Uncomfortable Conversations: Meeting God in the Present Moment
I live with an embered faith. It has burned down low. It has almost gone out. Is it embarrassing to admit this? Perhaps. I no longer know the certainty I once had of who God is or what God wants. I most certainly do not know what God wants. I thought I knew once, and then I thought I did again, and then I was sure I had heard God even speak it against my ear on my front porch the night before my son was born, when the heat had settled into sleep in the air around me. And I was wrong.
We all tell the stories of the prayers God answered that we never believed God would. We tell the stories of the healing, the job that is delivered out of the blue just when the money runs out. We tell each other how God proved us wrong in our worries, our anxieties, our worst visions and fears of the future. I have told so many of these stories. I still tell them.
Ask me someday if I have ever seen God send $100 to an empty bank account with no explanation. Ask me someday if I have watched God pour breath back into my child on the floor of his room. Ask me someday and I will tell you how God proved me wrong in the best ways.
But God’s proving is also here, in the burnt down ashes of the building, when my sure belief of what good thing would happen does not. We dress up our disappointment in better language. We clothe God in platitudes. He makes a way in the wilderness, we say. God is just closing doors right now, we say. God is testing or teaching our hearts, we say. We make ourselves sound like the ones who were wrong for believing in the miracle at our own doorstep. That we are presumptuous to have assumed that what God did for Jairus, a man whose daughter was brought back from death itself,1 we would deserve in our own homes, two thousand years later.
I want to tell you that I have been disappointed in God. That God has proved me wrong in his non-answers. That God has refused me things that I truly believed were good. And no amount of fancy legwork will make God’s activity any more palatable to me.
It could be that this makes me short-sighted. This may make me unkind. This may exclude me from candidacy for sainthood, though I think lots of other things exclude me from that. And yet, I cannot shake loose the emotions that crowd in, season over season; I am disappointed, I am angry, I am hurt.
For years I have tried to fill up spaces by talking at God, talking around God. I kept talking so I would never again wait in silence for an answer, only for it to be something different than what I hoped or wanted. Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.2 I prayed this every morning for years but I never once imagined God hearing it, much less responding. So I uttered more words, more phrases.
When I declared, so fervently, in the initial years after my son was born that I was still a Christian, and still a person of prayer, I said it without thinking I would have to keep praying. I talked to God, sure, but that was also a fancy way of saying I talked to myself. I voiced things out loud. In a small part of me I believed God was listening, and in a large part of me I believed no one was. But I kept saying I was a person of prayer, and I kept talking, as if God and I were two parallel lines that would not intersect.
And then I sit here, years later, having run along these parallel lines until I’m weary. I am sitting around the fire of my faith, which has burned down low. I think about stoking it with a revival or a Scripture reading, butI have nothing left to offer. Instead, I go for a ride.
I drive fifteen minutes out to what feels like a different country, but is the heart of Central Texas: gentle rolling hills blanketed in the fire of Indian paintbrush and Texas primrose and bluebonnets. As I drive, windows down, wind racing across my face, I slowly start to feel my heartbeat back in my body. I feel quieter, as though someone has turned the volume of the world back down. I pull into the driveway of the barn where I ride, where time is gently suspended.
The horse I ride most often, he is patient with me, even as I fumble the tack, not sure how to tighten things just right, struggling to get the bit into his mouth. He waits for me to tighten all the buckles, to press my palms against his soft sides. I lead him out to the arena and I get on.
All the words empty out of me.
Being on a horse, moving with a horse, is a series of sudden, constant realizations: I depend on this animal. I am dependent, a word I struggle to link to myself. I am at once in control and not at all in control. The animal has his thoughts, and I have mine. As I move him into the trot, I must be wholly present, but even being wholly present is no guarantee of anything. The moments slip by. The horse moves me gently, and challengingly. He resists turning left. I have to ask again. I give the wrong cue. I try again.
And when the words disappear, my lungs fill with something else. Is it air? Clear and cool from the furious beauty of the fields? Is it peace? My brain so fully engaged there is no room to notice what has felt like God’s silence and my own feeble attempts at conversation? Is it simply that in this most basic conversation with this horse—turn here, halt here, yes, good, wait—I have remembered that not all conversations can be heard?
As I drive home later I realize that I haven’t talked to God the whole ride. And yet God says, “But I heard you so clearly.”
- Mark 5:21-43
- Psalm 51:17
Hilary Yancey is a writer, philosopher and bookshop manager living in Waco, Texas. In both her philosophical and personal writing, she explores questions of faith, suffering, disability, and embodiment. Her first book, Forgiving God: A Story of Faith was published in 2018 and chronicles her journey with her son’s pregnancy and early diagnosis with complex medical needs. When she isn’t writing, she is reading, helping readers find the next perfect book at Fabled Bookshop, and chasing her three children. You can find her writing on hilaryyancey.substack.com, and on Instagram at @hilaryyancey