When I was about five years old, our annual family vacation took place at a beach called Ocean View. You might know it. It’s just across the Hampton Roads Tunnel, although at that time, there was no tunnel or bridge. You had to ride a car ferry as it slowly puttered its way across the water. Ahhh…I could feel the breeze as the boat cut through the waves. It was good to be a child.
Ocean View Beach had an amusement park that would have been considered lame compared to what the kids have today, however, it was a big deal back in the dark ages of the 1950’s. We would spend our days on the beach, and then at night, we would walk to the amusement park to eagerly experience the thrilling rides. There was a huge, wooden roller coaster (called the “dips” back then), and I used to marvel at how high and scary it was. The park was an enchanting place at night with all the colored lights, the sweet smell of funnel cakes wafting through the air, the sounds of the carnival games (where people sacrificed their money, hoping to win a cheap prize that fell apart before you could get home), and hearing the thundering roar of the roller coaster cars as they zoomed around the hills and curves. I was totally mesmerized by this “Magic Kingdom” which existed years before Disneyland was even a thought. (Disneyland was opened in 1955, but California may as well have been on the moon for my family to be able to travel there from Virginia.)
One evening at the amusement park, I was walking along with my mother, father, sister, and brother. We were looking around at the wonderful sights, when suddenly I realized I no longer had someone’s hand. I guess I had excitedly pulled away at some point. It was then that I quickly looked up for a familiar face, and to my horror, I saw only a crowd of strangers… absolutely no one was there that I recognized. Somehow, I had gotten separated from my family. Completely surrounded by a sea of unknowns, I began to cry because I knew I was lost. (To make matters even worse, I was small for my age, and it made grown-ups appear as giants.) At this particular moment, I had never felt so dwarfed and insignificant in my short life. “Help me! Help me!”, I inwardly screamed. As I desperately listened, there was absolutely no one calling out to me. My family was gone, and I was terrified to think I may never see them again.
Before you freak out that I may have been snatched, this scene didn’t take place in an era of fearing stranger danger, therefore, my family also hadn’t practiced a ‘here’s-what-you- do-when-lost’ plan. I had more than likely passed the “Lost Child Station” multiple times, but who can read big words like that when you’re five? (Plus, my eyelids were partially stuck together due to my face that had attacked a cloud of cotton candy on a stick.) Through my complete breakdown, all I could think was, “Mama and Daddy, Where are you? Why have you left me?” My perception was that the people who had loved me the most were gone, and I was on my own. I fell prey to a very fearful conclusion because of the overwhelming circumstances of that moment. All I knew was that I was scared. It was a horrible experience.
We hear a similar circumstance at the crucifixion where Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27, Mark 15) These were the last words of Jesus which revealed how deeply he had felt being abandoned by God. His rejection was real. His lonliness was real, and it wasn’t because he had just perceived the absence of his Father. God really had removed his presence. (That’s why we say in the Apostle’s Creed, “…He descended into hell”.) In his humanity, Jesus uttered these desperate words of abandonment despite the fact that he knew the long view of God. He was fully aware that He would suffer now, but be miraculously raised on the third day. Nevertheless, when rejection and lonliness are perceived or experienced, it’s difficult for anyone to endure it and think beyond how it feels…. even the human side of Jesus.
When I was lost as a child, I had no vision beyond my limited understanding of that moment. All I knew was how I was feeling….a short view. But, when Jesus willingly went to the Cross, He knew that whatever he would experience would have meaning and purpose for the future of mankind. He knew the Father was doing something that would have an eternal impact for a good purpose….he knew the long view. By contrast, when we embrace the short view, it can cloud the reality and work of God’s eternal purpose for our lives. Remembering the long view gives us an understanding that God is always at work to conform us to the image of Christ for our good. (Romans 8:28) Understanding this contrast in perspective makes all the difference, particularly in rough times.
Have you ever felt abandoned by God? A time where you cried out to him, “God, why have you left me? Where are you?” In those moments, we know in our heads that God really hasn’t left us, but sometimes we feel in our hearts that He’s AWOL, and has left us to fend for ourselves. Then, to make matters worse, the feeling continues to spiral down into guilt, because we think believers shouldn’t feel or think this way…. that it demonstrates weak faith and failed love. What??! We shouldn’t feel this way? Then, how should we feel? Are we supposed to feel good about sensing God’s absence? Well, unless, you’re a masochistic zombie, I wouldn’t expect you to feel any differently, and neither would God. Remember, Jesus understood God’s specific plan, yet he understandably cried out when God left him. Frequently, we don’t understand what God is doing, so it stands to reason that we’d feel confused and alone when things go south. When we sense God’s absence in those instances, it sparks a real fear of rejection. We tell ourselves that God doesn’t care or understand. What we fail to remember in those cases is that God always has the long view. He knows what the end of our story looks like, as well as the end of history, and everything in between. He doesn’t act capriciously. He has a designed purpose behind every situation in which we find ourselves. There is no moment when God isn’t there. There is no occasion when He lets go of our hand. We may feel like our life has gone off the rails, but He is always the greater force behind our circumstances. We have to fight what our feelings are telling us, and ask the Holy Spirit to remind us that our hope lies in remembering the long view…..that our Redeemer lives to bring us to eternal glory with Himself one day.
Psalm 13:1, says, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” Shortly, just four verses later in 13:5, the psalmist remembers, “But I have trusted in Your mercy; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifilly with me.” The long view is that God, in His grace and mercy, has reached down and called you out as His own. His work in your story isn’t finished because He hasn’t finished His story. Just because you can’t sense His presence, doesn’t change anything about Him. Trust the fact that your feelings don’t have the power to change what is true…. He loves you and is wholeheartedly committed to you. Your difficult circumstances are prime opportunities for you to consider the strength of your faith, to challenge the treasures of your heart, and to recalibrate your loyalties. They are designed for our good as we rest in His parental love. The next time you feel that God has disappeared, Turn Around and remember that when He ordained the Holy Spirit to dwell in your heart forever, He took up residence there. Consequently, because He lives in you, He has claimed a permanent home, no matter how it feels. There’s no need to be afraid, as I was in the amusement park. We’ll never be lost to Him, as He refuses to loosen His fatherly grip on us.
(As a side note to my story of being lost at the amusement park…..obviously, I wasn’t raised by the carnival people. My parents finally did claim me after awhile…..although my siblings were probably disappointed. My suspicion is that they had already started casting lots for my toys.)