Feeling far from God

October 22, 2009 at 12:14 pm (personal)

I’m not sure how it can be that after so much thinking about God, I feel not very close to God. I feel like I don’t really know God… don’t have a clear picture of God… it has all been academic so far and not very personal… and so I don’t feel much towards God.

I mean, I know God is infinite mercy, and I should feel grateful to God for life and the chance to avail myself of that mercy… but I don’t. I know I should want to surrender myself to God, but I just don’t really understand what that means. I can think of lifestyles that are not surrendered to God, and I know I don’t want that, but mainly because I see it as bad for a person. I don’t see my choice of lifestyle as being an act of worship, or even much related to God. I suppose I should at least thank God that I’ve been guided away from some badness. I just find it hard to see God in it.

I know I can not be perfect, but I think I’m not very aware of my sin. So I don’t have much of a sense of needing to let go of things in surrender to God. One thing I am aware of is that I am fairly attached to the dunya (world), I worry about money and housing and children and even my retirement. Maybe I need to let go of that. Very hard though… I don’t entirely have faith that things will be “okay”, I don’t entirely trust God, and I certainly don’t trust myself to cope and remain faithful if things go “wrong”. This is a long-standing problem of mine.

Maybe this is what surrendering to God is about, then. Maybe I need to deepen my faith and knowledge of God to get there. It’s interesting that praying has brought me to these thoughts – maybe it is starting to work after all.

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21 Comments

  1. Ellen said,

    Yeah… I felt that way too, up until a week ago. I had been really pushing myself to make the five prayers and felt a bit overwhelmed until I stopped halfway through prayer and realised that I was actually bowing and prostrating to *God*. For some reason I hadn’t really realised that bit before – I knew who I was praying *to* but when I bowed & prostrated I didn’t fully pay attention to what I was doing. I suppose it was just “going through the motions” because I was more concentrating on the movements/words. After realising then it all changed a bit, in terms of feeling more connected.
    One more thing that I noticed… during the month you pray a lot, think a lot and try to read a lot. Then comes the week where you can’t (yeah I’m guessing you know what I mean heh) pray and suddenly you really miss it and you feel the void. I know that’s a really simple thing but that really impacted on how I was feeling towards God and made me notice how attached I had become to this lifestyle where you spend a significant amount of the day in worship.
    Also, maybe don’t think if it so much as surrendering but rather as an acceptance? I’ve started to feel that way – that I have accepted this new lifestyle & faith, because I’m not sure if I would feel so driven to let myself evolve if I thought of it as surrendering.
    And, you know, I don’t think you need to break away from the dunya either. I think you’re on the right track in terms of wanting to know more and have more faith – worrying about children and housing etc is definitely not a bad thing because like you said before, it’s still important to be proactive.
    You know, reading what you wrote is like reading something that came out of my head! Alhamdulillah there is someone who is going through the *exact* same feelings.

  2. LK said,

    Sarah I know how you feel. I am going through a similar thing. I have finally taken a bit of a break from all the academia that was stunting my relationship with God and trying to focus on praying and just letting things happen. Sticking with the Qur’an instead of so many books and lectures. Sometimes you have to stop trying to figure things out and let the answer come to you. I am starting to feel better now, starting to get closer to God again. But so many earthly things eat at me too that sometimes its hard to concentrate on what is really important you know? I mean, it is important to worry about money, security, etc. But it is also important to figure out what your life is all about.

    Hang in there, you are not alone 🙂

  3. Stacy said,

    I have felt this on and off throughout the years too. Something to try is just making dua almost constantly. Asking God to orchestrate events in your life and asking for his guidance on even the smallest issues can let you see how he is working in your life. I think this is what was meant by “pray without ceasing” in the Bible. I think this idea is definitely applicable in an Islamic context as well.

