The Dark Night of the Soul
In the 16th century, St. John of the Cross wrote this incredible book. I was captivated by the concepts that he wrote about as I read some of it. I need to write out some of the things I’ve learned. Get them out of my head.
The dark night is a place that every mature follower of Christ can tell you about. It is a place of great darkness and the absence of anything. An empty void that you walk into. Everyone’s journey leads them to this place in every life at some point. Those who have travelled this road never forget it. Those who are yet to, well, I wouldn’t tell them much about it beforehand.
Before I can live my life for God completely, there must be a death to myself. Dwayne must die. The old Dwayne. The one who lived for himself and thought about himself and was consumed by his own desires. My ego. My “old me”. He had to go. Baptism was my symbol for this. When I was baptised, my old Dwayne died. A new Dwayne began. But I was young when I was baptised and I only understood this so much. I had to relearn that lesson several times since then. The dark night.
I asked God to make me more prayerful. To make me more humble. To make me more mature in my walk with Him. Never did I dream the process He would need to use to answer those prayers in my life! Had I understood them, would I have prayed them? Probably not.
I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
God brings us to places in our lives where He “deserts” us. A place of suffering and pain. A place of humiliation and shame. A place of sorrow and sadness. There we are alone. And what do I do? I call out. I pray like I’ve never prayed before. I cry out! “God, where are you?” Exactly like the psalmist.
Hear my prayer, O LORD;
let my cry for help come to you.
Do not hide your face from me
when I am in distress.
Turn your ear to me;
when I call, answer me quickly.
But God doesn’t. He doesn’t answer at all. He watches. He yearns for us. But I feel absolutely nothing of His presence or His watchfulness. I feel completely abandoned. Why would God do that? Why would He abandon me in such a state? Why would I be left feeling absolutely alone?
“Sometimes I get this feeling
My prayers bounce back off the ceiling
And they spin around the room with me
And they never get to You....
My one wish is to break through,
When I try to get to You
My one fear is a deaf ear,
Please tell me it ain’t true”
(“Bouncing off the Ceiling” by A Ragamuffin Band in Prayers of a Ragamuffin)
Well, nothing inspires prayer like adversity, sorrow, and humiliation. In broken times we pray at our best. Humility is learned not from books and theology, but from humiliations. When I’m stripped away of my self-sufficiency. I don’t learn trust in God without God stripping away all my supports. So that I’m totally dependent on Him. That’s trust. You can’t learn it any other way.
Do I worship God, or do I worship my experience of God? Have I come to rely on His comforts or His character? I must move past a worshipping of His comforts to a faith in His promises. Mature faith can’t grow when surrounded by the comforts of God.
The experience of the dark night of the soul is a painful one. God seems absent. Words spoken to Him ring hollow. Oppressive feelings of guilt sharpen the pain of loss. “I have failed.” The worst fears surround me and they attack me. Jesus experienced this. In the garden of Gethsemane. For hours he called out to God. Begged his disciples to pray for him. “If it’s possible, take this cup from me.” Then on the cross. Crying out to God. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
And does my faith grow through this painful experience? Not necessarily. In fact, I think it can have a terrible effect. I could grow cynical and hardened by the absence of God’s presence and comforts. I could allow bitterness to nestle in and turn away from Him. Rebellion. Pride. Apathy.
Or I could turn to distractions. Back to myself and my needs. Seek to meet them or find them met somewhere else. Self-indulgence. Self-centeredness. Selfishness. Eating humble pie till the bakery is bare doesn’t guarantee humility. Ego-slaying remains. Old Dwayne must die. Faith must be refined.
What I needed is to press in further. Pray in a deeper way. Allow the hindrances of false humility to be stripped away. Allow brokenness to happen. And it does. Out the other side of the dark night is a newfound much deeper faith. A worship experience not grounded on the comforts but the character of God to sustain me. A hunger not just for the gifts of the Giver, but the Giver of gifts. A peace in knowing the face of God, not just His hand of blessings. I have walked through the desert and I’m ready for the Promised Land. I have prepared myself for revival. I have matured in my faith. I have deepened my prayer life. I have learned a lesson in trust. Real trust.
I’m waiting for the biopsy results to tell me what kind of renal cancer I have been diagnosed with. Are there treatment options? Waiting is the hardest part. I want to do something. But there’s nothing to do. I’m trusting. I’m believing that God has something for me in this. What is His purpose? Why won’t He tell me? I’m calling out to Him. Crying out. Silence. Stillness. Some mornings my prayers echo back to me.
“Yet will I trust Him.”
Life is an adventure, a journey we travel. And God walks it with us - hand in hand if we let Him. Guiding, shaping, and molding us through the circumstances. I seek to journey more intentionally here.
Monday, July 04, 2005
The Dark Night of the Soul