Theological niceties were of little use to me when I entered the Sahara of the heart.

It has been seven years since a major new work has come from the pen of Richard Foster. In Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (to be released in September by HarperSanFrancisco), Foster examines a variety of ways to pray. In the excerpt that follows, he discusses one of these, the Prayer of the Forsaken.

To come to the pleasure you have not you must go by a way in which you enjoy not.

—Saint John of the Cross

Sometimes it seems as if God is hidden from us. We do everything we know. We pray. We serve. We worship. We live as faithfully as we can. And still there is nothing—nothing! It feels as though we are “beating on Heaven’s door with bruised knuckles in the dark,” to use the words of preacher George Buttrick. Times of seeming desertion and absence and abandonment appear to be universal among those who walk the path of faith.

I am not talking about a true absence, of course, but rather a sense of absence. God is always present with us—we know that theologically—but there are times when he withdraws our consciousness of his presence.

But these theological niceties are of little help to us when we enter the Sahara of the heart. Here we experience real spiritual desolation. We feel abandoned by friends, spouse, and God. Every hope evaporates the moment we reach for it. We question, we doubt, we struggle. We pray and the words feel rote. We turn to the Bible and find it meaningless. We turn to music and it fails to move us. We seek the fellowship of other Christians and discover only backbiting, selfishness, and egoism.

One metaphor for these experiences of forsakenness is the desert. It is an apt image, for we indeed feel dry, barren, parched. ...

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