  4. Sarah said,

    Ellen – I know what you mean, I think it takes a serious amount of concentration to be fully mindful of God. I imagine as we mature spiritually we become more conscious of God. Or maybe it goes up and down.
    That’s interesting advice about not totally letting go of the dunya. I agree that we have to be proactive and try to improve our lives. I just sometimes think there are better ways I could improve my life rather than a material improvement, which is what I always want.
    Alhamdulillah indeed – it’s good to know I’m not alone! 😉

    LK – I remember your post about thinking too much, which I completely related to, and I definitely think thinking too much may not be very constructive! I think it is a good idea to take a break and concentrate on prayer – something I haven’t felt able to do up to now. Maybe I will, but I doubt it somehow!

    Stacy – thanks for sharing your experience! Perhaps I will try conversing with God a bit more through the day.

  5. Sam said,

    Sarah,
    I think most muslims have been in your situation many times in their lives. There is a hadith (I cannot remember exactly) but it mentions how one’s faith will fluctuate. I have been that way at times, for many times I will be zealous about God and Islam other times I seem detached.
    I have found that fasting a few extra days here and there will bring you closer to God, for it teaches you humility which you need to become closer to God. Without humility, one will always think oneself will suffice and one does not need God.
    Try to do your prayers on time for it keeps you in remembrance of God.
    Try to read a little of the Quran everyday, even if it is 1-2 minutes.
    When the good or bad happens, always say alhamduallah.
    Also, try to associate with friends that are close to God for over time you will be influenced by them.
    The main thing is be patient and do not rush things. Start with little goals and build on them and do not do anything that overburdens you.
    Everyone one of us is attached to dunya some more than others but the main point is do not let dunya supersede your religious duties.

  6. Sara (cairo, lusaka, amsterdam) said,

    I agree with everyone that sometimes closeness to God fluctuates. Like Stacy said, try to make du’a, read/listen to Qur’an, and read about Islam in general. What helps me is reading autobiographies of the Prophet. It makes me feel very close to him and God.
    I think approaching it from a spiritual/emotional side instead of a logical one might help too. Logic sometimes only presents us with a very abstract God.

  7. Sarah said,

    Sam – thanks for the suggestions, I think fasting is a really good idea, and reading Quran, which I haven’t done much of for a few weeks. I think I felt much more positive when I was doing that. I will try to be patient as well and not push myself too hard.

    Sara – there are so many books I want to read, and I think I need to discover more about Muhammad too. Any suggestions for biographies? I agree about the spiritual/emotional aspect. I haven’t really let myself go there.

    Sometimes I wonder what it is going to take for me to trust Islam and commit to it. In many ways I am already there, and I can’t deny that I want to be out of religious limbo, but I continue to worry on and off that I am making the wrong choice. I keep feeling doubtful over silly things that I have already thought about extensively and assured myself about. Maybe my enthusiasm grows but then my thinking needs to catch up so I freak out a little bit.

  8. susanne430 said,

    Jesus said to not worry about what we will eat or what we will wear, but to seek FIRST the kingdom of God and His righteousness. He said all these other things will be added unto us. Easier said than done, but what a great way to live.

    I think He was teaching us to take care of the spiritual things and trust God to meet our needs instead of being bogged down in the cares of the world. The Bible tells us many times to not be anxious, don’t worry and don’t fear. It’s hard to have the peace of God that passes all human understanding when we are worrying about the bills or the ungodly culture! 🙂

    Good post and interesting comments as well.

  9. LK said,

    Sarah I am wondering the same thing. Do you just get to a point where you need to commit. I can’t stand religious limbo. I’ve been in it for over 10 years I am soooo tired of it. But I too worry about making a wrong choice even though I truly believe all who believe in God can go to heaven. I still hem and haw over things I figured out over a year ago. I don’t know what I am afraid of either, but I freak out too. I think its because it is a huge change, and huge changes are always scary.

    If you do get biography info on Muhammad (PBUH) please pass the info. I just put a post up about that myself. I have also neglected learning about the prophet and have focused more on the facts and rules of the religion itself. Need to learn more about him to truly understand Islam.

  10. Sarah said,

    Susanne – yes, Jesus is a great example of someone who wasn’t very attached to worldly life. This was easier when I was 18 and idealistic but not so easy now!

