Missing God

Our son, David, three years old at the time, was praying at bedtime. He asked God to bless his friends, then family, pets, and stuffed animals, and finally he ended the prayer saying, “And God, I miss you.” What was this? My jaw dropped. He misses God, what do I do with that? Part of me wanted to offer him a comforting story or some reassuring advice that would remind him of God’s presence, but another part of me was paralyzed by these stark words, “God, I miss you.” So instead of saying anything, I kissed him goodnight and went to tell Jane, his mother, so she could worry too. Jane was equally puzzled and concerned. The truth is, a parent cannot simply make a three-year-old or anyone else feel something they do not, let alone the presence of God when they feel absence. Whatever we could say or do would fall short of the depth generating the prayer. This was from the heart.

Looking back, I see a bit of Adam and Eve in my son’s prayer. After their unwise adventure with the tree of knowledge, they too were left missing God in some ways, as they left their garden home behind. I see some of Israel’s history as well–in Egyptian slavery, in the desert, in Babylonian exile–times of missing God. It is surely no accident that these were also times of missing home, missing the land flowing with milk and honey. Perhaps this is why Adam and Eve’s story became so meaningful to Israel. I can also see a bit of the disciples of Jesus after the crucifixion. The disciples knew the presence of God in this man, and then he was gone. The history of faith includes times of missing God.

The next morning over our peanut butter and toast, and with a touch of fear and trembling, I did bring the matter up with our son. “David, last night, when you were praying, you said you missed God.”

“Oh yeah,” he answered, “but that’s okay now.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well,” he said, “God came to me last night–”

I interrupted, “David, you mean like in a dream?” (My modern brain had to find some way to explain this.)

“–I dunno, I guess. Anyway, I was playin’ in the sandbox behind our old house” (we had recently moved across town into an apartment), “I was playin’ in the sandbox behind our old house, and God came and said, ‘Come, David,’ so I followed, and we came here and now God is here with us in our new home!” He smiled.

David is a teenager now, but that experience still holds power over my imagination. I quit trying to explain it. Like any deep experience, explaining tends to reduce the fullness of it. I do pay attention to it however, and when I do, I find, like anything deep, the experience continues to unfold. I realize how much adults and parents can learn from children, even three-year-olds. I think about the connection between play (in the sandbox), and God. I think about that sandbox itself which sat on the threshold of our old back yard and the church’s backyard, the church where Jane was a pastor. I think about the paradox of praying to a God you miss–somehow there and not there at the same time. I ponder the role rest played, what the Bible might call “sabbath.” Also striking is how my eyes were opened at the breakfast table, over the breaking of bread, to the presence of God. And of particular relevance to this journal, I consider what a deep connection there can be between a sense of God’s presence (or absence) and home. “See,” declares Revelation 21, “the home of God is among mortals.”

J. Bradley Wigger is associate professor of Christian education at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. This story appears in Wigger’s The Power of God at Home: Nurturing Our Children in Love and Grace (Jossey-Bass, 2003). It is re-printed with permission from the journal Family Ministry: Empowering Through Faith (Spring 2002).