As for me, I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause, who does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number. — Job 5:8-9
When fundamental parts of our lives are lost, when people and things we thought we’d never lose are suddenly gone, it’s natural to want answers. Why did this happen? Who’s to blame? What could I have done differently? And for many of us in the aftermath of traumatic change, we also want to know, Where is God? Where was He when the tragedy happened, and where is He now in my darkest days of hurt, when I’m longing for comfort? When I am on the floor, writhing in tears with no idea what the rest of my life will look like, where is God?
Wherever we are in our faith — secure, skeptical, or somewhere in between — suffering has a way of pulling us out of our comfort zones with God and forcing us to face how real and how reliable we believe He is in our day-to-day lives. Is He still here? Even with three decades of faith under my belt, grappling with this question hasn’t always been easy. In my mind I know God is good and that He promises always, in every moment, to be with me. But when my vision seemed clouded with pain and questions, my eyes had a hard time seeing what my mind said was true.
When I did go looking for God, He was in some expected places — Scripture, prayer, listening to songs of worship. But even these regular spiritual rhythms that had been routine for much of my life proved a struggle sometimes. Seeking God and His presence isn’t passive. It usually requires participation. He will open the door, but we have to knock. He is ready and willing to meet us exactly where we are, but I was in a weary and fragile place. Even when you have a strong desire to find God and feel God, grief is a complete attack on your mental and physical faculties. It left me with no energy or focus. I felt depleted in so many ways that my time with the Lord often felt desperate at best and forced at worse. But as we’ve learned,
when we show up, He shows up too.
If you’re honest with yourself, you may not feel ready to go to Scripture. You may not be ready to sing or pray or do anything active to pursue God. You may still be so hurt by God or distrusting of Him that you’re wary to step into spiritual places. But let me assure you: there is still hope. He is still with you, and you can still find Him in places far outside the spiritual box.
We are all wired with a desire to know and see God. He built us that way. And though we don’t always acknowledge it, that desire is hugely heightened when we suffer. Like a young child hurt or afraid, we crave the comfort of our Parent’s arms. We can deny it, rely on ourselves and our own strength, and turn from God. Or we can accept how desperately we need his comfort, ask him for what we need, and keep our eyes open to see his provision. This is how we will see that the God who loves us is still right here. His comfort is still ready and available for the taking.
At least that’s what it took for me. Not long after Ben’s death, I was gifted a memoir by a local pastor, Steve Berger, and his wife, Sarah, written after losing their nineteen-year-old son. Still mentally and emotionally drained, I committed to reading it only because it was thin, a quick read. In Have Heart: Bridging the Gulf Between Heaven and Earth, the Bergers share a funny but profound anecdote about a member of their church community who lost her husband to organ failure.
As the woman faced her husband’s impending death, she asked just one thing of him (and, ultimately, of Jesus): “Can you please send me a sign to let me know you are all right?”1 This woman knew well her husband’s salvation story as a biker-gang felon turned committed Christ follower. She knew exactly where he was going once his body passed away. But in the face of her coming heartbreak and despair, she boldly named what she needed — divine assurance of her husband’s arrival home.
Not long after the burial service, the newly widowed woman was greeted by two unexpected guests in the hallway of her urban Orange County residence. She was home with her daughters when one of the girls stumbled on something strange in the hallway: two baby possums. Apparently, the woman wasn’t much of a dog or cat person but had always wanted to raise possums as pets. What may seem to us like a crazy coincidence was, in reality, just what this grieving woman needed to find a little peace amid her pain. In the Lord’s intimate, mind-blowing way, He answered her desperate plea for assurance with possums, a bizarre confirmation that could only be attributed to the work of His hands.
This sealed it for me. After reading of the possums, my only prayer became, Lord, just give me my possum. Even though I knew without a shadow of a doubt that Ben had been saved, I longed for assurances that he was home — confidence that he was peaceful, perfect, and so overwhelmed with the joy of Jesus that he wouldn’t come back here even if he had the option. Though I still struggled to find words to pray in those early days, I continued asking for a possum.
Through this possum quest, I started to understand that seeking God doesn’t have to be reverent or hyperspiritual.
Sometimes the most honest way to seek God is by coming to Him bluntly and telling Him exactly what your broken heart needs.
It turned out that my possums were turkeys. I had been asking God for weeks for some sort of physical confirmation that Ben was home, and one gloomy, fall afternoon, God answered my plea. The sky was grim and rainy; it was a day when birds would have hunkered down for shelter deep within the trees. As I backed out of our driveway not a mile from one of Nashville’s busiest commercial shopping areas, there they were — a whole group of turkeys, strutting across our neighbor’s front yard, completely displaced from their natural, wooded, rural habitat.
Outlandish as this may sound, especially to those who don’t love the outdoors, these turkeys confirmed all I needed to know and feel in that moment. Ben was an avid turkey hunter. In fact, the first time we ever went hunting together, we were chasing down turkeys.
Ben adored every moment he spent with his family in nature, and he tried his best to make me love it too. Those ugly birds in the driveway next door were God’s gentle hush to my worried heart and His intimate confirmation that Ben was now filled with all-consuming joy, a joy infinitely greater than any he’d felt hunting here on earth.
As the birds trotted away, something in my spirit prompted me: Mattie, how many? Squinting and straining to see through the rain, I counted seven turkeys. Seven, the numeric date of our wedding day. The holy number of completion. The number I needed to remind me: God is not only with me but also in perfect control. To this day, on my worst days and in my most wrecked hours, I remember the turkeys. I remember the eternal joy my beloved is currently experiencing and will forever experience with Christ. I remember God’s faithfulness to hear my need and His tenderness in reminding me He’s never left me.
This was just the beginning of what our family has come to call God nods — quick, intimate, divine glimpses of God’s care for us and His presence in our pain. Little moments in which the Lord provides reassurance or joy or peace despite the rawness of grief. Some of them came through books or songs or scenes in nature and some through dreams, both mine and countless others’. Like the turkeys, the God nods may sound like naive, wishful thinking to some who haven’t experienced them, but in seasons of desperation for signs of God’s goodness, they sustained me.
Ask for the assurances and the signs you need from the Lord. Ask that He would open your eyes to see them, and when you do, hold fast to them! They are the kindest, most personal, fatherly reminders that God cherishes us and that He’s much closer in our suffering than we think. Receive these nods with gratitude. Relish them with joy. Record them so on the days when He feels lifetimes away you can relive the truth that your Living Hope is right here.
I will shout from the rooftops what Pastor Berger said and what all possum seekers like me hope to experience: “These kinds of special, supernatural moments radically contribute to the healing process. They come spontaneously and when we least expect them… Recognize [and record] when God shows up in the midst of your sorrow.”2
Much of my hope in those early days came from God nods like these. They started showing up all over the place once I kept my eyes open for God’s little encouragements.
When you’re brave enough to ask, God is big enough to show up.
- Steve and Sarah Berger, Have Heart: Bridging the Gulf Between Heaven and Earth (Franklin, TN: Grace Chapel, 2010), 117.
- Berger, Have Heart, 113.
Excerpted with permission from Lemons on Friday by Mattie Jackson Selecman, copyright Mattie Jackson Selecman.
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Are you watching for God nods? It’s easy to miss them if you don’t pay close attention to His encouragements and reassurances that He sends along your way. Keep your eyes out this week and ask the Lord to show you that He loves you. Ask Him for specific responses and then wait and see what He’ll do! We want to hear what happens! Come share with us! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full