    LK – I feel the same way. Every time I sit down and ask myself what I believe, I find I do have convictions, but I just can’t act on them!

  11. Cornelius said,

    If indeed God has plans for us all beyond this world, then there must be a special purpose and reason for this life. And if all there is that’s demanded of us is to focus on the end of the journey, this world, this life, everything around us now are just meaningless. God could’ve simply created us and put us all at the “reception lobby” of Heaven. That would be much simpler and straightforward. No need for all this dramatic comedy we’re going through now.

    Therefore, I’m inclined to believe that there is more in this life than merely worshipping the big guy up there—of merely devoting everything to Him. I believe there is a reason why religions want us to equip ourselves not only with religious knowledge, but also improve ourselves in all other aspects.

    If this line of thought is correct, then I see nothing wrong to be attached to the world—it’s OK to slog hard to enrich ourselves, both in knowledge as well as in monetary terms. It’s OK to strive to achieve greatness and fame for ourselves in businesses, politics, educations, sports etc. And achieving these things usually comes with the financial rewards and better comforts in our lives. All these achievements don’t necessarily mean that we’re forgetting the final destination. We can still pursue all these dreams in tandem with the pursuance of the Kingdom of Heaven.

    Many of us pray to God to seek His help to accomplish our dreams in this world. And when our prayers are unanswered, we become disappointed. We don’t know that God might have answered our prayers—just that the answer was NO. What we get out of this world depends mostly on ourselves.

    I want to share a bit from the movie Bruce Almighty. I know many Muslims are not allowed to watch that movie (which I think is silly). So by sharing this here, I hope I’m not offending anyone.

    In that movie, God gave His powers to a man named Bruce. Among the first few things Bruce did to test his powers was to part his soup in a bowl in a restaurant. He saw that as a miracle. Later on, he realised that so many people in this world were asking for God’s help to overcome a multitude of problems in their respective lives, and it soon became quite a daunting task to cope with all those appeals for help. Not knowing what to do, He went to God to seek His advice.

    God said to him:

    “Parting a soup is not a miracle, Bruce, it’s a magic trick. A single mom who’s working two jobs and still finds the time to take her kid to soccer practice—that’s a miracle. A teenager who says no to drugs and yes to education—that’s a miracle. People want me to do everything for them, but what they don’t realise is they have the power! You want to see a miracle, son?… be that miracle.”

  12. Sarah said,

    Cornelius – I totally agree that there must be a point to this life besides marking time until judgment day. I think it has to be about learning to improve things as you say, for not just ourselves but others too.

    I think not being attached to the world just means not putting our material status as our number one goal in life, which would tend to make us selfish and ungrateful and would not satisfy us. Doing good is more satisfying.

    “Many of us pray to God to seek His help to accomplish our dreams in this world. And when our prayers are unanswered, we become disappointed. We don’t know that God might have answered our prayers—just that the answer was NO. What we get out of this world depends mostly on ourselves.”

    I couldn’t agree more. And I love that quote from the movie. I used to be around people who thought like that and I did for a while, too. Seriously, some people even pray for God to find them a parking space – as if God is their personal helper and has nothing better to do. I think God put us in a world which is like a gym for us to work out, why would he then want us to opt out and let him do all the work?

  13. Bilquis said,

    I felt very far from God for a long time and then one day I realized that I actually think about Him 24/7. There is nothing else I do. But I also noticed that like you I felt that I wasn’t focussed on when I had sinned or that I had sinned at all. I believed God loved me and didn’t want people to think I was overconfident and I also thought I was too attached to this world.

    Then without any bang or drama I also realized that why shouldn’t I be attached to this world? After all, this is the only world I know. This is it. This is all I have ever seen. This made me realize that being close to God means being close to His creation. Religion is to be good in this life and the other life will sort itself (if there is another life).

