I heard a story once of a man who was a great devotee of God. Always throughout his life, God was his companion. He loved God more than anything else in all the world. When the man was very old, he lay in his bed one afternoon and had a dream. In this dream, he could see his entire life stretched out before him, as though it was the coastline along the ocean. And he could look back and see his footprints — deep impressions in the wet sand — marking the path he had walked in this life. As he looked back further and further, he could see that, in fact, there was not one, but 2 sets of footprints, side by side, along the edge of the ocean. He knew the other footprints were those of God, for he had felt God’s presence beside him throughout his life.
But, then he saw something that woke him immediately from his dream; his heart beat fast and he could not hold back the tears. “God!” He cried out. “I just had a dream, and in this dream I could see the whole path of my life; I could see the footprints I left along the way. And beside my footprints, there were yours, for You walked with me, and…” Now the man was full of tears and could barely speak. “But, God, sometimes there was only one set of footprints, and when I looked, I could see that those were the times I was really fallen, really broken, when I needed You most. How, God, how could You leave me when I needed You most? I thought You promised You’d be with me forever. Why did Your footprints disappear at the times I really needed You?”
Softly, gently, God laid a hand on the man’s head, wiped away the tears. “My child, I promised to always be with you, and I have never left you for a second, not even while you slept. Those times when you see only one set of footprints, those darkest moments of your life, it was those times that I carried you in my arms.”
There are times we feel abandoned by God, times we doubt His presence in our lives. It is easy to have faith when all is going well, easy to believe in a plan when that plan brings us joy and fulfillment. It is much more difficult to believe in the inherent goodness of the Planner when the plan causes agony. Do we all not, on some level, feel that when our lives are tough, that we have been left by God? But, it is those times that our faith will carry us through. It is truly those times in which we are being carried by God. Perhaps, as we get so much closer to him, as we move from walking beside Him to being in His arms, we actually feel His presence less, so we doubt it. Perhaps as the boundaries and borders between Him and us dissolve, and we simply become His children, perhaps that is when we truly lose ourselves in Him. As the otherness is gone, perhaps we feel less aware of the presence.