Read Luke 2:41-52.
My brother got lost at Disney World when we were little. It was pretty traumatic—for us, not for Hunter. He had decided to visit the playground, so he climbed out of his stroller and had a great time during the brief eternity that we searched for him.
My grandmother found him. He was waving at her from the top of a slide. My parents were that grateful kind of angry—the kind that hugs and holds and also wants to pummel the one whom you had lost.
I imagine Mary might have felt it after she’d lost Jesus.
Mary didn’t find Jesus waving from the top of the playground. Instead, she found Him sitting calmly in the Temple. “Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?” Jesus asked His parents (Luke 2:49).
I don’t know how they wanted to respond, but I know what I’d have wanted to say: Well, no, Jesus. Seeing as we’re Your parents and we left Jerusalem, we thought you might have joined us or at the very least mentioned that You’d like to stay behind.
How do you father the Son of God? How do you mother the God-Man when He is still a Boy? I can’t imagine the things they grappled with.
But I have felt just a sliver of their panic that Jesus might be gone. My heart has dropped as Mary’s must have in the moment that she realized Jesus was not with the other boys. He was not with them. He was not with her.
Now, don’t hear me wrong. I know that God is everywhere. I know that those who have called upon the saving Name of Christ are filled with the Spirit of God—that He indwells us and will not abandon us (1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22). I know that He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:15).
But I also know that it sometimes feels like He has.
I know that sometimes you lie in bed at night and wonder if the One whose presence you once knew has gone. I know that sometimes you squeeze your eyes shut and beg to hear His voice the way you once did, the way that others say they have. I know that sometimes all you hear is the steady drum of your own heart. I know that sometimes you put your face to the ground and beg for His intervention. I know that sometimes it doesn’t seem to come.
He is always near. He is sometimes so very hard to find.
It was what I learned most glaringly during one season of my life, which was laced with multiple disappointments. I wondered if I’d done something to warrant His withdrawal. I fought for the faith to know He hadn’t lost me. I searched through silence, through church services, through small groups, through His Word, through others’ words. I clung onto what I knew was truth even when it felt like my faith had been carved hollow and my hope had been drained. I made coffee and did laundry and wrote papers and took out the trash. I spent days whispering, “I know You’re here,” when it felt like the furthest thing from the truth. I stared at circumstances I didn’t understand and pitched a few fits in the midst of them: “I don’t understand this. I don’t even understand You.” But I always ended up in the desperate, exhausted confession of “I still love You. And, oh, how I miss You.”
I don’t know when it happened. It wasn’t a moment like when Mary and Joseph found Jesus in the Temple. But slowly, over weeks and months, I began to feel the contented peace of His presence. I began to hear that still small voice that I recognize as His.
Let’s be clear. I’m not living in some beautiful, perfect place where I always feel His nearness and always hear Him clearly. There are still days of quiet. There are still many moments when I feel like I’m fumbling blind through a world that I can’t quite figure out and don’t quite want to. A lot of my questions are still unresolved. I still don’t understand why He’s done some of the things He’s done, why He’s allowed some of the things He’s allowed—in my life or in some of yours.
But there is this strange part of me that is grateful for it. For all of it. For every hard day. For every confusing moment. For every time I fought to cling to One I couldn’t see.
Because it convinced me that what I want, more than anything, is to be with Him. I don’t want to settle for being about Him. I don’t want to pacify myself with being for Him. I don’t just want to be on His side or around His people. I want to be with Him.
With Him. That is what I want to be.
Even when it doesn’t look the way that I expected. Even when it’s hard. Even when it’s boring. Even when it’s awkward. Even when it means confessing to the throngs of people that I’d lost Him for a moment, that I couldn’t find Him, that I thought He might have gone.
Because I love the face of the God-Man who looks up with that half smile when I find Him again. The One who says, did you not know I was here? The One I want to hug and hold and also pummel because He knew I couldn’t find Him, because He’s the One who allowed the search.
Yes, I knew You were here, Lord. I knew You were good. I knew You were for me. I knew you were working on my behalf. But I couldn’t find You.
And I didn’t know how badly I needed to know You were with me.
I didn’t know how desperate I was to be with You.
But now? Oh, now I do.
If nothing else comes of this season, may we more firmly grasp the inescapable reality that we do not want to miss Him.
When (if ever) have you struggled to sense the Presence of the Lord or to trust that He is there?
What are some circumstances in your life or others’ lives that make you wonder where God is or what He is doing? What do you struggle to understand? When you struggle to understand God, are you likely to seek Him more or to avoid Him? Take some time to be honest with yourself and your God about this.
What do you understand as the difference between being “about” or “for” Him and being “with” Him? Which most closely defines your relationship with Jesus right now?
These days and weeks have slowed us down, messed with our “normals” and caused us to re-evaluate what we value. What are your fears and hesitations as you consider re-entering a less-quarantined life?
Just as you have been journaling about the moments that you see God most clearly, begin to pay attention to moments that seem to obstruct your view of the Lord. I think, as we “re-enter” some semblance of normalcy, that we are positioned to pay close attention to what we add back into our lives. What routines will we return to? What habits will we pick back up? What activities will we re-register for?
Is there any activity or part of your routine that needs to be amended? Are there things (even if they aren’t bad things) that are taking up too much of your time or energy and distracting you from the Lord? Are there activities or habits that you should either put down or pick up in order to seek and see the Lord more clearly? Ask Him to lay those things on your heart and to make you willing to obey. Try it this week! Don’t be impulsive but also don’t be afraid to experiment. Try quitting what you find distracting. Set down what turns your attending from the Lord. Pick up what you sense might help you seek Him. Then pay attention. Did it make a difference? Discerning God’s presence will take discipline and practice, but it will be so very worth it!