    Every morning I pray to God to make me useful to others and to bless me and every act that I do consciously and unconsciously. If I carry a neighbor’s groceries for him I feel I have served God and I feel closer to him. I can’t box worship into five pillars because honestly speaking salah never calmed me. I never enjoyed it; it was a ritualistic and very objective. I can’t accept objective worship when it has to be the most personal, subjective and private act. Muslims pray like they have been taught by Muhammed and believe that Muhammed was taught by God to pray like this. So sad then that God didn’t teach His previous messengers to pray like that. I think Muhammed prayed like he knew to pray so why shouldn’t anyone else pray the way they want to pray?

    In short, I felt I was pushing myself to accept a religion I knew was not perfect but which I wanted to believe was perfect and once I came out of that make belief shell where I worried about “how could He say that?!” I felt closer to Him.

  14. Sarah said,

    Bilquis – thanks for your comments. It sounds like you are much happier with your individual faith. I also think there is not just one way to worship God. And I can relate to the feeling of shoehorning yourself into a religion, although I have refused that up to now. I suspect there is truth in all religions, but wherever people are involved there will be imperfections.

  15. Jamie said,

    I just love finding this conversation. I have always believed, but it has just been a little over a year now that I have found a need to know God on a deeper level, and REALLY try to live the way that He would want me live. I was shocked when the more I read, and the more I prayed, and the more I changed my life for Him, the further away I felt from Him. It left me feeling unworthy and even depressed. I think it was because the more I studied, the more I realized I had to change. That became overwhelming. I would hear all the time, God loves us all, then I would find more and more conditions on my life in order to be a Christian. Here I was searching for the peace in God’s love, and instead, I had a constant headache from thinking, thinking, and overthinking. I think I felt closer to God before studying because I had always lived my life without trying to live God’s way, it was easy and carefree, then at the end of the day I would pray for forgiveness and that was that. God forgives all sins…goodnight and sweet dreams. I also think as we struggle and struggle to follow God’s path, whether we admit it or not, we expect an easier life because of it, we believe that we will be rewarded in obvious ways. I am doing better now, and finding some of that peace that I was looking for in God. That did not happen until a friend reminded me that God changes us little by little. Everything is not going to come natural, and everything is not going to happen over night. He is pleased that we want to know Him and learn more about Him. Patients truly is a virtue, and with time, God will become a natural part of life if you keep searching for Him.

  16. Jamie said,

    I was just reading over what Bilquis had to say about feeling like he was very far from God and then realizing he thought about Him 24/7. About 6 years ago I went through a phase when I started to feel like possibly I didn’t believe in Jesus at all. Maybe it was too good to be true, and even a little far fetched. This went on for about 6 months and every single night I cried myself to sleep for not believing in Jesus and I would beg for forgiveness for my feelings. I don’t know how it took me so long to realise it, but one night I just thought to myself, why would I feel so emotional about this and cry every single night if I honestly did not believe in Jesus. It would not matter to me if I thought He wasn’t there. Obviously, I believed very strongly that He was there. Who did I believe I was begging for forgivness from? I actually laughed at myself that night and realised how dramatic we can make this life sometimes. I said my prayers that night and have continued ever since.

  17. Sarah said,

    Jamie – thanks for your comments. I can certainly relate to much of what you say. It happened to me like that when I got really into church – it was like my head was full of thoughts about God, but it wasn’t filtering through to my heart. It was like I was trying to get close to God by brute force. In some ways I am back there again, but this is changing now. You are so right – it takes time to nurture faith and goodness. Being heavily into religion doesn’t always help. I found what you said about expecting an easier life or an obvious reward interesting. I used to anticipate that God would interact with me in an obvious way, and felt almost snubbed otherwise. It always seems like other people are doing better or being more blessed! My understanding now is that real spiritual progress is made slowly and quietly. I concentrate less on what I want from God, and more on everything He’s already given me, and on giving something back.

  18. Achelois said,

    “I’m not sure how it can be that after so much thinking about God, I feel not very close to God.”

    That is what happens when we get bogged down into the workings of a religion, isn’t it? I believe we all have those episodes.

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