encounter

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I entered the chapel with a couple hundred other students, and the only thing I felt was numb desperation. Where was God? Why couldn’t I find Him? Why couldn’t I see Him? Why didn’t He seem to be in any of the usual places I found Him?

God has always communicated with me in very emotional ways. That’s not the way He communicates with everyone, but that’s how I typically encounter Him. However, when I am not emotionally present, when my mental health spirals and I feel apathetic towards everything outside of myself, it feels like God’s not there anymore. It’s as if my emotional state determines the presence of God. And that’s simply not true.

After weeks of wrestling with this spiritual angst, I sat down on the right side of the chapel and willed my heart to feel. But it ached to praise God with my lips when my heart was only half invested. It hurt to raise my hands and get caught up in the nice music when my heart struggled to give thanks. It hurt to close my eyes when all I could see was pain.

The student chaplains read the entirety of Psalm 119, one of the longest passages in the Bible and certainly the longest Psalm. It’s a prayer about coming back to God’s Word. It’s about longing to long for Him. It’s about valuing God’s purposes above anything else. But it’s also an acknowledgment that doing so is hard, especially in the midst of suffering. The psalmist pleads with God to help him seek after God even when it feels like the world is against him.

I made the prayer my own. I didn’t have any words of my own but I had this psalm. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong about praying prayers written by someone else. Sometimes someone else has the exact words our heart longs to speak but cannot find.

We then participated in communion together, a public declaration of the trust we place in Jesus, and a physical sign of what Jesus has done and is doing in our hearts by the Spirit. Bowing my head in prayer, I begged God to renew my joy. I begged Him to restore my hope. I begged him to help me rediscover what it means to follow Jesus with all of me.

The worship team led us in a song called “You Are My King.” I immediately had flashbacks to fifth grade, when I discovered God for myself and committed my life to Him. He was no longer the God my parents followed. He became my God, too. And this song had been one of the things that God used to save eleven-year-old Eliana. As I sang the lyrics tonight, many years later, I was brought back to that place of awe.

In the middle of the song, God drew my attention to one of the student chaplains standing along the side of the room. Without speaking specific words, He made it clear that I needed to go over to her and ask for prayer. I balked. I had no idea who she was, and the last thing I wanted to do was ask a complete stranger to pray for me. But after a time I couldn’t fight the pull any longer, and I made my way over to her.

I broke down in tears as soon as she wrapped her arms around me and asked what was going on. Not able to get out many words, I blubbered, “I’ve had a lot of trouble praising God recently. I can’t feel Him and I don’t know how to find Him. I’m feeling very called to missions but… how can I bring people to Him if I can’t find Him myself?”

As she prayed over me she kept her arms firmly wrapped around me, and I felt the Spirit pass from her to me. First she addressed the things I’d specifically mentioned, and then something really crazy (and, I’m not going to lie, kind of scary) happened. She started speaking into very specific areas of my life that I’d been wrestling with. She pleaded with God to drive out the bitterness and anger in my heart. She asked Him to mend broken relationships in my family. She asked God to remind me, His child, that Jesus died for me. That He took the fear and the ugliness and left them at the cross.

And then she met my eyes and told me I am worthy. That even though I’m afraid to enter the presence of God with all my mess, I should enter anyway because He wants to welcome me in. She grasped my hands in hers and declared that anxiety and depression have no place here. They can’t keep me from His presence. They can’t hold back God’s power.

She was about to release me then but suddenly held me again and let me cry. She placed her hand on my back and began to say Jesus’ name over and over again. All I could think of was that there is such great power in the name of Jesus. Abruptly, in a moment that could only be, inexplicably, the Holy Spirit, I felt peace wash over me with mighty vengeance.

For the first time in a long time I felt clean. I felt whole. I felt worthy.

And I knew it was God. It could only be God.

When on the day the great I AM
The faithful and the true
The lamb that was for sinners slain
Is making all things new

Behold our God shall live with us
And be our steadfast light
And we shall ere His people be
All glory be to Christ

All glory be to Christ our King!
All glory be to Christ!
His rule and reign we’ll ever sing
All glory be to Christ!

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