One day when I (Ryan) was 8, I went to the mall with my mom to get some clothes. After wading through the clothes department aisles for what felt like forever, I spotted the video game section mere feet away. Before I could even think twice, my feet were moving toward the game displayed on the TVs. When I turned around a few minutes later to find my mom, I realized I had lost her. I ran around the store as quickly as my chubby legs could take me, my eyes darting from aisle to aisle, hoping I would catch a glimpse of Mom. But she was nowhere to be found.

The knot in my stomach tightened as reality set in. I would never see my mom or family again. I was an orphan now. All hope was lost.

But hope wasn’t lost. Sure, I was convinced Mom had vanished—until she suddenly appeared and said, casual as can be, “Hey, where’d you go?” She had never been very far away. She was just out of my sight.

Have you ever found yourself wondering where God is? Maybe you have found yourself asking the question in a stressful or disastrous situation. Maybe you’ve been struck with an overwhelmingly emotional feeling that God has left you. Maybe a nagging question has grown in the back of your mind over time.

God, where are You?

We think that behind the “Where are You?” question often lies a more fundamental one: “Who are You?”

Are You good?

Are You trustworthy?

Do You care?

Everywhere you look in the world around you there seems to be injustice, environmental degradation, and human suffering. You’re not alone if you can’t help wondering whether God just left us to rot. What should a thoughtful person do when faced with the realities of a painful and often unfair world?

One person told us, “I have been struggling with a lot of job issues and am starting to question whether I should keep doing this or not. I just feel hopeless and empty. It is sad to say, but at times I feel like God has left me behind.”

Feeling left behind. Like me in the department store.

We love the passion with which the author of Psalm 10 pours out his heart when faced with the seeming absence of God. “Why, O LORD, do you stand far off?” he wrote. “Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (verse 1). The author of this psalm was doing exactly what God wants us to do when faced with doubts about His presence. He didn’t bury his doubts. And he didn’t just complain about his doubts to his friends. Instead, he brought his doubts directly to God.

We believe that kind of brutal honesty with God is always the first step you need to take with your doubts. Think about this: God is no less with you in your doubts than He is with you in your certainties. No difference. In the middle of your doubts, God hasn’t moved, and He hasn’t disappeared. At the moment maybe you can’t see or feel Him, but just because you’re doubting doesn’t mean He’s not still there.

During an especially hard time in Israel’s history, God seemed so far away that the people wondered if He’d left them to waste away in their sins. They looked around at their disastrous circumstances and came to the conclusion that they’d finally pushed God too far. He was done with them. He was going to let them fend for themselves.

But God told the prophet Jeremiah to pass on to His people this unshakable promise about His nearness: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

God has things He can teach us while He’s seemingly MIA and we’re wandering about or feeling abandoned. And meanwhile He’s still there. In the end He will make sure we find Him again. Like the Israelites, you may be in a place right now where you feel that God has abandoned you. We don’t know how long that feeling will last, but we want to remind you that God does not abandon His daughters and sons. Keep seeking Him, keep praying, and don’t give up!

Reprinted from Firsthand. Copyright © 2013 by Ryan and Josh Shook. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC.