“When you’re going
through something hard

and you wonder where God is,
remember:
The teacher
is always quiet
during a test.”

 

A friend sent this to me as an example of “emunah” or “faith.” It wasn’t referring to me personally or to anyone I know. Just something “inspirational.”

I recognized the soothing, reassuring intent but replied that my belief was actually somewhat different:

I never wonder where God is. 

I follow more what Rebbe Nachman of Breslav says: God is in the “test” itself.

To accept this, we must first accept that all of the difficulties we encounter in life are “tests” from God. God doesn’t “test” us using “pass or fail” standards. “Tests” are not merely challenges; certainly not “punishments.” They are opportunities for growth and spiritual development. We can grow through how we try to address a problem, even if we don’t actually resolve it.

This is especially true of growing in how we choose to personally respond: We can learn to have less anger, to worry less, to be less afraid; we can learn to forgive others as well as ourselves; we can learn to open ourselves to the Divine in us, with Its infinite creativity and resourcefulness, for possible alternatives and solutions.

Many years ago, I had been meditating for about four years but was still experiencing feelings of depression and frustration. I found — was given by God — an excellent therapist. One day early in my therapy, talking about some frustrating issue that I can’t even remember now, my therapist asked, “What are your options?” It’s a simple enough question, but my life changed when he asked me. He showed me that I was frustrated because even as an adult, I had not yet learned to consider options as a consistent method of handling difficulties. It’s not that I had never thought about “options,” of course. It was that I hadn’t learned that at those especially frustrating moments, I needed to consciously and intentionally ask myself about what choices I had.  

I experienced over time that almost any of the problems we face can become stepping stones to progress, depending on how we handle them. As I developed greater understanding of emunah/faith and incorporated it into my life, I came to see even the problems as having been presented to me by God for an ultimate good. Sometimes this thought comes readily; sometimes, it must be applied consciously and intentionally, just as it was for asking myself about my options.

Further, God is never “quiet,” metaphorically speaking, as would be a teacher in a testing-room.

I once heard someone report that Maharishi Mahesh Yogi had said, “God is always speaking to us, if we only know how to listen.” I can’t provide a specific citation, but I eventually came to an understanding of this well beyond where I started (not that I’m finished, of course). 

If we sincerely recognize that God is giving us the difficulty, we at the same moment turn our attention from the difficulty to God. In prayer especially, I’ve even experienced God as more real than the difficulty. 

Yet, in the same moment that God presents us with a difficulty, God can be offering us a solution (as done for Hagar, wandering with Ishmael in the desert). Sometimes, God speaks to us through “intuition”: Going through a problem, our minds filled with worry or anger or fear, we might find that if we can quiet our minds, God will speak “Patience” or “Peace” to our hearts. Then, the unbearable becomes bearable.

I have also learned that our contact with God — with what God is — can be gradual and incremental. In our efforts to have faith, we need not necessarily expect that it is “pass or fail.” Our attempts build on themselves. When faced with a difficulty, casually saying “It’s God’s Will for the Good” might not have any effect on either our feelings or the situation. Repetition, consistent attempts, are what can bring us the help we look for.

God is in the problem, giving us that help.

If we only know how to listen. And look.