God and the Silent Treatment

[Word count: 869. Approximate read time: 3-4 minutes]

“I— I got a question
I got a question
Where are you?
Did you leave me unbreakable?
Leave me frozen?
I’ve never felt so cold
I thought you were silent
I thought you left me
For the wreckage and the waste
On an empty beach of faith
Was it true?”

— Jars of Clay, “Silence

IgnoreMeWhat kind of Christian song is this? I don’t recognize any scripture. These lyrics aren’t uplifting. They’re fraught with doubt! Preposterous! Jars of Clay must have fallen away from God because of their crossover compromising. I must call my local Christian bookstore and alert them right away before someone loses faith. Oh, Jesus be a compact disc recall.

Psych. I love this song. Adore it to the core, depressing lyrics and all. And though it’s the sullen cousin of a funeral dirge, the fact that it exists comforts me. That means someone else has gotten the silent treatment from God and lived to tell about it.

In the bible, David, the man after God’s own heart, wrote many psalms of lament. Clearly, their intimate relationship had good days and bad days.

“…How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide Your face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, Having sorrow in my heart daily?” —an excerpt from Psalm 13.

Davey poses a good question. If God loves us, why would he leave us feeling so utterly unattended, fully knowing how it can make us go stir crazy?

Ashes to ashes

Feeling like God was not responding to me was one reason I left my church. I thought if being in this environment isn’t getting me a pass to cut the line and get closer to God faster, then why stay?

One particularly frustrating day, I was sitting in service and scores of people around me, in front, behind, and alongside seemed to be having ecstatically emotional experiences of a divine nature. More commonly put, the Holy Spirit was moving. God, how I envied them. I couldn’t tell if their joy was conjured or authentically given, but I believed the latter and desperately wanted some for myself.

Their hands extended longingly like a toddler pleading a parent’s pick-up. Tears rolled down, tissue boxes emptied of their contents lined the aisles, and the sound of a thousand burdens lifted rose through the sanctuary’s ceiling in song.

I felt nothing. Stoic as a stone. It’s not as though I were holding myself back from joining in with their choruses of adoration. I wished I was compelled to join. I just wasn’t. I wasn’t compelled to do anything. Oh to be like Jeremiah and, enrapt in affection for the lover of my soul, proclaim “But if I say, ‘I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” (Jeremiah 20:9)

Nope. Nothing. There was no fire in my bones. Only ashes. Evidence I was once ablaze, smoldered to a cold, gray dust.

Chopped liver

I felt a bit abandoned. It seemed the Holy Spirit was doing the Harlem shake with everyone in the room except me. That was the time, if ever there was one, to plead “Savior, savior, hear my humble cry; while on others thou art calling, do not pass me by.” No, really. Where are you going? I need you. Please don’t pretend deaf. Not now.

I recently read a piece about how the silent treatment hurts more than words and can cause physical pain. What a punishment. And just like a child, I readily assume this grand catastrophe is all my fault. Well if everything’s okay, why aren’t you talking to me? Did I not do the dance right? Did I miss a step? Are there I’s not dotted? T’s uncrossed? Just tell me if it’s my fault. Is it something I did? Is it everything I’m doing? Is just it me? Am I just a bad son?

“Are you listening to anything that I say?
‘Cause I’ve been prayin’
How many prayers can I pray?
I’m still waitin’
Maybe you’ll show up today
I know you’re here, but I can’t feel you
And if you’re speaking, I can’t hear you
How much longer will this last?”

— Joy Williams, “Silence

This is not one of those entries that I have a tidy answer to. So if you have some constructive input, I would love to hear it. I am very disheartened. Does God not intend to ever again electrify me from the inside out as he once did? If I want to feel that again, will I have to manufacture it and hope it catches on, validating that deplorable “fake it ’til you make it” school of thought? Are my savior and I to become like a frigid couple who stay together for the kids while the private thrill is all but gone?

