situation. I decide to take matters into my own hands and go out and search for Him. Surely, He meant what He said. Surely He loves me and is just as afraid as I am. Surely, He’s looking for me. So I step out… Oh, there He is! I chase after Him, calling out His name, hoping He'll turn and look at me, and sweep me up in an embrace. Finally, I reach for His sleeve, look up expecting to see his familiar face, only to find the cold eyes of a stranger. I was so convinced it was Him. But wait! I think I see Him across the way and again, race off to meet Him, shouting joyfully that I’d found Him! When I reach Him, I realize I was mistaken, again. Only this time, this stranger, with his dark eyes, but tempting smile, invites me to come home with him. He promises that he’ll take care of me and love me more than the One that I was looking for. He promises he can give me everything I need and more. And so… I go. At first, I glance back in hopes of spotting Him, in hopes that He’ll break through the crowd and come and get me. Then, feeling defeated, I look back into the eyes of the stranger, grab his hand, and go willingly.
It’s all too easy. I feel alone, and I fall into sins or temptations, not because I’m trying to be disobedient, but because they promise something that was lost when I lost that community with the Lord. Some of the things I chase after because they’ve been disguised to look an awful lot like what I’m looking for… like seminary or church activities. They’re not bad, but they’re not the Lord. Some of the things I chase after because they feel good, they feel like love, they feel like hope, they numb, they distract. I fall easily into those temptations, because I so badly want to feel whole again, to know that I haven’t been abandoned. I don’t know what’s worse, standing still, hoping to be found… or chasing after something that will temporarily dull the pain. It seems to me, in my own experiences, that they both have the same result… I still feel alone and scared.
I fill my life with temporary satisfaction, useless knowledge, and empty joy. Eventually, I get to a place where I realize my colossal mistake. I'm too tired to go on, to pick up and resume my search. So I sit down, like a child, and weep. I've looked everywhere. I've tried to replace Him with something else.... yet there's still a hole in my heart, a place reserved only for Him. It's in that moment, that moment of desperation, that place where I feel like I can't go on, where I feel like I should give up, it's in that moment, that I look up and see His face. It doesn't matter how long I've been gone or how long I've been searching, all that matters is that He's there, holding me, reminding me that He promised He'd never leave, that I shouldn't have walked away, because He had been there the whole time.
It’s in these dark times that I am constantly having to remind myself that He will never leave me (Deuteronomy 31:6). When I can’t see Him, I must trust that He’s there. When I can’t feel Him, I must believe that there is a purpose. I must refuse to stand still, but to press on toward the goal that’s been given to me (Philippians 3:14), I must continue to grow in my relationship with Him. He knows everything about me, so I must dive into the Word, so that I can know more about my Creator… even when I can’t feel Him, I have His Word. I call out to Him and trust that He hears my cry (Psalm 34:17). It’s a battle not to get distracted by the “strangers” who offer love and hope, and often times I have to test out those offers before I realize the emptiness of their promises. Oftentimes, those "strangers" are on the same search as me, they're looking for a way to feel whole, to feel love, to feel anything and everything but abandoned. When they've found a temporary fix that seems to be working to rid themselves of the feelings of hopelessness, they're all too eager to help those around them. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been told time and time again that He will never abandon me. It doesn’t matter that He promises He’ll always be there, and that He alone satisfies, that moment where I can’t see Him, when I feel alone and lost, in that initial moment, that fear is very real, and every fiber of my being wants to do what it takes to get rid of the panic.
I remember a few times, when my sisters and I would go shopping with my mom, and of course, my younger sister would get separated from the group. She’d start screaming and crying almost immediately, for fear that she’d been left in the store… it was then that my mom would pop her head over a clothes rack and tell Sarah that she had been there all along. Sarah, being a child, couldn’t see over the clothes, but was unaware that my mom could still see her. She felt as if, but had in fact never been lost at all.
Just because He’s out of my sight, doesn’t mean that I’m out of His.
So I cling to His promises and move forward, knowing in my heart that He’s there... I learn from the things that have distracted me in the past and try with all I have not to be tempted. I don't know why He allows us to feel a fear that is so very real, a fear that I'm alone and abandoned... but if I just trust Him and His promises, eventually that fear will subside.