"Many a dark night of the soul brings forth a richly love of life and God." -St John of the cross
I had never heard the above phrase until I became a widow. In passing, a friend had used this phrase to describe something I was feeling during a particularly rough patch after the passing of my husband. Not knowing what it meant or where it came from, I took the phrase to mean well, a particularly rough patch. Looking back I snicker thinking that was the worst I could feel at that time. Goodness. I had no idea.
In my previous post I shared the goodness of God and meeting where I had been, but more pointing out how I knew He still had good and miracles in store for me. While all of that is wonderful and true, I would be remiss if I didn't share how I moved through this recent dark night of the soul.
The phrase, “dark night of the soul” is often used informally to describe an extremely difficult and painful period in one's life, such as the time period after the death of a loved one or a the break-up of some kind. Could even be a diagnosis of a life-threatening illness. Whatever the trigger, the result can at times be a dark night of the soul. This term is not in scripture but rather came from a Carmelite monk called St. John of the Cross. The Carmelite way of life is a mindset of seeking solitude and silence with God to develop what is a contemplative life. It makes sense that one from their own grouping would coin the term dark night of the soul. Although, in today's vernacular it sort of reminds me of Batman, so there's that.
So how do you known if this is that season for you or you have experienced it? I suppose there is actual psychology papers and studies written about this very thing. Yet in my experience, I find that a true having walked the path, come out fairly unscathed and lived to tell the tales has more street cred than someone reading about it and studying human like lab rats. That's just me so, take it for what its worth.
When one walks through this type of day, week or longer season they typically feel completely lost, powerless and hopeless. There's that directionless sense, almost like you literally don't even know what to eat for breakfast. Everything and nothing has change. One may tend to search for new hobbies, a new job, simply anything in order to find stable ground. Confusion is at a all time high, and assurance is peaking at rock bottom. You may have an idea of where you want to go, but you don’t know when or how to get there.
Overwhelmed by circumstances you can’t control may also add to the confusion and frustration. Not to mention there will be people in your path that you wish would not speak, yet it's at this time they feel the most verbal and offer unhelpful solutions. It's not that these well meaning friends/family shouldn't attempt a solution, it''s just that you need to walk this valley with God and God alone. I know. What I said there flies in the face of every "you need community" sermon and speech given over the past centuries. Except on this one, I stand by my words. Community is awesome to listen, shed light on paths etc. But when you begin this fight, (and it is a true battle), it's only the Lord and you that can walk it. We see this in many examples in scripture, Elijah, Moses, shoot, even David to some extent. In this season a community of friends comes in handy if they are willing to pray over you and lift you before the throne of Grace during your time of need. It's that not knowing what to do or say so you shut up and pray.
In my own journey recently, as I mentioned in this blog, I had given up. A friend was worried when I said those words because most leap to the ending your life sort of giving up. This was not that. My give up was that I knew the enemy of my soul had been throwing his level best my way and I just didn't have it in me to fight and believe anymore. I knew it wasn't God, I knew this was a spiritual battle, but I did not want to do the fighting, believing and blind faith thing any longer. Basically I wanted to get a regular 9-5er, live in an apartment somewhere and go on about my life, waiting for Jesus to return. Bland, blah, and completely opposite of why I was created, why any of us was created for that matter. I have had some dark days since Mark died, but this was more than a day. This was days and in the past I could see an end, just needed to get some tears out and then I'd be fine. This was like a weight I could barely carry, I couldn't even read through my daughter's school work without crying, and reading the Word of God was out of the question because those promises seemed unattainable for me.
Enter in the lie... When you feel like you can't pick up your bible, that's when you know the enemy has his foot on your neck and is attempting to squeeze the last bits of life from you. He's such a lying, vile creature. I would look at my children and weep thinking, "is this the best it's going to get for them? Fatherless, semi homeless, depending on the kindness of others?" Goodness, that was hard to type because I can see the lie all over again and cannot believe I fell for that garbage. But it needs to be shared because I know someone reading this has walked the same path. Someone reading this is currently walking this exact path. Listen, when you are walking through darkness like this, all the reminders of God's goodness seem mute and all you can hear are the lies of the devil himself. Again, ample reminders and examples in scripture to note better men than I have gone this journey- remember when Elijah was bemoaning the "fact" that he was the only one left in all of Israel even God told him there were 7000 left as a remnant? (read it here in 1 Kings 19) Yea, that. Really, we have got to stop chastising ourselves for wavering and hesitating when the poop hits the fan in our lives. Sometimes the enemy has some terming weapons. Sometimes we freak out a bit. And always Jesus says to us, like He said to Peter- "Why did you hesitate?" when they walked on the water. I think in the church we imagine Jesus sternly looking at Peter, finger pointed in his face. But I rather think our Savior would be offering a sympathetic smile, even tears of seeing Peter so incredibly afraid. Notice Jesus and Peter walked back on the water together. He got another chance to walk on water, people. Ahhh, our Savior, God of second and twentieth chances.
