I read sometimes about the phenomenon of God withdrawing from a soul or withdrawing consolations for a time, and I don’t believe a word of it. I can’t think of a greater nonsense than distance from God. Sure, there’s always the possibility that one has turned one’s attention aside a bit or mixed lies into one’s thoughts or habits. That happens to everyone sometimes, because we aren’t perfect. We’re all still learning, and even our best intentions are inexpert and wobbly like the steps of toddlers. But God never turns away from us.
Still, every person goes through periods of feeling deeply nourished by prayer and study, and times when they feel “dry” or drowning, alone or afraid. I’ve been told by well-meaning people that God steps away from people so they can know more fully what to cherish. But I don’t believe it. God doesn’t abandon us in order to teach us that we like and need Him, any more than we would leave our children in the woods so they would appreciate being in the family or pull fish out of the water for a bit so they can appreciate respiration. God who won’t let anyone or anything pluck us from His own hand, wouldn’t flick us out into the void as a learning experience.
Rather, I have come to think of the “withdrawal of consolation” as a symptom not of distance, but of acclimation. We are made to move forever closer and fuller into communion with the unlimited, inexhaustible God. We will always be outgrowing our old tolerance levels and need more.
When you acclimate to mercy, you feel your need of it ever more. There’s no self-righteousness in growing closer to God, only an awakening of the natural hunger and thirst for the righteousness of God. That righteousness is just this: that we can commune with God forever and ever, ever deeper, ever more closely, ever with new consolations.
Life with disabilities is hard enough without well-meaning people threatening you with abandonment by God. Don’t believe it if someone tells you that God has withdrawn. Don’t believe it if your own thoughts tell you that God has withdrawn. Rather, remember those words of God spoken by the prophet Isaiah, “I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” Remember the words of Christ to Mother Julian of Norwich, “I hold you quite near.” Remember the words of St. Anthony the Great, “Let Christ be as the breath you breathe.” There is no place you can go without God already being in front of you and behind you, no trial you face that is not a sharing in Christ’s own suffering, no sadness with which God is not acquainted, no sleeplessness that God sleeps through, no love that is more reckless and unconditional and hopeful and true that God isn’t its source and aim.
When I wake up in the wee hours of the night to tend to a restless child or to make sure a night fowl’s call wasn’t a child’s cry, I feel the eddies of my own uncertainty around my feet as I walk through the shadowed house. Uncertainties are the waters we walk on when we rear children with disabilities. The children’s needs are always higher than my head. I am never able to stay above water on my own. But God has not withdrawn. I have only to reach out my hand.
He has already caught me.
6 thoughts on “No Turning Back”
How wonderful to wake up to such profoundly comforting and beautiful writing. Thank you!
Excellent. It had become clear to me over time that this absence of God of turning away is most probably our response to our own sins. I like the old Shaker song Turn, turn, ever turning…
I sing that song with the kids! ‘It’s the gift to be simple. ‘It’s the gift to be free. ‘It’s the gift to come round where we ought to be, and when we find ourselves in the place just right, twill be in the valley of love and delight. When true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend we shall not be ashamed. To turn, turn, will be our delight, till by turning turning we come around right.
Thank you for these words and especially this one word “acclimate”. God is so good! Very often when I read what you write I believe God is sitting with me and saying “see, I’ve told you this truth” or “I’ve shown you this truth in your own life as it fits you uniquely” Now you mention the quote from Isaiah and Julian of Norwich and St. Anthony the Great, all comforts at different times in my life and as you mention them I am reminded of St. Patrick’s Breastplate Prayer, yet another comfort. Thank you for writing, Summer! God bless you and your beautiful family in all ways!
Thank you so much for your encouraging words! A confirmation in the Holy Spirit’s presence. I love St Patrick’s Breastplate. It’s one of my favorite songs and one that I have mostly memorized, though reading it is also a joy.