“God is always at home. It is we who have gone out for a walk.” These words attributed to Meister Eckhart, a mystic in 13th Century Germany, may suggest a reason why I often experience God’s absence, especially in moments of anxiety or fear when I have launched out into some totally new action. At those times I wonder why God can lose me so easily; isn’t he everywhere? Is there any place where he is not?
When my two sons were six and eleven, I knew I must leave my husband of 13 years. Having no resources of my own, I left my children in their home neighborhood and the schools they were used to, while I went to a nearby city to live in a friend’s attic. My children knew where I was, they could call me on the phone, and I had visiting rights every weekend.
Leaving my marriage seemed to me the only choice, after years of struggling to stop the verbal and emotional abuse that spread through confused triangles within our family. It came down finally to my being powerless within the family: I was labeled “sick” by my husband. My decision to leave them there came out of my concern for them, though to anyone else it looked like abandonment and neglect. I left, and from outside the tangled family patterns I began all over from scratch to put my life together, and to rebuild solid healthy relationships with my children.
I felt severe emotional and spiritual desolation. I knew no other mother who left her children unless she hated them, and I was working so hard to love them no matter what. It was terribly hard to help them understand why I left, and that I didn’t leave because I hated them. We had to rebuild belief in truth and love, all together, out of shambles.
Much of the time I felt abandoned myself: God seemed so absent. When I was aware of him at all, he seemed distant and unreachable. I didn’t know how I was to live forward into this new territory, without a guide. All I had was what little I knew of my love for my children and of their needs as people I cared for deeply. I didn’t know where God was but I kept putting one foot in front of another, hoping that love was enough.
Nobody could tell me I had done the right thing. It felt right only in that I could see no other way forward. I probably knew dimly then what I know strongly now, that I can’t draw breath without God’s nearness in each moment. I was living the paradox of love and separation —yet we were held somehow in a love-drenched truth that was hard; and we grew stronger in it.
I learned each day to rely on a God I couldn’t locate or perceive or understand. Finally, when my older son was about fifteen, he said to me: “Mom, you did the right thing to leave Dad when you did. And I love you.”
He was the only person on earth who could have told me that. He gave me a gift from God in that truth out of his life.