I don’t know. I sincerely hope not. I know God’s not dead. And I know he’s listening. But as for why he avoids me, I think he’s got some explaining to do.

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11 thoughts on “God and the Silent Treatment

  1. Maybe God is talking to you, He’s just changed your language. Searching for THAT feeling may be hindering you from understanding what He’s got to say. I am not an emotional nor emotive person, so I don’t think I’ll ever have that experience. But God answers my prayers all the time and he connects with me through the words of others and the beauty in nature. When I feel myself connect with another human being, I know that is Him. Learn some new languages.

  2. This song reminds me of Barlow Girl’s “Never Alone.” That’s my go-to song when I’m feeling like this. So I definitely know the feeling you’re describing. “God, are you ignoring me? And if so, it must be with PURPOSE, right? Maybe you just want to show me the answer instead of telling me.” Whatever the reason, the frustration is very real.

    In these times, I let myself feel however I’m going to feel, try and focus my thoughts on the TRUTH and pray, “God, please don’t let me get too far away. I can’t see what you’re doing. I can’t hear you speaking clearly. But you said you’d never leave me. So I know you’re there. While I’m in this foggy place, just don’t let me stray too far from you. Keep my close in your sights.”

  3. The time when you felt closest to God in your walk with Him…that time when He was so close to you and your relationship with Him was at its most genuine, is still real. THAT was real. The realization that you’ve had from the people that have influenced you is something that has always been. Those people that let you down were who they were even back when your closeness to God was real. The people were who they were, you just didn’t realize it. Hold tight to that place of you and God, bcz THAT is what is real…. Hold on to that.

  4. Here’s my essay.

    We all have those periods of time in our lives. As the cliche goes “If you feel far from God, who moved? You or God?” Isaiah 43:1-7 is the scripture I always go to when I feel far from God. Especially verse 6. It tells me “No matter how far I feel from God, he is always able to bring me back to Him.”

    God, directionally speaking, is never far. We, however are subject to so many barriers in our relationship to him that disrupt our intimacy.

    On Sunday morning, are we concerned with other people believing that we have this deep, spiritual walk with God? I can’t imagine the holy spirit would want to “do the Harlem shake” with someone who’s only aware of his existence once a week.

    God isn’t giving you the silent treatment. That book we dust off once a week to bring to church, is His means of talking to us. When we pick it up, and get lost trying to find Titus or Habakkuk we are saying “God, you are not worth enough of my time for me to study what you have to say everyday. I’m going to ‘turn you off’ during the week, and turn up the volume when I’m around other Christians.”

    A preacher once told me the bible isn’t just a bunch of books, history, and rules. It’s God TALKING to us. If you want God to start talking, open it up. His voice is in each and every line, syllable, clause, sentence, and verse.

    When we as Christians, truly begin to understand God, we’ll have fewer things to ask Him, fewer reasons to complain to Him, and less selfish things to say in prayer to Him. But even in our insolence, selfishness, and pride, God hears my prayers, even if He doesn’t respond. The more I read my word, the more I realize how foolishly I prayed, and then I say “That’s why I didn’t get an answer.”

    We have no reason to dance in the presence of God if we have no idea who He is, and if we have no relationship with Him outside of the church.

    Open your bible, to whatever book you want to start in and say, “Lord, I’m listening.”

  5. Interesting that my weekly update from your blog came thru when it did, b/c an hour before I was having a similar chat w/our mutual friend. I suppose the logical thing for me to do is to wait to hear how the suggestion I am about to give you worked for him before I pose it to you, but I’m gonna trust that “…our God is bigger than all the problems that come across my path…”.

    1) Ask God a question. 2) Quiet yourself on the inside & outwardly {will help to find solitude}. 3) Is it truly like crickets chirping? Seriously? Or do you hear/feel/perceive/envision things that seem disjointed, jumbled, faint, one-word, silly/stupid/sacreligious-sounding, or like it’s from your own imagination etc? 4) Whatever you “get”, write it down as quickly & fully as you can and keep writing until the well seems dry. 5) Rinse & repeat.

