Around February, life started rolling really fast. I could hardly keep up. Emotionally, physically, and spiritually, I was stretched thin. I tried to slow down, but the velocity of my life spun even faster. By the end of May, I felt like I was on a runaway horse, just holding on for dear life. My grandma, who knew horses better than anyone, always told me to turn my horse in a circle if it ran away with me. So I was turning circles, and praying a lot.
I tend to circle around things that bring me peace. Bible reading. Watching my boys play in the backyard (sometimes this brings me peace, sometimes my boys scare me with their shenanigans). Walking out to pet our horses in the pasture calms me. I talk to God when I’m turning circles. When I’m on the verge of coming undone.
The week before our daughter’s wedding, I didn’t want to turn any more circles, I just wanted to get things ready. Before company came, I bleached the house from top to bottom, scrubbing my fingers to the bone to get rid of the stomach bug all over the place. All the boys had been sick with a really nasty virus. So had I. I still felt weak from the bug. With a plane full of friends and family on the way, I wanted to make sure no one ended up ill.
Just days before the wedding, we were making trips to the airport, picking up our people.
Fred came early to help us. A retired special forces army colonel, Fred has a tattoo of St. Michael standing on the devil on his shoulder. He got his first tattoo after going to war. Numerous tours in Iraq and Afghanistan are now a part of Fred. His body has become a canvas for his pain and his faith. He flew out and spent five days helping us sell fruit and prepare our farm for the wedding. He’s known Scott and me since we were college kids at the University Nevada-Reno. Fred was one of Scott’s groomsmen in our wedding nearly 30 years ago. He was our college roommate as well, an incredibly loyal friend who knows us better than most people know us.
“You doing okay?” he asked during his visit as we all prepared to go to bed after a long day of work.
“Sure,” I said.
Fred stared into my eyes and I knew there was no fooling him. “I’m stretched thin,” I admitted. “Have been for months. I don’t like being in this thin place.”
Fred’s gaze was a deep well of understanding. A slow smile spread over his face. “You know about thin places, don’t you? The Celts say a thin place is where heaven meets earth. It’s a place where God is near.”
“Well, that’s good, because I need God really bad right now,” I said.
I went to bed thinking about thin places. Not only do I look for thin places on this earth, I’ve become a thin place myself. I can’t make it through this day without you, Lord. I need your strength. I need your help. I need you in me, has become my daily prayer.
Sometimes, honestly, most of the time, I don’t feel God. It’s an act of will to recognize God is there when nothing in our feelings testifies to his presence.
I will never forget the day I was driving to the hospital to see Anna’s dad after she died. It was day four, and the first three days after losing Anna, either Scott or a friend drove with me to Sacramento. That day nobody was with me. I was on a long stretch of lonely highway all by myself. Never have I felt so bereft. Like a small sailboat lost at sea.
The thought, I can’t do this, I’ve got to turn around, overwhelmed me. I can’t walk into all that pain again by myself. Where are you, God? I don’t feel you at all. I feel so small and weak and alone right now. Not knowing what else to do, I called our church. Surprisingly, I didn’t know the lady who answered the phone. Usually I know everyone in the church office. “Can I speak with Kathleen?”
“She’s not here,” said the lady.
“Can I speak with the pastor?”
“He’s not here, either.”
“Can I speak with Chanta?”
“Chanta’s not here today.”
I ran down my list of folks I knew could pray with me. Nobody was available. Tears coursed down my cheeks. It was so hard to keep driving. In desperation, I opened up with the woman on the phone. “I’m sorry, I need someone to pray with me. I’m headed to the hospital because my fourteen-year-old niece died a few days ago, and her dad is badly injured, and I don’t feel God today at all. I feel so alone.”
The woman on the phone paused for a moment, and then she opened up too. “I lost my 19 year old daughter in a car accident years ago. I still remember feeling so alone. But I wasn’t alone. God was with me. And God is with you too.”
“I don’t feel him,” I said into my iPhone speaker with a long stretch of highway looming in front of me and a flood of tears making the road all blurry.
“You don’t have to feel him. You just have to know he’s with you. Do you know he’s with you?”
Out of the blue, a Bible verse entered my mind. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”Joshua 1:9.
“I know he’s with me, but I need to feel him, and I don’t.”
“You don’t need to feel him,” the woman said adamantly. “You just need to believe his promises. May I pray for you?”
“Oh, please pray,” I said with my heart pounding hard in my chest. “I am desperate for Jesus right now.”
After hanging up with that dear woman, I drove on, not feeling God. I went to the hospital and hugged Anna’s dad without feeling God. I cried and prayed with Anna’s mom in the hospital hallway. I made it through that gut-wrenching day without feeling God. But I knew with all my heart he was there. Strengthening me. Comforting me. Making me brave. I was a thin place that day because God wasn’t just with me, he was in me. I knew he was in me and it gave me the courage to face that stunning grief.
If you are stretched thin today, look for God in your thin places. If you’re a believer, Christ is in you. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. John 14:20. You don’t have to feel God. You just have to know him. Believe him. Take his word to heart. Say to yourself, When I am afraid, I put my trust in you, LORD, Psalm 56:3.