Starting a new job is stressful, regardless of how great the job is.
And the stress of starting my new job has been compounded by the fact that I hate and loathe interstate driving.
I don’t like merging. I don’t like being hemmed in by a lot of other vehicles traveling at high speeds. I gawk at the people I see riding by me at eighty miles an hour who are doing things like texting and eating McDonalds and nothing that remotely resembles driving. I hate the labyrinthine tangle of lanes that, sometimes with warning and sometimes not nearly enough, will shoot you off in nine different directions at once.
So when I found out that my new job was smack in the middle of the downtown area of the major city we live in a suburb of, I panicked – and immediately tried to find another way. “Are there no state routes I can take to work?” I begged my husband. “Some little country road that just starts here and pops me out where I need to be?”
He arched an eyebrow. “Not unless you want to drive for an hour before you get there.”
So the interstate it was. And I’ve been managing, and the drives have been fine. Still, they’re stressful. When I occasionally glance up in my rearview mirror and realize that I’m going seventy in the middle of an eight-lane highway, I feel…alert. And although I’m getting used to it, I can’t say I really love it.
It’s also been an absolute nightmare for my prayer time. I did a lot of praying before this new job when I was walking, and when I was driving out through the cornfields on my backcountry route to a rural university. Because I’m so focused on my new commute, my prayer time goes out the window. And while I know that will change as I grow more comfortable, I still miss it in the meantime.
“God,” I muttered one morning between clenched teeth as I navigated onto the interstate, “it’d be nice if I could enjoy some time with you this morning, but, uh–” I glanced up as a guy flew past me on the right, blithely ignoring the speed limit as he texted someone “–it’s really hard to feel Your presence out here–”
And as I was in the middle of saying this frustrated half-a-prayer, feeling generally very aggrieved and frustrated and put-upon and overstimulated, I looked up. And friends, roaring down the opposite lanes of the interstate was a giant semi (a lorry, for you British English folks) with a giant light-up cross literally emblazoned on the front grill of the vehicle.
I stared at it as it approached, and as it passed me by, and then I smiled and laughed and smiled some more.
“For lo,” God told me that day, “I meant it when I said I am with you always.”
My general amusement at all of this aside, seeing that truck reminded me of how God’s presence is going to show up in ways I don’t always expect. I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking or believing that things are always going to be a certain way with God – that we will always feel His presence in this particular way, that we will always recognize Him in that particular way, that He will always show up in a form we expect.
I was frustrated about my commute because I had lost my “old way” of being with God, without it ever having occurred to me that God is God, and He can find a way to adapt. Indeed, He gave me this job, and wouldn’t have given me something to take me farther from Him or make closeness with Him difficult.
As you go through different stages of your life, God is going to approach you differently and appear in different ways. When I was young, God spoke to me a lot through random Scripture. I’d literally open the Bible expecting a word from Him meant to address a problem or issue in my life (though that is actually not a sound spiritual practice I’d recommend), and in His mercy He would offer me one. Now He still speaks through my Scriptural study, but also in prayer. At times, He speaks frequently through my loved ones who believe – and at other times, through experiences or moments I’ve had in solitude.
My point is that at the times I feel God’s presence is…well, absent, what I really mean is something like this: “The way that I usually sense God’s presence is absent.” That doesn’t mean He’s hiding His presence or withdrawing; sometimes it just means I need to look for the ways He’s revealing Himself in different times at different moments.
So if you’re going through a time where you’re longing for more of God’s presence, recognize that He might be showing up in ways or places you don’t expect – even on the front grills of semi trucks barreling down the interstate. I suspect it’s His great pleasure to surprise us, and if we’re open to the many different ways that He is willing to speak, we will hear and sense far more than we expect.