The experience of God may be rare or frequent, but few of us experience God at all times. During the intervals we need faith, [which] requires us to act as though we were aware of God’s presence at all times. –Anne Curo, quoted in Practicing Peace by Catherine Whitmire
At times I have been vividly aware of God’s presence and guidance. Sometimes this has been a comfort and a joy beyond words. Sometimes it has been a relief, bringing clarity after long uncertainty. Sometimes it has been daunting, revealing my unfaithfulness and requiring me to change my ways. However I feel about it, the presence is real, clear, beyond doubt. When there is guidance, I feel almost compelled to change my life in accordance with it.
And then there is the rest of the time. A lot of the time. The time when I don’t feel or experience God’s presence. During this time it’s hard to remember what the presence felt like. During this time it’s easy to doubt the guidance, especially if I’ve been asked to do something difficult, tiring, lonely or not apparently successful.
I think many of us have simplified our lives and stepped back in some ways from the wider economy and culture in response to a call from God. As well as knowing how to grow and find food even in crazy weather and how to take care of our neighbors even in lean and fearful times, we need to prepare for hard times by learning how to live in faithfulness to this call during the times when God feels far from us.
Faithfulness requires us to persist, to keep doing what we were told to do as well as we know how to. As James reminds us, “we consider blessed those who have persevered.”
It also requires us to persevere in a certain spirit. We must not act self-righteously. (When I’m aware of God’s presence I am not capable of self-righteousness. In between…well, that’s another story.) We must not act grudgingly. When I know God’s presence I don’t resent the things I have lost or laid down.
And, since we will fail at all these things, we need to forgive ourselves—as God forgives us, whether we feel it or not—and return to working and to waiting quietly for God’s nearness to make itself felt again.