When God is Gone

Paintings_from_Inside_Cars_in_the_Rain_Gregory_Thielker1

 

It was the strong kind of wind that you feel when you’re closed up in your car driving fast down the freeway. The summer was fighting its fade into fall with one last blustery storm. I sped down 694 and felt like I didn’t need the wind to blow me away, I was already overcome.

Fingers clutched with knuckles white over the wheel, eyes seeped with tears, breath labored and curt.

I slowed up on my street, and I knew I couldn’t go home. Not in this state. So I pulled into the parking lot by the lake, and as the rain pelted hard on my car, I fell completely apart.

 

A few days before, I took one brave step out of the closet to my therapist. Every day, for a year, I carried with me a small crease-closed note with my secret scrawled inside, and, every day, I would hand it over then snatch it back. It never was the right time.

But then, one day, I made her promise to not give it back. My mind was made up, I said. She nodded and she understood and I reached out my arm with it pinched between my thumb and forefinger. She snatched it and I collapsed on the couch. Breath was labored and curt. I was overcome with the fact that I was still gay.

What I believed would happen went something like this: I tell her “I’m gay”, and suddenly, those words from thoughts sound so absurd out loud, and, abruptly, my attractions cease to exist and I am left there redeemed and victorious and straight and jumping up and down on the couch like its Christmas and I’m five.

I thought that’s what God wanted me to do. Just confess. And then he’d help.

Instead, it felt like the sheet had been pulled and I was lying naked on that couch under hot fluorescent lights. There was no freedom in that confession, no liberation, just divine disappointment. Wide-open exposure.

I stood up, dusted off my pants and as she pleaded for me to wait, I looked at her and said,

 

“I have to go.”

 

Those brick walls that had insulated me for so long had been broken, and I thought I would only feel the airy chill in that closed off office, but I felt it in every room, every house, my own car- all alone.

Even in that inky black rainy and windy night.

Inside the locked car, I was exposed.

And I wanted Him to cover me.

 

The dark midnight hour pressed in and the flat lake never looked so low. The distance between the surface and the black muddled sky was my soul relative to my “savior.” I was broken, a shattered heart, and he was nowhere near, even though he swore long ago he would be.

 

“If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there;
if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath.” -Psalm 34:18 (MSG)

 

But what if he won’t?

What if I sat in my car, cracked and still crumbling, opening palms flat below the sky to nothing? What if there wasn’t some breezy presence bringing the air back to my lungs? What if I was hanging on the thinnest thread with the heaviest boots and God felt utterly uninterested?

***


This night haunted me for a long time. It seemed to be an affirmation of a God that doesn’t love people like me. A God so quiet, so unresponsive.


 

Yet, there was the cross and there was the scriptures saying He carved my name on His hands and I had to reckon with a God as mysterious as that.

 

Completely silent at my worst moment and annoyingly loud at my best.

 

Now, years removed, I believe that this is one of those nights that can only be understood in reverse- When God feels furthest away, he has never been closer.

I get how backwards that sounds.

 

But the truth is, God gave me the space I needed to speak out every wretched thought I had about Him and this whole cold world He created. To bang as hard as I could on His chest. To reach the peak of ultimate honesty. The place beyond the cutesy words and comforting clichés. Where everything is just raw and instinctual.

He wanted me to stop coming to Him so scared and polite and nice. He wanted me to cut out the bullshit and be completely honest. Completely truthful. Allow the most unholy words to make for the holiest of moments.

And it was that night that I started my slow, baby step walk out the closet. It was that night that I started to realize that God had put people in my life, all around me, that had ears to hear and arms to hold. That they expressed His love in a different, imperfect, but tangible way that I needed to have in my life.

Maybe you’ve felt this way too. Maybe you’ve only heard faint echoes of a God that lives a world away. But that doesn’t mean He isn’t as close as can be, sitting right there in the passenger’s seat, in the middle of the night, in the middle of the storm, letting you scream out every lie you ever believed about Him.

Just waiting, patiently, for you to realize that the God you speak of is not the God that’s there. You got the wrong idea about Him, and if it takes an exhaustion of your heart and spirit and mouth to find that, then his silence is the most loving thing he can do for you.

RR