Experiencing Friendship with God
There is no sweeter manner of living in the world than continuous communion with God.
—Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God
“What is the point?”
This was my desperate search for meaning in the hospital after I gave birth to my second child. Just hours before, my husband and I had walked into the labor-and-delivery wing, fully confident that all would be well. We had gone through the childbirth routine before, so we were already prepared to celebrate with our newborn son in our arms. Labor came a month earlier than expected, but we had no concerns—just excitement. We were joyfully confident that God was with us, having also the prayers of loved ones who waited in anticipation. There were smiles and laughter in the delivery room.
Yet when my son arrived, trauma crashed the party. The room immediately noticed the concerning shades of purple and blue on his face, so the nurses whisked him away for tests. I was left to recover in silent confusion. My mind scrambled to process what was happening. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to hold my son until twenty-four hours later, and even then, it wasn’t without the tubes, wires, and beeping machines that were required to keep him stable in the intensive care unit. Disappointment clouded my spirit, and I asked, “Why would God allow this?” What was the purpose of this darkness?
I was a firm believer that God can heal, and in my several years as a pastor, I had witnessed and experienced God doing the inexplainable countless times. So, there I was, in my fragile post-delivery state, begging Jesus to do what I knew would be easy for Him.
“Lord, please heal my son.”
I thought it was a reasonable ask. Yet not long after this prayer, a nurse walked into the recovery room to deliver more disappointing news. The test results weren’t promising, and they needed to increase his oxygen to support his premature lungs. Under the pressure of my dismay, sorrow began mutat- ing into frustration. Where was God? Was my plea not heard? Did my years of serving the church not merit this one favor?
I continued to plead, “Lord, please heal my son.”
What was supposed to be a celebration with friends and family in the hospital turned into days of weeping in a dark room with my cellphone endlessly buzzing with sad-face emojis and well wishes. Each day, doctors and nurses came in to explain why more blood work needed to be done and why taking him home wasn’t an option. Their matter-of-fact explanations were void of compassion, just as the room felt like it was void of God. Eventually, my desperate prayers slowed to a resentful silence. I had called, but He refused to answer—or so it felt. Perhaps my screaming silence would be heard instead.
At this point in my life, I had been a preacher of the good news for years, but I discovered how a moment that strikes just the right nerve can unveil the fragility of one’s trust in God. Grief took away every religious propriety I had and reduced me to an angry mother holding a grudge against God in her hospital bed. Although I was an experienced Bible teacher, my understanding of His Presence wasn’t robust enough to keep my hope breathing in this hour. Even when friends came by to surround my husband and me with fervent intercession, I merely stared at the foot of the bed as my hot tears flowed in protest. What makes sense in the pews doesn’t always seem to add up when you are facing the ugly realities of life. I was ready to forfeit. The sorrow was so deep and the fear was so demanding that I could only conclude that God had abandoned me. It didn’t feel as if He was there, and even if He was, it wasn’t enough for me. What if faith bears no visible results during times of despair? What, then, is the point of faith?
Questions like these demand answers because it is a weary soul who asks them, a soul who aches for what is true and real. Anyone asking these questions is increasingly intolerant of religious fluff and niceties, no longer willing to settle for inspirational words but rather aching for authentic change. You don’t want a catchy sermon quote when you are dealing with tragedy. You need supernatural help when you are wrestling with anxiety. After you have endured repeated letdowns, one after the other, positive thinking and good strategy feel desperately futile—like holding an umbrella in the face of a tsunami. When you are in this rut in your faith journey, you swiftly swipe away the inspirational social media content on your phone because it doesn’t encourage you anymore. You may have attempted to change your attitude, listened to motivational podcasts, and even gone to that conference that promised to take you to new levels, but your life still feels like an endless cycle of the same issues and habits. When your heart is bleeding and your back is bent under a heavy burden, words are just not enough. You need more.
One day turned to three very quickly, and I was told that I wouldn’t be able to take my baby boy home from the hospital, that I would have to leave him in the care of nurses and machines while I drove away. My heart could hardly bear it. I needed to storm into the throne room of God. I had a bone to pick with the King. Yet this pent-up angst was dressed in a hospital gown and still vulnerably healing, so I did the only thing I could do—opened my journal and held my pen, although I had no words to write. I had nothing to say, no song to sing. Still, I felt a voice say to me, “Give thanks.”
Even though I am a pastor and this was supposed to be my moment to demonstrate great faith in hard times, I am ashamed to say I scoffed at the idea. Being a good example of Christian faith was basically my career, but I had nothing good to say that night. Give thanks for what? My newborn child was going through a mysterious health crisis and needed a machine to breathe! I couldn’t stand the injustice of it all.
I felt the voice again. “Give thanks.”
So, I reluctantly mustered up the strength to write an obligatory list. Thank You for the nurses.
Thank You for the clean hospital room.
Thank You for lunch. It was sushi—my favorite.
Eventually, this obligatory list became more elaborative as I paused to appreciate the friends and family who were contending for us in prayer. Thank You for the kindness of those who are praying for us right now.
Thank You for this time spent with my husband. It has been meaningful, and we’ve grown much closer.
What started off as half-hearted list-making turned into an immersive meditation on all the good that was for me and with me. My list of thanksgiving that I thought was for Jesus was actually His love letter to me. Forty more minutes of writing passed, and my heart thawed. It was as if wind began filling the sails of a ship becalmed on glassy water. An unraveling began as I started to recognize the signs of God’s steadfast care all over my life. Oh, how He loved me! How kind He had been all this time! I became profoundly aware that, right there in that hospital room, I was before the blazing, shining Presence of Jesus. I used to think that choosing to be grateful in the midst of hardship was just choosing to be blind to one’s problems. In this moment, however, I realized that it is choosing to recognize God’s fingerprints on our lives.
That night, not only did I know that He was with me, but I also felt it. It felt like a firm, warm hug, the kind that makes you feel safe and seen. During my journaling, another nurse walked in to tell me that my son wasn’t doing any better. Regardless, I kept scribbling the evidence that proved God was still with me because my heart was immersed in love.
It was enough.
My purpose in that moment was to know Him—not in theory but in friendship. Jesus is the point. He is the reward. Knowing His Presence is the purpose of the wilderness. This revelation was God’s gift to me in that dark hospital room. Another gift came a week later when I was able to take my healthy, growing boy out of the NICU and to his own crib at home.