I didn't do anything to get out of the dark night of the soul. My apologies if you thought this blog was going to give you 5 easy steps to reach the light at the end of your tunnel. The purpose here is to give a voice and assurance to the one who has walked or is walking through a dark night that our God will see you through. There are countless articles that tell you what to do, "3 simple prayers to overcome defeat", and other such myths. The truth is, on our own, we are utterly helpless. And that's the coolest part about being saved by Messiah Jesus. When you come to the end of what you can do, it's as if He says, "finally! Now let's do this My way."
There are plenty of times the Lord wants us to partner with Him, do the world He has prepared in advanced for us to do. (Eph. 2:10) But when it comes to soul work, many times He asks us to be willing to relax in all our striving and doing and let Him heal those wounds.
To get even more personal and transparent, the Lord began to deal with my roots and plants of bitterness. Had zero clue I was bitter or had any residual bitterness. This was a seed that had been planted seventeen years prior to my dark night of the soul. That little seed was well watered by trauma, people's words and criticisms, and my own dwelling on the words, all resentment and bitterness to bloom quite nicely deep in my soul. The thing is, bitterness is so sneaky and many people are bitter and resentful, yet those of us who are "happy" all the time have an exceptional way of stuffing it with platitudes and bible verses, fake smiles and "I'm fines" until we haven't a clue these roots have taken hold.
I would never have guess I was a bitter Betty, yet the Lord knew otherwise.
During this time, He began to set me free one by one of the hurts by doing one tiny thing- revealing to me the exact moment that bitterness was planted.
And then, He had me forgive a total stranger for her careless and piercing words. The seed wasn't even from family or a friend, a rando stranger at the park. Geez. Talk about your blindsides.
In the middle of an incredibly dark season such as the one I have experienced, there is precious little anyone can truly do about it. Psalm 23 confirms this- "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."
Our job is to not fear evil or the evil one. His job is to stay right with us, His shepard's staff and rod comfort because they gently guide and pull me to Him and beat the crap out of the enemy attacking. Please know that if anyone has told you this rod is for discipline as in a smack down from God those people are terrifically off base. Sheep would scatter to the winds if anyone smacked them with a rod. Our Shepard knows we'd do the same if His correction was hurtful and harsh. No, dear friend, that rod is to beat the ever living tar out of any attacker. A shepard's job is to care for his sheep, and protect them at any cost, to chase after them when they stupidly wander off.
What our Shepard will do at times is provide warriors to fight on your behalf. Basically He sends back up. Mine came in the form of a mom who likely never left her knees for me, a dear friend who unfortunately got entangled in my mess, but prayed me through, and beloved aunt- who received the tears and ugliness of my wrestlings. These three women were gifts from our Shepard to assist in the lifting me up out of a pit. The Lord used their prayers and their words to bring truth, angelic help and clear paths so that I could start walking again. And just like that, the darkness lifted. Sunday morning driving into a church, He met me. It wasn't an all of a sudden for those praying, but for the recipient it sure felt like a suddenly of God.
I want to encourage you, the one in a dark season, to simply give the Lord an opportunity to raise up prayer warriors around you. If you don't know who they are, ask Him to show you. My three friends had help, I recently learned. Another precious saint texted me asking how specifically she could pray. She had no clue what I had just been through. There are those for you as well, shoot, I'll one if you'd only reach out.
I'll end with a blessing over you- May the Lord continue to bless you in the season you are in, whether a dark night or a season of Spring and prosperity. May He send warriors around you to lift you up when you need a hand. I pray in the name of our Lord, that you would see the spiritual blessings all around you and that you would grab hold of them, never let go- but if you do, know that He has not let go of you. Only rest in His tender care.