There’s yet one more reason some of us struggle to “feel” the presence of Jesus: We haven’t given ourselves permission to feel much of anything at all. “Pour out your heart before Him,” David beckons (Psalm 62:8). But how difficult this is for those of us who have been taught that in our walk with God, feelings themselves are inferior and insignificant compared to discipline, effort, and performance. That was the case with my friend Abby, a vivacious, gifted twenty-year-old I met a few years back in a class I was teaching at Ecola Bible College on the Oregon coast. One evening we sat down at Mo’s Seafood and Chowder on the water, and she told me her story:
I’m the oldest of seven kids raised in a missionary pastor’s home, and I’ve spent my whole life following the rules. I attended church several times a week, and by the time I graduated from high school, I’d read the Bible through at least four times. I still read it every morning—I’m supposed to, right? But I’m bored stiff. The truth is, Pastor Kevin, though I’ve tried everything to feel close to God—I don’t. In fact, I’ve spent my first twenty years trying to be the tough one—keeping everyone else’s spirits up and bottling hurts from friends and when I did feel something painful, telling myself I needed to stop being a baby and get over it. So deep inside I not only don’t feel God or his love for me—I simply . . . don’t . . . feel. So, what do I do?
Sound like anyone you know? Maybe Abby’s heart that evening reflects your own frustrated heart just now. If so, listen carefully. “Abby,” I said tenderly, “it’s time to get alone—and maybe for the first time in your life, have a real talk with God. Tell him your truth. Shout, scream—pour your heart out to him. Let him know how you feel . . . about everything. Don’t hold anything back, even if you’re angry, even if you say things you never thought you could say to God. He loves you. He’s your Father. He can handle it. In fact, I promise you—he’s been waiting for this moment for a long, long time.”
The next day, Abby wandered in the gray Oregon drizzle to the underside of a nearby bridge, where she turned an emotional corner with her God. “At first, words weren’t coming,” she told me later. “Then I said, ‘God,’ and with surprising difficulty, ‘Father.’ But it was when I muttered, ‘I’m angry’ that the fountain erupted. For the first time in my life, I allowed myself to feel with God. I was screaming and crying, ‘Why have you always been so distant? I’ve tried so hard to be close to you. And yet, I feel nothing. What’s wrong with me? Please show me you love me and care for me. Please.’”
Don’t miss this: The first time Abby allowed herself to feel with God . . . is the first time she felt God’s presence with her—“a calming peace came over me,” she said. And then, deep in her spirit, she heard his voice:
Abby, I see your heart. You’ve always tried to be strong, but you need me. Let me help you.
Abby said, “In the past, whenever I pictured God, it was with his back to me. He was too busy helping the neglected, hurting people in the world to tend to the ‘good kid.’ But that day, for the first time in my life, I felt like God looked right at me. It was his tender, loving gaze—focused not just on the world but on me, his daughter—that finally broke through.” You know what else Abby told me as we reminisced about that life-changing afternoon? As she poured out her heart to God, she finally felt released from the pressure to perform.