Out of Sight, Out of Mind
by Kari Stainback
Not long ago at a family gathering, I happened upon an endless version of the game “Peek a Boo” with a toddler. Over and over and OVER again I put a scarf over her little head and said, “Where did Lucy go?” Then I’d yank the scarf off to her gleeful shrieks and reply, “There she is!” The giggles and the fun lasted for longer than I thought possible for a game to continue with a baby.
What made Lucy giggle so profusely as she participated in this game is that she was learning something called “object permanence”. It is the developmental process that allows children to understand that an object continues to exist when it can’t be seen, touched or heard. Prior to this stage, in the first few months of a baby’s life, they think when an object is “out of sight”, in their minds, it ceases to exist! So when Lucy couldn’t see me, she just thought in her tiny toddler mind, “she’s not gone, she’s right there and boy howdy that is hilarious!”
Object permanence is very important because it gives us the ability to understand that objects that we may have never seen in our lives actually exist. For example, I’ve never been to France nor seen the Eiffel Tower, but I know that it exists even though I’ve never physically seen it. Throughout our childhoods as we become adults, object permanence moves from the physical to the abstract as we gain more experience with the world around us. And, by God’s grace, it lays the foundation in our brains to develop faith in the triune God. We can know, by faith, the One who we have not seen physically, but we can be sure He is with us. In Christ, He is our ultimate permanent object. Some of my favorite verses that teach us this truth are:
“My presence will go with you and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33:14)
“Just as I as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.” (Joshua 1:5)
“Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I feel from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.” (Psalm 139:8-9)
“…I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b)
“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5b)
Yet, the reality of my life and I would suspect yours too, is that sometimes, I don’t feel God is near. Loneliness creeps in and I feel left out, forgotten, marginalized. For years, I thought my experience with loneliness was because of my singleness. Yet I know now, that loneliness comes to those surrounded by family and people that love them too. It could be your particular loneliness comes from being in a difficult marriage, struggling with a chronic illness or perhaps a stressful career that really, so it seems, no one really understands your world. It seems to me that the summer heat this time of year just seems to exasperate the notion, “Who really cares?” and “Does God really care?” “Does He know I’m feeling alone and forgotten; just an extra player in this game of life?” We end up feeling like a toddler with a scarf over our heads wondering “Where is God in my dark aloneness?”
Loneliness tempts us to find comfort by escaping through activity, or shutting yourself off from the world or drowning our sorrows in food or drink, or my personal favorite: cruising the mall on Saturday nights. It’s easy to give in to despair and resentment, to stop reading the Bible or praying. But none of these leads us to lasting peace. What does lead to peace is something Amy Carmichael wrote about in her poem, “For In Acceptance Lieth Peace”. Our loneliness may not go away, but it can be accepted as God’s will for today and that turns it into something beautiful.
Recently I had an ugly bout with loneliness, all of my familiar temptations to doubt and escape swirled around me. I did not feel God’s presence. All I felt was the dread that the loneliness had returned and that it would only get worse in the days ahead. By God’s grace, I know now that I have to practice His presence. So, I opened my Bible and read it, listening for the Word He had for me. It came! I prayed and thanked the Lord for being the One who would never leave me or forsake me. He gave me peace. The very next day God sent me a surprise of His love in the mail, something only He could do in His perfect timing. It was a quarterly magazine from the seminary from which I graduated. On the back was a graphic of a tree, rooted in Christ Jesus, with its branches filled with names of single men and women who have furthered God’s Kingdom throughout church history. To my utter amazement, in the far right branch I saw my name. Underneath the graphic was written the verse, “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:35). God was shouting clearly to me, “Kari, I love you, I’ve got you right where I want you, now let’s move on…we’ve got more to do here.” I giggled! He’s not out of sight, He’s present. He is our ultimate permanent object!