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The Glory Ache
O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need for further grace.
—A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God
It happened again.
I was not surprised.
Her words of frustration and longing spilled from her heart to my e-mail inbox.
I have lived a very blessed life. I have been married to the same man for forty years. I have four beautiful daughters, who seem to have married the perfect mates, and nine wonderful grandchildren. I was raised in a Christian home, and my mother is still alive and healthy at eighty-five years old. My husband is retired, and we are living comfortably. I have never been abused or mistreated. I have friends, and most would say that I am a happy person. And yet, something is missing. With all the good things in my life, all I really want is a close relationship with Jesus.
I am trying, I really am. Even though I was raised in church, I married a Jewish man and drifted away from God. I gave my life to Christ at a women’s Christian meeting fifteen years ago and have been pursuing God ever since. I felt that recommitment was necessary for me. It was a new beginning. Now I do an online Bible study, am an active member of a local church, visit a shut-in once a month, and help with vacation Bible school. I have taught Sunday school, and I attend church regularly and pray daily.
I have been reading and studying the Bible and know that when you seek forgiveness, it is given. I have asked God to forgive me of the choices I have made and believe that He has. Now I am asking God to let me know what His purpose is for my life. What does He want from me? What does He have planned for me? I am trying very hard to listen for His direction. I am willing to follow His path, whenever I realize what that is.
Here’s the crux of my problem. After I gave my life to Christ, I joined a church and began reading the Bible daily. Yet I never experienced that overwhelming feeling of change that so many others experience. In my quiet times, when I seek to know Him better and wait quietly for answers, I do not get the nudges that others talk about. I know that some people hit rock bottom and then experience a dramatic life change accompanied by an emotional high. I sometimes wonder if I will have to experience some great trial in order to have the wonderful feelings of a true relationship with Christ. I have worked on identifying my sins, thinking that this might help me feel closer to God. I am working on not gossiping and not being prideful or vain. I am always working on my patience. I don’t have any serious vices, but I am constantly working on self-improvement. I try to start each day with quiet time, Scripture reading, and prayer. I try to have a God-focused day.
Is something wrong with me? Do other women feel this emptiness too? Should I be feeling something more? What more should
I be doing? I know Christ loves me, but something is missing and I don’t even know what it is. What should I do?
Oh, Stephanie, I whispered, no you are not alone. Your words echo the longings of women all around the world, and I dare say, through the ages. Why is feeling close to God so hard? Why does this faith journey seem so difficult?
There Must Be Something More
This was the first time I had heard from Stephanie but not the first time I had heard the heart-cry. The particulars of her story were different, but I had heard the same longing from countless others.
Most of us come to Christ with a certain “inloveness”—a stirring of emotion mixed with an inexplicable knowing that we’ve discovered our reason for being. But some years into our spiritual journey, the wonder that swelled during the early years ebbs into routine religion laced with busyness. And we secretly question the point of it all. There has to be more than this, we muse. There has to be something more. What am I missing? What’s wrong with me? I’m doing all the right things, but God seems so far away. I’m trying as hard as I can, but it never seems to be enough. What does God really want from me anyway?
For decades, as I have had the privilege of ministering to women, I have heard the same heart-cry from those who desire to have a deep, intimate, exuberant relationship with Christ but don’t know how to find it.
Perhaps you can relate. You long to feel close to God but sense there’s just something lacking, that you’ve missed the mysterious formula to make it happen. I call this a “glory ache”—a persistent longing to experience God’s presence on a daily basis. Perhaps like most women, you’ve tried desperately to balance the montage of mundane demands and somehow slip God into the white spaces that are few and far between. You long to spend time in the sacred with God but find the desire crowded out by the responsibilities of the secular—the daily demands that lay claim to your attention. You yearn to experience God’s presence but feel far away from Him as you reach to click off the bedside lamp and collapse exhausted once again. Maybe tomorrow, you sigh.
Sound familiar? If so, you are not alone.
The travesty is that we allow the busyness of life to crowd out the Source of life. As the psalmist wrote, “We are merely moving shadows, and all our busy rushing ends in nothing” (Psalm 39:6, nlt). Ann Voskamp echoes that lament: “In a world addicted to speed, I blur the moments into one unholy smear.”1
And in that unholy smear, that blur of the world passing quickly by, we know something’s not quite right. So we strike out to make it all better. And most of us are quick to think “something more” means “doing more.” We ramp it up and gun the engines—sign up for a new committee, volunteer for a new cause, bake one more casserole to feed the sick. We attempt to silence the hunger pains of the heart by feeding it the bread and water of duty. And at the end of the day, while we might feel a self-induced sense of well-being, the hollowness in our souls that can only be satisfied with God echoes with the grumblings of hunger still.
We long for a sense of closeness with God, but we have a hard time putting our finger on exactly what that closeness would look like. It’s just something more. Something different. A flavor we have yet to taste. A country we have yet to visit. A sunset we have yet to experience. A lover we have yet to embrace. There has to be something more, we cry! And we are quite right. We are craving the closeness that comes with an intimate relationship with Jesus.
So we try harder. We go to Bible studies, attend church, say our prayers, and read our devotions. Check, check, check. And yet, we constantly feel that we are somehow letting God down. With the last “amen” of the day, we sigh, What more does God want from me?
One January morning a few years ago, I asked God that same question. I had just finished a big writing project and was ready to tackle the next big thing for God. I snuggled in my favorite den chair with a steamy cup of coffee and my well-worn Bible to spend some alone time with my heavenly Father. I read a few verses and said my prayer. Check. Check. When I started to get up, I felt God’s invisible strong hand holding me back. He wasn’t finished. Be still, and know that I am God, He seemed to say. Cease striving.
Suddenly I saw myself with the disciples caught on the stormy Sea of Galilee. As I pondered the past twenty-five years of my life, I saw myself reeling in the waves of ceaseless activity. A squall of busyness raging around me—and in me. Reeling from one foamy crest of work and deadlines to the next and hanging on for dear life. In my mind’s eye, the fellow passengers were not the motley crew of first-century disciples but women from every walk, trying to steady themselves in the turbulent waters of life.
“Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” they asked. “Help us!”
Then I sensed Jesus speaking to me just as He had spoken to the raucous wind and waves: “Quiet! Be still! Settle down!”
So I sat.
After a few moments, I realized I didn’t really know how to be quiet and settle down. I had never mastered the full idea of “be still and know.” I knew that God was God. It was the “be still” part that stumped me. Sitting still was not in my nature, and perhaps it was my nature that God was trying to tame. My “nature,” or natural bent of working for God, was standing in the way of my worship of and communion with God. My daily routine of sanctioned quiet times was getting in the way of the divine romance in which He wanted me to engage.