For most of my life, I have tried to find God in the ordinary experiences of life. I have experienced the truth of the scripture from Jeremiah, “When you seek me, you will find me” Jeremiah 29:13. These experiences range from receiving something I was praying for, like a car or financial provision. Over the years the Lord has used the generosity of many and our own gifts of ingenuity to provide for our family in difficult circumstances. Gently used clothing, furniture and yes, even cars have been just a part of the ways God has used others to answer prayer. Wisdom coming in the form of a conversation or an article or a letter from a loved one could also be interpreted as a sign that God was at work answering a prayer for understanding or direction. These are all simple ways in which I see God moving in my life.
Many times, preceding those blessings there is a less obvious, yet no less real, experience of God which can only be described as “presence”. It is like the feeling one gets when you are in a room all alone, with your back to the door. Maybe you are engrossed in a project, reading a good book or even watching a movie. Although you are not conscious of a sound, you suddenly become aware that something in the room has changed. You know that someone has entered the room, even though you did not see them. I guess neuroscientists could explain these as experiences of the subconscious mind acting in our conscious thinking. When it comes to experiencing the presence of God, there is a definite sense of something beyond our control.
In the Old Testament, the Ark of the Covenant, which held the Ten Commandments, was seen as a symbol of the presence of God. Many of the Psalms refer to God’s presence moving in the midst of people. Psalm 139 tells us that there is nowhere to hide from the presence of the Lord. The prophets experienced the presence of the Lord in the natural elements. Elijah, the prophet, exhausted and depressed, retired in a cave for the night, experienced God’s presence and voice speak to him in a gentle whisper(1 Kings 19:11-13).
Ultimately God’s presence is revealed in Jesus, God becoming man. Elizabeth, Mary’s kinswoman is the first person recorded in Luke’s Gospel to recognize the presence of the Lord in Mary’s womb. The baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy at Mary’s greeting. Elizabeth was a woman of prayer who knew God’s presence. She was attuned to God and that is a key for experiencing the presence of God.
I frequently wake up in the middle of the night. When this happens, I, like Elijah, retreat to my “cave” and wait for the presence of the Lord. My cave is a prayer corner which has developed over the years. It is a special place filled with icons and holy images which draw my mind to prayer. I also have pictures of my children, the chalice from our wedding and other objects that speak to me of God’s presence in my life. My prayer corner is aptly positioned right next to my washer and dryer. I spend the early morning of every day in the presence of the Lord; praising God for all our blessings, reading scripture and listening for God’s voice. This space and these routines attune my mind and heart to the presence of God in the ordinary and extraordinary experiences of life.
Two years ago, my daughters and I were having lunch at Panera when I sensed God’s presence in a unique way. It was like that calming experience of being at the beach at sunset; drinking up the beauty while listening to the waves lapping up the shore. My mind was at ease and everything in me suddenly was quiet, as if I were waiting for God to join us at the table. I felt God’s presence and knew something was about to happen.
Just then, I became aware of a man sitting a few tables away from us. There was a holiness about him, even as he sat there eating his lunch. The sense was so strong, that I almost got up to speak with him, except I didn’t want to seem like a crazy woman! Well this man was braver than I, because he approached our table and asked if he could speak to us. He said he had noticed us being attentive to Johanna and how we all interacted with love. And then he looked me in the eye and told me that Lord wanted to remind me that things are not always as they appear on the outside and that I was to fix my eyes on the things that were “unseen.”
He spoke these words from 2 Corinthians 4:16-18: ”Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
I knew this scripture by heart, as it was the one God gave me in prayer when my daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor at three months old. I read it often, as it hangs on my refrigerator door. But this day I needed an extra reminder. There was no question in my mind that God was speaking through this man. In the midst of that which was seen — two groups of people eating lunch — an unseen presence of God was revealed. An ordinary man spoke an extraordinary message from God, right to my heart. The lunch soon passed away. But the unseen miracle that happened that day is written on our hearts and minds for all eternity.
Eileen Benthal has a B.A. in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is a writer, speaker and wellness coach at 40DaysToFocus.com and NOFO Wellness Center. She works with clients locally and around the U.S. who are excited about balancing their health in body, mind and spirit.
Eileen and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Their youngest, 16-year-old Johanna, is a teenager with special needs. Eileen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org andfacebook.com/40DaysToFocus.