Devotions, Gratitude Psalm 22: When God Feels Distant in my Pain

By Rosie Wittleder

BY ROSIE WITTLEDER, GRACE ATTENDER

Psalm 22
“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help? Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer. Every night I lift my voice, but I find no relief. Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. Our ancestors trusted in you, and you rescued them. They cried out to you and were saved. They trusted in you and were never disgraced. But I am a worm and not a man. I am scorned and despised by all! Everyone who sees me mocks me. They sneer and shake their heads, saying, “Is this the one who relies on the Lord? Then let the Lord save him! If the Lord loves him so much, let the Lord rescue him!” Yet you brought me safely from my mother’s womb and led me to trust you at my mother’s breast. I was thrust into your arms at my birth. You have been my God from the moment I was born. Do not stay so far from me, for trouble is near, and no one else can help me. My enemies surround me like a herd of bulls; fierce bulls of Bashan have hemmed me in! Like Lions they open their jaws against me, roaring and tearing into their prey. My life is poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart is like wax, melting within me. My strength has dried up like sunbaked clay. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. You have laid me in the dust and left me for dead. My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs; an evil gang closes in on me. They have pierced my hands and feet. I can count all my bones. My enemies stare at me and gloat. They divide my garments among themselves and throw dice for my clothing. Lord, do not stay far away! You are my strength; come quickly to my aid! Save me from the sword; spare my precious life from these dogs. Snatch me from the lion’s jaws and from the horns of these wild oxen. I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters. I will praise you among your assembled people. Praise the Lord, all you who fear him! Honor him, all you descendants of Jacob! Show him reverence all you descendants of Israel! For he has not ignored or belittled the suffering of the needy. He has not turned his back on them, but has listened to their cries for help. I will praise you in the great assembly. I will fulfill my vows in the presence of those who worship you. The poor will eat and be satisfied. All who seek the Lord will praise him. Their hearts will rejoice with everlasting joy. The whole earth will acknowledge the Lord and return to him. All the families of the nations will bow down before him. For royal power belongs to the Lord. He rules all the nations. Let the rich of the earth feast and worship. Bow before him, all who are mortal, all whose lives will end as dust. Our children will also serve him. Future generations will hear about the wonders of the Lord. His righteous acts will be told to those not yet born. They will hear about everything he has done.”

Listen to Barry's sermon on Psalm 22 here.

Reflection

If anyone was honest, it was David. Today, I will follow suit. For many years I felt like God was distant in my pain. I would cry out for help, pray, read my Bible and journal on the daily – and God felt extremely distant to me. In fact, I came to the point where I felt like my efforts to reach out weren’t really making any difference at all. I can relate to many of David’s sentiments, and admire his courage to speak the truth about his feelings.

That’s when things really started to change for me – when I started getting honest about my feelings. If you’re like me, you can shut your feelings down quite easily if necessary. Or, you may be in touch with your feelings, yet you’re not honest about communicating them to God or others.

When we shy away from being honest about our true feelings, we hide our hearts from God. It then becomes impossible to experience God’s nearness, because the only way to receive comfort is through openheartedness. God is only going to heal and bring comfort to that which we are willing to expose.

Once we experience and expose our true feelings, we feel less burdened, as we begin to embrace the reality that God can handle it. God is not an overly sensitive person who is afraid to hear the truth about how we feel. Not only can he handle it, but He is inviting us to share honestly so that we can be free.

David is a constant example of this. He starts out a mess, yet you can see in psalm after psalm, He finds relief and often ends in praise or gratitude. He lays out all his dirty laundry with no shame or guilt, experiences relief, and then can feel and experience the Presence of God in his life and situation. 

I experienced much trauma and abuse as a kid. This stunted my ability to be in touch with my feelings. I learned to cope and survive by shutting down and disassociating. Then as an adult, those methods were no longer helpful. Which is why I was not experiencing the relief and change I so desperately wanted. My old coping mechanisms had expired.

I had to re-engage with those scary feelings, otherwise, I would be stuck in that story that God was distant in my pain. The truth was, He was not distant. I just could not perceive his nearness because I had shut down the whole part of my brain that experiences feelings, comfort, and genuine connection.

When I went back to those memories, I experienced the fear, vulnerability, and powerlessness all over again. And I began to get honest with God. “Where were you? How could you let this happen to me? Were you asleep on the job? Why didn’t you protect me? Was I not worth it to you? Do I not matter to you? Am I just a bother to you?”

Only when I felt those things and asked those hard questions, was I able to be comforted and hear answers that became a healing balm to my broken heart. He didn’t shame me for asking. His feelings were not hurt that I asked. And in fact, He was weeping for me the whole time. Both then and now.

As I experienced these traumas, He was with me. He was taking it as I was taking it. He was holding me. He was keeping me. He was giving me the strength to survive. He caught all of my tears and fears and held them.

And while my heart began to harden so that I could keep going, his heart did not. His heart was able to stay present. He did not disassociate. He took it all in for me emotionally, when I couldn’t. And He waited for me with open arms to come back, sit in his lap, and re-engage those feelings so I could experience the healing and freedom I so longed for.

It is our ability to get honest and stay present with our feelings, that allows us to experience the comfort He wants to give us. Comfort that says, “For He has not ignored or belittled the suffering of the needy. He has not turned his back on them, but has listened to their cries for help.”

Action Steps

How can we learn to stay in touch with our feelings more often?

  • Journaling. This has been the most effective way for me to stay awake to my feelings. Writing connects the left and right sides of our brains, giving us the ability to access our feelings more easily. Even just 5-10 minutes each day of being open and curious about how we are doing inside can make a big difference.

  • Tell a friend. There is even more impact when we call a friend to read or share what we have just written. There are many neurological benefits to this that increase brain health in astounding ways. New neuropathways are being built. Making it easier to keep both sides of our brain active and firing properly throughout the day.

  • Repeating each day’s mantra. After I’ve taken the time to journal out my feelings, and I’m able to receive comfort, I keep that word or phrase with me throughout the day. So, as I feel myself begin to struggle later on, I bring back to memory the word, phrase or truth that I was given earlier to rehearse in my mind.

Questions for Reflection 

  • What obstacles do you experience in your resistance to telling God how you really feel?

  • What is one step you could take in being brutally honest to God about your feelings? 

  • After we are able take in the comfort we need, what ways can we hold on to it?

  

 

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