When God Feels Far Away

changing seasons of prayer

“What ya doin’?” my 7-year-old daughter asked me, eyeing the colored pencils scattered across my bed and the opened notebook before me, oblivious to the earliness of the hour. We were both still in our pajamas. I was sitting cross-legged on my bed with a steaming cup of coffee on my bedside table. Her art-loving eyes lit up with wonder at the sight of so many colors strewn across my quilt.  

“I’m Praying in Color1,” I told her, finishing the blue swirl I was doodling. “Want to pray with me?”

She climbed into bed beside me as I spread my notebook between us. Step-by-step I explained the how-to’s of this prayer practice I had just learned.

“Start with writing a name for God, like Lord or Creator, then doodle around it however you want as you settle into God’s presence here with us. Then write down the names of people you want to pray for, or draw a picture that reminds you of something you want to pray for, then doodle around your words and drawings, and let your art and heart pray for each of them.”

Nodding with excitement, she picked up a colored pencil and Prayed in Color alongside me. Together we wordlessly prayed with doodles, with our hearts, minds, and creativity. Our companionable silence was a sacred thread, connecting us to God, connecting us to each other.

Later, reflecting on this meaningful moment, I remembered the early days of her life, how I felt so far from God, stuck in a spiritual rut. Back then, I could not have imagined sharing such an out-of-the-box prayer with her. A long-forgotten memory surfaced of a conversation with my husband in those bleary days of newborn parenting.

“I don’t feel like I’m connecting with God anymore,” he lamented, the frustration evident in his voice.

I nodded, not knowing what to say. I understood. I felt it, too. Before this brand-new baby, our free time stretched with sacred quiet. In the mornings I’d sip my coffee and read my Bible, then bask in a gloriously silent 10 minutes of Centering Prayer2 before breakfast. In the evenings, he would read his Bible and journal about his day, reflecting on how he saw God at work around him.

With the arrival of our firstborn, gone were the quiet mornings and leisurely evenings. Now we woke early to a crying, hungry infant, and we fell asleep exhausted, knowing that our baby girl would wake up crying and hungry again in no time at all.  

The prayer practices we had carefully curated in our young adulthood no longer fit into this new season of life. These practices had been our spiritual staples for so long. Without them, we felt spiritually malnourished. 

Maybe it was all our fault, we worried. Maybe we were bad Christians because we couldn’t find the time to keep up our disciplines. Maybe we were failing God, failing ourselves, failing our child.  

Have you ever wondered about Mary’s spiritual wellbeing in the weeks after Jesus was born?  As a faithful Jewish woman, Mary would have observed the Jewish purification code and removed herself from all things sacred for 40 days post-childbirth.3 For 40 days of her own version of wilderness wanderings, Mary would have cared around the clock for her hungry, crying infant, forgoing sleep and leisurely meals in order to feed and change and comfort her baby. Without access to the worshiping community, how did she worship? Without access to sacred space and the spiritual disciplines found within, how did she connect with God?

 Of course, she was holding and feeding and changing the diapers of God in the flesh, and maybe there’s something we can learn there. The word theologians use to describe the birth of Jesus is incarnation, the en-flesh-ment of God. The incarnation is the miraculous, wondrous, mysterious event in which the God who made the universe chose to be born as a human, as one of us. As a tiny, eight-ish pound human who needed to be fed and rocked and whose diapers needed to be changed.

If God was willing to go to such great lengths to be with us, surely Mary could sense God’s presence in her tiny baby. Surely Mary knew that no amount of disruption to her normal rhythms would keep God from finding her, from connecting with her, from drawing her close to God’s heart.

“I just don’t feel close to God anymore,” a young mom recently shared with me. Her life had been turned upside down, and she couldn’t find a spiritual footing in her new reality. Again I remembered that decade-old conversation with my husband, our frustration and spiritual malnutrition in the fog of early parenting. Only this time, I knew what to say. 

Over the intervening years of pastoring, I’ve learned that this sentiment is a common one. When change forces our life to shift on its axis, our spiritual equilibrium can vanish. The practices that once functioned as a lifeline between us and God can lose their power, and we become bereft, wondering if it’s all our fault.

But the incarnation tells us differently. The incarnation insists that God will do anything and everything to be near us. To connect with us. To save us. The incarnation promises us that despite our limited human faculties, God wants to be found and God will be found by those of us who keep looking.

“Think of your spiritual practices like a toolbox,” I explained to that mom who reminded me so much of my younger self. “We’ve got prayer books and liturgies. We have contemporary worship songs and well-loved hymns. We have prayer journal prompts and multisensory Bible reading plans.4 We have devotional books galore and apps that offer guided Scripture meditations5 or prayers-on-the-go.6 Sometimes, when we can’t sense God’s presence, that just means it’s time to pull out another tool from the toolbox. If music has always been how you connect with God, try meditation. If a particular practice has always been your go-to, try a different one.”  

I sent her off with a list of resources, websites, books, and things to try: spiritual tools that I have discovered, been taught, or found helpful over the years as I’ve sought to connect with God. But my last word to her was one of promise, assuring her that God is seeking connection with her even as she seeks to connect with God.

It’s what I wish someone had told my newly-minted momma heart when I felt lost and far from God, when my prayer rhythms were disrupted and I felt like I was failing as a Christian parent. I wish someone had assured me: “It’s God who will find you, not the other way around.  Just keep your heart open.”

Isn’t that the mystery of grace, after all? God has been finding us all along, not the other way around. In all our wayward, distractible, disheveled attempts at connecting with God, it is God who comes to us. 

Sometimes God comes when we’re looking for God, sometimes God comes when we’re distracted with life. Either way, God has a way of showing up, of illuminating our reality, of assuring us of God’s very presence. It’s a mini-incarnation over and over again, and we are reminded that there is no length or depth or height to which God will not go for us.7

So maybe it wasn’t Mary who found God in the eyes of her baby, after all. Rather, maybe Mary was found in those sacred baby eyes by the God who comes to us. Just like it was God who found me, Praying in Color in pajamas with my daughter, surrounded by colored pencils in the early morning light. Just like it’s God who has been finding me in my fumbling attempts at connection over the years: the half-awake middle-of-the-night breastfeeding prayers, the devotional books that remain halfway read, the starting and stopping journaling attempts, the inarticulate prayers I string together while on-the-go in the car. All of these imperfect offerings are merely tools, prying my heart open wider for God to find me.

And find me God does. Always, eventually, God arrives in an unmistakable moment of connection, assuring me that God is here, there, and everywhere, seeking after me, seeking after us.


  1. Praying in Color
  2. Centering Prayer
  3. Leviticus 12:1-4
  4. Multisensory Bible reading plans
  5. Guided Scripture meditations
  6. Prayers-on-the-go
  7. Romans 8:38-39
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Laura Johnson is a pastor, mother, wife, friend, and writer, though not always in that order. An ordained United Methodist pastor serving the Raleigh, NC area, she loves inspiring people to connect with God in their everyday lives through her preaching, teaching, and writing. She cherishes time with her pastor husband and their two daughters, who regularly give her glimpses of the Kingdom of God. You can find her writing online at www.revlaurajohnson.com or on social media @revlaurajohnson.

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