    Remember that spiritual things are spiritually discerned [1 Cor 2:14]. Sometimes, especially those of us particularly analytical or otherwise wrapped up in the “natural” order of things, get hung up on the analysis (thinking). Since God IS Spirit, it would imply that we need to hear Him thru our own spirit in order to properly discern/understand/& even hear Him. Writing it down (whatever “it” is) gives ourselves permission to analyze everything… LATER… without stopping the flow in the moment. THEN go over it to decipher and suss out meanings, validity, accuracy etc. Another important step especially in the beginning stages of learning to better hear His voice in this way, is to bring trusted, spiritually-mature friends into the discernment process. It’ll help to have additional eyes, brains, etc read and then discuss what you’re hearing from the Lord. Over time it’ll be quicker and easier to determine what’s Him and what’s from the distractions and garbage (that’s gar- bAHge in my best fake-French accent) of life. Our minds are God-given & important, but need to be enlisted in the proper order/timing, especially for spiritual matters. Holy Spirit will “…teach us all things…” [John 14:26], so let Him teach our spirits and then our spirits can teach our minds.

    By golly that was long. If you have questions/comments, let us chat. Peace. 🙂

    • As I understand it now, I just don’t hear as OFTEN as I would like. Some say God either answers “yes,” “no,” or “not yet.” The delay was driving me nuts. But you best believe when the faucet started flowing again, I was furiously writing down every detail. So now I just have to “rinse and repeat.”

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  8. Here’s hoping that you’ve heard from God by now. However, God does “silence” better than anyone. Supreme Being of the universe, Sovereign, Creator… quite simply He does when, what, where and how on His terms. However, whatever He does is fueled in love. God speaks, He sings (Zephaniah 3), but He also is silent at times. Every believer experiences the silent treatment; as in any relationship. I can fully imagine the lyrics from Jars of Clay’s “Silence”, being sung to me by God. God can seem elusive, yet He welcomes all to know Him; and has made Himself known through Jesus Christ and His Word. He encourages us to seek, to reason, to know Him. Ah, getting to know Him- is the process, the chase, that makes the journey worth it! My real concern is that you left the church because you were not experiencing what others were. Hmm, it is my sincere hope that you have returned. The enemy would have you leave. That’s one of his best MOs- don’t fall for that.

  9. Try searching Dark Night of the Soul. You might find a Chuck Colson article. He says the evangelical church does very little to prepare us for the silence of God. And the bad news is it seems to happen more and more as the faith deepens. The argument is that God demonstrates himself more often in the face of young or new belief to reassure the budding faith, but then tests and strengthens faith through silence. How do you know your faith isn’t just an emotional experience without taking the emotional experience away?

    I have grown quite frustrated with the belief that if I’m not hearing from God or not feeling him that is due to sin or I’m not listening. I had this conversation recently where the suggested antidote seemed to be to pray more or read my Bible more, as if God’s presence will be made known to me as if he is some genie in a bottle.

    I’ve seen too many people strive for the close connection to God, to sincerely search for him, and experience no reprieve,to not think this is a common experience for every pilgrim.

    I believe it is more common than people want to admit as there seems to be some shame in not experiencing him every moment. Quite frankly, I think I might find that exhausting.

    I’m learning to rest in the silence, to know more than feel, to believe anyway. I’m coming to the point where I’m OK with playing the fool when it comes to God.

    • I’m cursorily familiar with The Dark Night of the Soul, and made reference to it in “The Darkest Night,” but I’m sure there’s more to be told on it.

      I appreciate your “How do you know your faith isn’t just an emotional experience without taking the emotional experience away” statement most! I have the same question among others!

      Someone else suggested that we learn from certain church cultures that we need to be “experiencing him every moment.” Maybe that’s the next misunderstanding I need to work on shedding.

      Thanks, Vicki! 🙂

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