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Surprised by God's Presence

When have you felt the presence of God in your life?

The official Facebook page of The United Methodist Church recently asked that question. The post got several hundred responses. Some were nice and uplifting. Some of the responses were sorrowful. Many simply said something like "all the time."

Some of us may resonate with that sentiment: We feel God in all aspects of life.

My hunch, though, is that many more of us feel like Trella Blades, who said, "Sometimes I have felt his presence but other times I haven't. I wish I could figure out how I can feel his presence all the time. I believe and love God with all my heart."

We recently talked with Kate Bowler on our Compass Podcast (you can — and should — listen to the full episode here). Kate was diagnosed with stage IV cancer a couple years ago. At the time, she was only given a couple months to live.

She was surprised by how, in the midst of her dark days, she encountered God's presence.

"Here was the great surprise for me about being sick: God was there for me anyway," she said. "I was genuinely surprised that in the worst of my hospital moments, I could feel God's presence. God was just there."

Her story isn't too dissimilar from Katie Rebecca Cole, who responded to the Facebook post by saying, "I felt God when I learned I had thyroid cancer at 30 … I can remember the doctor telling me and then this unexplained peace."

Randy Nunley admitted he felt God's presence "the night I saw my dad take his last breath … I felt a sense of peace in the room, which I know was the presence of God!"

Pat Schmidt-Zwarko's story is heartbreaking. She felt God's presence "holding my son's hand while he laid in his coffin. I knew I would survive that horrific experience."

There were several stories like this — stories about people entering into what might have been the darkest moments of life and finding the light of God's presence.

Perhaps we feel God revealed in these moments because they are the moments when we're actively looking for something divine.

Kate, Katie, Randy, Pat (and many other responders) all took their questions and expectations to God in hopes of a response. The response they got was presence — not always restoration, but presence. Kate experienced presence through other people. Katie and Randy felt it in a sense of peace. Pat felt the presence of hope.

These stories don't help us answer the challenge we feel alongside Trella: How do we feel God's presence all the time? However, they do suggest that even in the hardest of times, God is there with us.

That can be surprising.

I resent sermons that suggest the secret to being more holy is trying harder. I'd like to spare you from the platitude that suggests you'll feel God more when you seek God more.

Instead, I offer these little testimonies as assurance that God is with you anyway. God is with you when times are dark and when they're light. God is with you when you are looking and when you're not. God is with you when you feel presence and when you don't.

That may be surprising, but I hope you'll find it to be true.

For more witnesses to God's surprising presence, subscribe to the Compass enewsletter.

Ryan Dunn is the author. Ryan serves as the Minister of Online Engagement for Rethink Church.

[Posted February 19, 2018]