When I lay for two week in the intensive care in Thailand this past January I felt much the same thing. There was no wonderful warm feeling of God's presence and I was lying awake on a vent, feeding tube, multiple lines into various parts of my body thinking I might not make it through.
And I had a lot of time to think since I could not sleep and was not put into a coma. I hung onto the words of Jesus in Matthew 14 to the disciples in the account where Jesus walked on water.
"Take courage! It is I, Don't be afraid." - Jesus
"Lord, save me!" - Peter
"You of little faith," he said, "Why did you doubt?" - Jesus
I remembered that "Fear not" is the most repeated command in Scripture. I remembered how often Jesus said, "I am with you." A command and a statement that I knew to be true, even though emotionally I did not feel it to be true.
And I thought through the connection between faith and doubt. Faith is not based on emotion or some warm feeling on intimacy - nice as that is. As the writer of Hebrews writes, "Now faith is being certain of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see (or feel?). This is what the ancients were commended for." Hebrews 11:1-2.
I concluded laying in that bed, being kept alive by a machine that could breath for me, enduring the pain of the regular cleaning of the vent where they vacuumed deep into my bronchial cavity, that my job was to believe all that I knew to be true and banish the doubt that crept in.
Faith is developed when we have to exercise it and we exercise it the most in times of drought, when all is not well, when God seems silent, when we are hurting, or scared, or at the end of our wits.
Interestingly, the one time that I felt the Lord's presence strongly was when others came to pray for me. At those moments I knew that God was there, even though he was largely silent to me. In times of drought, find others who will pray with you and for you.
Being at the end of ourselves is a wonderful place to be because all that is left is God - and in the end God is all that we really need.
There is a Psalm that says it well. "Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage." Pilgrimage is not easy. It takes us through deserts and to the oasis. The oasis is easy and the desert is hard. But it is in the desert that we choose to exercise our faith and it is there that our faith is proved and grows.
God is never absent. We may think him absent. In reality he is doing us a favor but helping us build our faith. And Jesus says in those times "Take courage it is I, Don't be afraid."