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Those who’ve experienced extreme trauma in their lives will know how lonely and desolate it feels when we believe with every fiber of our being that God has abandoned us.
We may not want to admit it, even to ourselves! But I believe that the more we talk about it, the more it takes away the sting of the loneliness we feel when we believe that God has abandoned us.
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When I was a child, I had an intense personal relationship with God, sort of in the form of an imaginary friend. I took all my problems to Him, and there were many as I was being continually abused at home and at school. I prayed “make it stop; make it stop” with increasing fervency over the years, and when things only got worse, I convinced myself that there was no God, and I turned my back on God for 10 years.
When I was introduced to the Baha’i writings at age 25, something shifted. I recognized immediately that these teachings could only have come from God. This shift has been the greatest gift of my life, and 40 years later, it’s also the greatest mystery. I’ll never understand God’s grace in turning me 180 degrees so quickly, and I am grateful!
We are in good company, though. I was shocked (and encouraged) to read that Mother Teresa felt abandoned by God from the very start of her work until her death five decades later, but it didn’t stop her from all of her incredible service to humanity in the name of a God whose presence she couldn’t feel. That’s real faith!
The prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’u’llah, even sometimes felt abandoned by God, as we see in this quote from the book of his “Prayers and Meditations”:
O Lord my God! Thou beholdest my dwelling-place, and the prison into which I am cast, and the woes I suffer. By Thy might! No pen can recount them, nor can any tongue describe or number them. I know not, O my God, for what purpose Thou hast abandoned me to Thine adversaries. Thy glory beareth me witness! I sorrow not for the vexations I endure for love of Thee, nor feel perturbed by the calamities that overtake me in Thy path. My grief is rather because Thou delayest to fulfill what Thou hast determined in the Tablets of Thy Revelation, and ordained in the books of Thy decree and judgment.
But as Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith reassured us in his book “The Promised Day is Come”, God never deserts us: “God, the Vigilant, the Just, the Loving, the All-Wise … will [not] be willing to abandon His children to their fate …”
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I find that the times when I have tested the laws of God (through disobedience to those laws, even when I think I am doing what God wants), is often the time I feel most abandoned. For example, one time when I was serving the Baha’i Faith in a remote part of Canada’s arctic, I kept trying to do things, and nothing went right. I had frequent headaches from feeling like I was beating myself against a brick wall trying to get things done. In a 36-month period, I had 23 “noes”, several of them from Baha’i institutions. During that period I found a book title I really liked, which summed up my experience: “I’d Say ‘Yes’ God, If I Knew What You Wanted”. Only in retrospect can I see how many veils existed between God and I at that time – ego being a big one!
Since becoming a Baha’i, I’ve experienced many significant losses – jobs, husband, family, income – but I’ve always been grateful that through it all, I never lost my faith, even in times when I couldn’t feel God’s presence.
There have been lots of times when prayers remained unanswered and I felt abandoned. Fortunately, I never became bitter or lost the desire to pray because I recognized the spiritual confirmations in many other areas of my life. Like Mother Teresa, I held on through service to humanity. If I had not, I might have completely lost faith.
Have you ever felt abandoned by God, and if so, how did you return?