We get ourselves into trouble when we expect direct, visible growth. I had lofty expectations for spiritual growth during my time at Clemson. Aside from a few national championships in football, I anticipated drawing closer to Jesus, finding a community, and discovering clarity in my future: namely an aspiration for ministry.
Yet the only clarity I found was that I, for whatever reason, was not written into God’s plan. I wrestled with doubt and begged God to relieve me of the burden of constant questioning. The response I heard was not a powerful or even a polite refusal—I heard nothing. Absolutely nothing. I was depressed, I felt abandoned, and quite honestly I felt a bit pissed off. To me it seemed as if God had been leading me by the hand to a life of ministry and then just left me, cold and alone. Even worse, I would resent friends who were growing closer to Jesus because I was jealous that, metaphorically, Jesus had taken them by the hand while leaving me lost and looking. I felt like a lost, wandering, meaningless orphan. And worse yet, Clemson went 6-7, in as much of a tailspin as I was.
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?
In Psalm 13, David wrote those words to God. They felt like they had come on a telegram from my soul. I understood why God wasn’t felt by those who refused to seek him, but I was actually trying to seek Him. I was pleading God to remember me and show Himself to me. But I detected no response.
I’ll never claim to know the Will of God, but I do believe there was value in the suffering. Romans 5:3-5 says that ‘suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.’ And it was true. After two and a half years of desperation and perceived isolation from God, I could feel his hand and hope again.
But that’s all it was all along – a perceived isolation from God. He was no less with me after the storm than he was in my darkness. He was no less with me when I only bothered to pray once a month then when I prayed daily. He was there, regardless of what I did or how I felt or who I felt. Through it all I learned not to base my perception of Jesus’ closeness and compassion on something so untrustworthy as emotions and feelings.
The process was a lot more painful and took a lot longer than I wish it did, but the most meaningful spiritual growth in my life occurred during and directly after this most trying part. CS Lewis wrote – ‘He(God) relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else.’
Why does God rely on troughs? It’s because real faith is truly born ‘when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do God’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.’ – CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
-Big G aka Gray Segars, UMin Intern