I still remember the way the chair squealed slightly as she twisted toward me. I remember the thinly veiled urgency in her voice as she looked at me with pleading eyes and asked me: ‘Where is He?!’
I remember the rasp of desperation in her tone and I remember feeling a moment of doubt. It was one of the first times I realized that my churchey answers weren’t enough for the hurting and the broken. My simple and shallow theology didn’t know what to do with a God who wasn’t showing up.
For six months, my friend and co-worker had been struggling with apathy toward God. She had cried out God to persevere her, to interrupt and to rescue her from the indifference in her heart. And for six months I had told her the same thing each day when we came to work together: keep reading your bible, keep praying, He’ll show up!
But that day the words got stuck in my throat, caught on doubt and confusion. Could I really promise her that one day soon He would make her feel all better? And if so, when? Was our God really someone we could coerce into making an appearance?
Another co-worker chose that moment to enter our office. Immediately he noticed the tension in the room, and with his typical fashion, he addressed it pretty directly with a disarming joke and then his voice softened as he asked her what was going on.
She explained it to him with a sharp edge in her voice, that could have been mistaken for anger if not for the moisture in her eyes: ‘He promises to persevere me, but He isn’t. I keep praying and nothing is changing. Nothing is happening. So what? Which is it: His promises are lies, He’s not real, or I’m not His?’
She leaned back, arms crossed. Testing him. Testing me. Begging us to say something that would make sense of the pain of a silent Savior.
He just stared at us both for a long moment, and then, looking genuinely confused, he said: ‘He IS persevering you. Why else would you be praying?’
We both looked at him startled as he turned our perspective on its head. ‘The fact that you are still praying is evidence that He is answering your prayers. Your prayers prove that He IS working in you, He IS showing up.”
I’ve thought about that moment a lot. It reversed my perspective on spiritual disciplines – seeing them not primarily as offerings for God, but as gifts from Him. Every time I crack the pages of this book we call the Bible, I breathe a prayer of thankfulness that I’ve been given the grace to hunger for Him again.
It’s been almost six years since that day. I’ve watched the woman who swiveled toward me in our little box of an office become a warrior for our Lord. I’ve buried the body of that man, poured out for our Father.
Now, more than ever, that conversation in our office resonates with me.
I thought about it two months ago when I was driving home from a long day and suddenly all the pain and confusion burst out and I yelled out to God: Help me! Why won’t you help me??? And before the sound of those cries had even evaporated from the air, I could hear the truth ringing in their desperation: He IS helping me. If He had really abandoned me, then I would not be crying out to him for help.
I thought about it today, as I crawled into this coffee shop, wondering how far I have drifted and wondering if this is what it feels like to fall away. I thought about it as I begged Him in my journaled prayers to fight for me! And even as the words emerged from my pen I could see the evidence in each letter, the gentle and steady whisper to my soul: I Am. I am fighting for you. And I’m winning. Why else would you be sitting here at my feet today?
Sometimes perseverance doesn’t look like shining and polished conformity to the commands of God. Sometimes it doesn’t look like effervescent joy every time you hear His name. Sometimes it looks like Jacob: wrestling in the dark with a God we cannot see, holding fast to Him, refusing to let go, no matter how hard it gets.