Revelation is Not a Guarantee

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For a three-month stretch when I was seven or eight, I tried to learn how to pray.

When I couldn’t sleep, I’d pull a children’s prayer book down from the shelf and move it to the crack of light that shone in from the hallway. I opened it up to the Lord’s Prayer and read through the words, hoping that praying would do something.

Anything.

About a year before, my parents had sent my older brother to a Christian children’s home called Sunshine Acres. Then they put my older sister in a psych ward at a local hospital. In about a year, she’d join my brother at the Acres, permanently.

I was praying in the eye of a hurricane that was not quite finished destroying life as I knew it.

At the time, I didn’t really know I was praying because of the chaos in my family. I didn’t connect those dots. I just felt like something was wrong, was scary, and hoped prayer would help me stop feeling afraid.

Looking back, I am astonished that my first instinct was to open up a prayer book. We weren’t going to church right then. The Presbyterian church I had been before we moved to a new city was nice, but like many churches, its niceness seemed like the niceness of school: lovely and wholly unconnected to terror.

I prayed anyway.

If this story had a nice tidy Christian bow on it, I would have opened my mouth and had it filled with sparkling revelations.

But when I prayed, I didn’t hear anything. Not a whisper of comfort. Not one trumpet blast.

But I didn’t give up. Not right away. I did it again the next night. Silence. Again. Silence. Again. Silence.

After a few weeks of this, I stopped getting the book off the shelf. I stopped trying.

I didn’t decide God was a fairy tale. I just assumed my technique was lousy. I had no problem believing that God could fix me. I just thought I needed to try harder for me to hear him talking.

Look: I am so grateful I did not take the silence as confirmation that I was alone in the universe. (I wish I had not decided that it was my fault.)

But my heart aches that I got nothing audible back from my prayers.

This isn’t just a “pie in the sky” wish. As an adult, I’ve prayed and sensed God’s presence and direction so powerfully that it might as well be an audible voice. I have been enfolded in safety and protection and love and had my whole outlook change.

But it makes me ache, ache, that when I was little, I didn’t get any of that. I had no idea that Jesus was with me.

I have to be honest: I have no idea why.

Why wouldn’t God give me a taste of revelation when I was desperate and without any power? I mean beatitudes, anyone?

Why did it take so long for help to come?

Why is it that so many children suffer so much, with so little done about it? Why are they alone in the dark in the first place? Why do little kids often get the least help when they have the fewest resources?

I don’t know. I really don’t know.

I know that I survived without God’s revelation there in the dark. I know that somehow my heart stayed tender towards Jesus and other people, and that when I had enough theology to reach out again, I did it eagerly. I know that in the end, I got the revelation, and it saved my life again and again.

You know what, though? I’m allowed to grieve with that young girl in the dark.

Maybe I’ve learned this: revelation is lovely. But it is not the same thing as salvation. I wish I had sensed God’s presence with me as a child—oh, I wish I had known he was there with me. But me knowing or not knowing it did not change the fact that God was with me in strength and power with every one of his angels. He was there.

It does not take away the ache. But it helps to know that what I took as absence was only silence.

It can take a very, very long time for us taste salvation. In the meantime, it can feel like God is not coming.

Even blessed, desperate, helpless children have to wait.

Is this good news? I don’t know. But it helps me to say it out loud, because it’s both the truth, and the only antidote for the “try-harder” lie I internalized as a small child.

If you don’t hear the voice of God when you are praying, it is not because you are doing anything wrong. I completely understand getting pissed off at God about this. Feel free. But please, don’t get pissed off at yourself.

Revelation is not a guarantee, and it is not doled out because we’ve earned it. Revelation, like so much else about God, is a grace-filled mystery.

More often then not, we are asked to wait. And wait. And wait. We are asked to believe salvation is already here despite evidence to the contrary.

I think the waiting must be necessary. It’s not a punishment or a trick to goad us into performing like trained monkeys.

I won’t pretend to understand the mystery of God’s silence. I won’t pretend it does not give me pain.

Regardless: even though I ache when prayer feels like a brick wall, I trust God’s holy stillness has its own purpose. Perhaps a long wait, helpless and hopeful, is the revelation we have been dying for.

Sometimes, silence is the most holy place.

