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Is God MIA?

March 5, 2023

“Is God here with us or not?” Exodus 17:7 (The Message)

As we continue our Lenten journey into March, my thoughts turn to St. Patrick for two reasons: first, our youngest child, Peter, was born on St. Patrick’s Day; and second, like many of us, Patrick went through a time of spiritual dryness before he connected in a personal way to God.  Catholics and Protestants alike celebrate the festival of St. Patrick on March 17th, the traditional date of his death.

Patrick was taken captive in Britain in about 405 A.D. when he was almost 16 years of age.  He was taken to pagan Ireland where he was kept as a slave for six years before he escaped. Even though Patrick was the son of a deacon and the grandson of a priest in Britain, he did not know God in a personal way.   In his Confessions, he admitted “I was ignorant of the true God, and was brought to Ireland in captivity, with so many thousand persons . . .”  Patrick had to be taken as a slave to a foreign land and to suffer through a period of spiritual dryness and separation from all that was dear to him before his faith was awakened and he came to truly know and love God. 

We all go through times of spiritual dryness in our lives when God seems to be MIA–missing in action.  During these times, we feel spiritually empty. We don’t sense God’s presence. We don’t hear his voice.  God feels distant, and we wonder about whether he is there.  We can’t seem to connect with him in our prayer life.  We thirst for God, but don’t feel his presence.  We ask, “Are you there, God?”  

The theme of spiritual dryness runs through this week’s Scripture texts.[1]  Like Patrick, at times we need to suffer through difficult periods in our lives in order to be awakened to an authentic faith.  God often uses such times to draw us closer to him. 

In the Old Testament reading we see the Israelites testing God by asking with impunity whether he is even there: “Is God here with us or not?” (Exodus 17:7, The Message).  They had been ragging on Moses for bringing them into the wilderness only to die of thirst.  Like a father frustrated with an ungrateful and unruly brood, Moses cries out to God: “What can I do with these people? Any minute now they’ll kill me!” (Exodus 17: 4, The Message).  God rescued Moses and led him to a rock water fountain.  The Israelites were going through a period of spiritual dryness; they lost their faith at the first sign of trouble.  But God came through and led Moses to water. 

 The psalmist reminds the Israelites of that bit of history: “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested me; they tried me, though they had seen what I did. (Psalm 95: 8-9).

Hold On

All people of faith go through periods of spiritual dryness and periods of suffering.  Even Mother Teresa was not exempted from the “dark night of the soul.”  In her private letters she reveals that she suffered from terrible doubts and feelings of spiritual dryness and loneliness that plagued her much of her adult life.  But Paul reminds us that our suffering can ultimately bring about joy: “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5).  Mother Teresa healed many people physically and spiritually with the love of God that shone through her, even in her darkest hours.

You need to hold on. God is here with you, even if you don’t “feel” his presence. He is with you in your pain.  He feels your pain.  He feels your emptiness.  He feels your despair. He is sitting next to you, even though you can’t see him. Turn to him in prayer and be assured that he hears you.

Living Water

Jesus brings all of the Scriptures together in his discussion with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in Sychar.  He compares the water from the well to the water he offers: “Jesus answered her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water [in the well] will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’”  (John 4: 13-14).  The fact that Jesus even spoke to her was shocking because Jewish men did not speak to Samaritan women of ill repute.  By speaking to her, Jesus was broadcasting that the gospel message, his message of hope and truth, is for everyone—not just for a select few.

The words of Scripture provide assurance that God is always with us, even in times of despair and when he seems to be missing in action from our lives.  He encourages us to hang on, to drink from the well of his amazing love as revealed to us in Scripture.   Patrick wrote that during his six years of slavery “Every day I had to tend sheep, and many times a day I prayed . . . I used to get up for prayer before daylight, through snow, through rain, and I felt no harm, and there was no sloth in me—as I now see, because the spirit within me was then fervent.” 

When we pray, we lower our buckets into the bottomless well of God’s love for us and receive his living water.  We receive encouragement to go on. We receive guidance from his Word.  He puts people in our lives to assist us in our faith journey and in our struggles. We grow in faith and are assured that he will keep his promises and that he will be with us forever. 

Prayer: “May the strength of God pilot me.  May the power of God preserve me.  May the wisdom of God instruct me.  May the hand of God protect me.  May the way of God direct me.  May the shield of God defend me.” Saint Patrick

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Third Sunday in Lent are Psalm 95:1-7; Exodus 17:1-7; Romans 5:1-8; John 4: 5-26.  A similar version of this blog was published on this website in 2017.

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