As controversial as it may be to reject the greeting card theology that God never leaves us, my own reality and my own sense of abandonment has, at times, compelled me to believe otherwise.
Somewhere in our Christian culture we have been inundated with the false idea that God never leaves us. We somehow cling to the “footprints in the sand” concept that when it feels like we are all alone God was really there carrying us all along. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people emotionally declare with the utmost conviction that God will never leave us—he’s always there. That’s fine for them, I suppose. Yet I can’t tell you how hurtful it feels to hear someone say that when your reality is that you are completely alone, treading water in the middle of a stormy sea. As controversial as it may be to reject the greeting card theology that God never leaves us, my own reality and my own sense of abandonment during my lifelong struggle with lung disease and life on a feeding tube, has, at times, compelled me to believe otherwise. And yet I remain faithful.
Anyone who has children and has tried to teach them to do anything in life knows that sometimes you have to step away and leave them alone.
Anyone who has children and has tried to teach them to do anything in life knows that sometimes you have to step away and leave them alone. You have to let them struggle. If the child is always clinging to her father in the deep end of the swimming pool or wearing a life jacket, how will she ever learn to swim? If the father never takes off the training wheels on the bicycle how will the child ever learn to balance the bicycle on his own? If the toddler never lets go of his mother’s hand he’ll never learn to walk. Of course God leaves us to struggle on our own best efforts at times. Does that make him a cruel and merciless God? Absolutely not. Indeed, true cruelty is to molly-coddle us, never allowing us to experience true growth.
… one day a microburst wind blew in, toppling the giant tree in a matter of seconds
We have a family cabin near Yellowstone Park, Wyoming. It sits in the midst of many tall, lodge pole pines. For many years there was one particular lodge pole pine that seemed taller and straighter than the rest. It was situated right on the bank of a small creek running through the property. The waters of the creek provided constant nourishment for the tree and greatly aided its tremendous growth. For dozens of years, perhaps more than a hundred years, this tree stood on the banks of the creek looking down upon all the other pine trees. But then one day a microburst wind blew in, toppling the giant tree in a matter of seconds (and, unfortunately, causing it to land on our family cabin).
How could something so seemingly strong and resolute be taken down so suddenly? How could something so seemingly superior to those around it be the one to fall? It’s because in all its years of growth the tree was never far from its source of strength and nourishment. The constant supply of water had actually weakened its root system. Unlike all the other isolated pines around it, which were forced to dig their roots deeper for strength and nourishment, this stream bank tree grew upward but did not have to sink its roots downward, for there was a constant and cripplingly convenient supply of water right there on the banks of the stream. The source of its strength had actually become its weakness.
Sometimes the greatest blessing that can come to us is to experience the true growth that results from being left alone to struggle through the deep end of life without parent or preserver.
Like the strong trees that survived the microburst winds, strong people need to be left on their own. Sometimes the greatest blessing that can come to us is to experience the true growth that results from being left alone to struggle through the deep end of life without parent or preserver. What we learn about ourselves and the growth that we achieve in those moments of being “forsaken” can sustain us throughout this stormy life.
While I do not reject the idea that God sometimes carries us along unawares, to believe that God never leaves us to struggle and suffer on our own is sheer nonsense. Yes, God will forsake us. “God … trieth our hearts.” (1 Thessalonians 2:4.) God “chasteneth” and “scourgeth” us. (Hebrews 12:6.) In his great wisdom and mercy he sometimes leaves us alone.
Suffering is part of being a Christian.
Suffering is part of being a Christian. “Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps[.]” (1 Peter 2:21.) In other words, we must suffer with Christ, which means we, too, will be forsaken as he was forsaken. (Matthew 27:46.) Thus, when—not if, but when—you are forsaken, you should “think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings[.]” (1 Peter 4:12.) Abandonment is a sign of spiritual progress. It’s a sign you’ve made the big leagues. It’s part of what brings you into fellowship with Christ.
This forsaking is a manifestation of God’s love. It’s a token of his trust. Mom and Dad won’t leave you home alone unless they think you can handle it. With God it’s no different. And yet, just as the father is never too far from the wobbling bike or the edge of the deep end, so, too, is our Father ever near and ever watching. Though he, in his great wisdom and mercy, deliberately leaves you alone when he thinks you can handle it or, perhaps, when you need growth; to be forsaken does not mean to be forgotten. He hears your cries for help. But sometimes he ignores them for your own good.
He knows that if he dives in too soon or grabs the back of the bicycle you will never know the joy and freedom you are capable of attaining.
He knows that if he dives in too soon or grabs the back of the bicycle you will never know the joy and freedom you are capable of attaining. He’ll let you wobble and even skin your knee (even though to us mortals a “skinned knee” may come in the form of lung disease or gastric paralysis). He’ll let you struggle to keep your head above water and watch you struggle with all your might to make it to the other side of the pool. And he’ll be there to embrace you in the end. Though you are, at times, truly “forsaken,” you are never forgotten.