Over the years, there have been times in my life when I would have given a really active answer to the question “How has God been at work in your life or the communities that surround you?” For example, God nudged me outside my comfort zone to go on a mission trip to New Orleans with this church I’d only recently started attending. And God went along with us on that trip, and God was most definitely partying with us on the roof on the beautiful day we were laying down new shingles!
But more recently I’ve been in a spiritually bleak place, where God has seemed far away, and heartfelt prayers have been answered with disappointment and sadness. Sound familiar to any of you? In my quest for comfort, I ended up borrowing a book of Taize prayers from Hannah, and a couple lines from the book really jumped out at me: “God of consolation, we are never deprived of your compassion. It is not you who is remote from us, but we who are absent.”
Something about that phrasing, and the word “absent,” instantly catapulted me back to my 4th grade homeroom teacher, Mrs. Griggs. That woman could whip through an attendance list in 30 seconds flat. And you had better be paying attention, and ready to say “here” the instant she called your name, or she would mark you absent, even if you were sitting right in front of her. In retrospect, I’m not sure why Mrs. Griggs was always in such a hurry, or what she did with the other 9 ½ minutes of homeroom every day – maybe eat her breakfast? Regardless, that’s pretty much my only memory of 4th grade: listening anxiously for my name to be called, so I could reply “here.”
But if Mrs. Griggs had deserved that much focused attention each day, what would happen if I now tried being equally present for God? I got into a pattern of coming home from work each day, sitting on the back stoop, and looking out at the garden. I read a few prayers that focused on God as all-knowing and ever-present. And then I didn’t ask questions, or make requests, or hunt for explanations. I just sat. And it didn’t take long before I could feel God sitting there with me on the stoop. There still weren’t any answers or explanations. But I found a lot of comfort in just sitting with someone who knows what I’m wrestling with, and who cares deeply about me – now, and for the rest of my life, and for an eternity to come.