Into the Mystery

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The best reflection I’ve ever heard on what’s going on when we’re seeking Jesus in prayer and he seems to be absent is that rather than disappearing away from us, he’s moving deeper inside our hearts.

So far from abandoning us, he’s inviting us deeper.

I started painting this in such a season. I was praying with the Scripture passage about Peter walking on water. Jesus had left the disciples alone in the boat. He had apparently moved away from them. But then in the midst of darkness and storm and apparent catastrophe, he reappeared in a way so unfamiliar, so unexpected that they didn’t even realize it was him and immediately assumed it was a ghost.

He called out to them. To them. “Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.” And Peter, because he knew Jesus’ voice from so much dedicated time with him, recognized it.

And as a longing to be near Jesus again welled up in his heart, he cried out, “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water.” “Come,” said Jesus.

What an intraversable passage it would seem to have been. Jesus is there, but to have to walk on water to get to him? But it was the only way to get to Jesus. It was what stood between him and Jesus. And most importantly of all, it was the way Jesus had given him to come closer. So Peter stepped out.

And even though he fell, Jesus caught him. Held him. In an embrace more intimate than they’d shared before. Peter didn’t have to be good at walking on water or have all the trust in the world. All he had to do was move toward Jesus, and Jesus caught him.

I think it’s moments like those in which we’re most tempted to think Jesus isn’t with us in our prayer, or that we’re failing at it, or that we’re in a bad place. I was in one of those moments recently when I knew Jesus was asking me to press into the moment in what seemed like darkness, like nothing at all. Like mystery. Just to press in deeper, to persevere with the seeming absence knowing he was in there. Knowing he was there, but not having a clue what else might be. It meant pressing into what was unfamiliar and unknown, into new places in my heart I hadn’t yet been. Not for the sake of the darkness but for the sake of finding him more deeply.

And he was in there, and with him, deeper love and deeper freedom. In time my recognition grew.