Heather Caliri

Heather Caliri

Writer at A Little Yes
Heather Caliri is a writer from San Diego who uses tiny, joyful yeses to free herself from anxiety. Tired of anxiety controlling your life? Try her mini-course, “Five Tiny Ideas for Managing Anxiety," for free here.
Heather Caliri

Latest posts by Heather Caliri (see all)

  • Oh, Heather. This took my breath away. Thank you for sharing. So raw and hopeful at the same time.

  • Sonja Bachl-Weber

    Thank you. Just thank you.

  • Heather this is so painfully beautiful. ..Even young children face the dark night of the soul,the purifying mystery of God working behind the scenes in darkness. It seems so wrong a child must face such trials but faith tells us God’s plans for us are good..to give us a future of hope! But ohhh all those years so alone and scared. I know them well.. Thank you..

    • Thanks, Kathy. I’ll say this: those I know that were desperate as children tend to cling desperately to God. I hate that it is a part of faith, but I DO think it’s necessary, somehow, even if it’s not fair or pretty. That, perhaps is the beatitude power–the improbable beauty of suffering.

    • When young children are suffering, they have nothing with which to compare it. This is life as they know it. And suffering is not mandatory; it is often inflicted by people who have no clue about goodness and kindness. Where does faith tell you God’s plans for us are good? Does that mean that pain will disappear? Of course, God – who loves us – want us to be happy. God does not orchestrate the trials and pain; God is there to comfort. And it is the responsibility of people (with well-developed conscience) to protect and honor children, to help when they are lost or confused.

  • Finding God in the Silence is perhaps our greatest challenge. Whether we are kids trying, begging God to take away the monsters; or married women in a terrible union, we may wonder Is anyone listening? Here’s a thought. A little child picks a bunch of dandelions in her grubby little hands and runs over to Grandma with her gift. Why is the little girl not afraid? Because everyone knows that dandelions are kids’ flowers AND because Grandma always loves it when she reaches out to her. Remember the face of Grandma or another older person and you will see God … at some point. Really!

  • Wow. Thank you for sharing such a painful story and for allowing and insisting on the continued questions. These are questions I ask all the time and simple answers just don’t satisfy. Maybe that’s why I keep asking.

    • I think questions can TOTALLY be a place of holiness too. I love reading Jesus’ questions–he asked so many of them, and not one of them is simple.

  • Rebecka

    Heather, as someone who frequently tells herself the reason I can’t
    sense God or my prayers aren’t answered is that I’m not trying hard enough, I
    just want to thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you!

    • Oh, Rebecka, I’m sorry, and I’ve been there. I’m so glad that this lightens your load. xoxox

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  • Heather, I totally relate to this so much. I had so much silence as a kid, and for most of my adult life. I went through so much of thinking I was doing enough or trying hard enough, and for me, most of that was/is rooted in the abuse I suffered as a child. I’ve had a few “tantrum” prayers where I screamed and yelled at God, “Why me?!?!” And you know, I’ve had that answered a couple of times. Not audible answers, but just encounters with others who have been through the same or similar things where I can say to them “I understand. You’re not alone.” And in those moments, I am not alone either. Not that I ever was, and I can look back and see that I was never alone, never invisible.

    Thank you for sharing!

    • “never alone, never invisible”. Yes: this is such a good mantra.

  • Your perspective that waiting is a holy place to be, that is profound to me. I often hear about how God allows us to “wait” etc. but to think of it as a holy journey gives it a spiritual weight I hadn’t quite considered before. Maybe spiritual weight isn’t the right phrase…it’s more of a “lift”. I so often feel that I have to wait because I haven’t got this Christ following thing right…that my waiting is due to some fault of mine, some divine purpose I just haven’t been able to wrap my mind and will around. Your post continues to challenge me to dig deeper and recognize that maybe waiting isn’t about what I’m not doing right but rather about who God is and the mystery of His working in life. That lightens my thinking. Thank you!

    • “I so often feel that I have to wait because I haven’t got this Christ following thing right”. Yes. yes yes, me too. And sometimes, sure, this is true, and sometimes, the waiting is just THERE, and always the assuming it’s the former is heart-shredding. I’m so glad you feel lighter!

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  • This was great timing. Just had a very painful talk with my 15 year old son who is the child you describe yourself to be. He feels abandoned and now angry with a God who never seems to answer or show up for him. It’s so hard to sit in his pain with him and acknowledge and allow his anger and then tell him to not give up or hold out hope he’ll keep believing. I am praying his faith simmers as he waits for God to show up.

  • JennaDeWitt

    Ow. That hit close to home. 😉 Such hope-filled words to cling to, friend. <3

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