Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Long, Dark Night of the Soul

I used to read all those Old Testament stories about the Israelites being led, protected, and provided for by God and wonder how they could keep forgetting all that God had done. How could these people not believe God would come through for them? How could they go after other gods when the One True and Living God had chosen them from among all the peoples of the earth? And proven it over and again?

Then I grew up.

My new believer faith seemed always to be filled with God doing the miraculous and answering my prayers. Whatever I needed I could call on God and He provided it. He was indeed my Jehovah Jireh, the God who provides. In my baby faith, I didn't understand how or why other believers didn't trust what God clearly said He would do. Where was their faith?

Enter the long, dark night of the soul. St. John of the Cross called it that first, I think. It's been described as a time when it seems as if your prayers are not heard, your spiritual life becomes dry, and you begin to question your belief. If you've been through it, you know it. It's not a two week time frame; it goes on and on and on. It seems every day as you pray, it becomes apparent that God is not listening and probably doesn't care.

The long dark night of the soul usually centers around intense pain or loss in your life. It did in mine.


There were days in my long, dark night when I would see glimpses of God's goodness and love. I would see His reality and feel His life. But the one area I wanted clarity in, the one thing I was praying about, the one place where I needed to hear His voice: nothing. Silence. Distance. Indifference. I remember so many of my prayers began or ended with: WHERE ARE YOU? When are You going to come down and make this right?

The grace of God kept me safe in this time. I couldn't fall from His Hand, even if I couldn't see His Hand. I was secure in Him. And there was one grace in particular that kept me sane. It was remembering.

I would weigh the idea of abandoning God and my faith. The pain was intense enough for me to contemplate the thought of leaving behind what I had embraced and championed. But my mind would go back to when He first brought me into His family. I could see how the Father had led me, protected me, wooed me, and drawn me with His cords of lovingkindness. I remembered His goodness and mercy towards me.

How many times does God tell us, "Remember..."? I think specifically of Deuteronomy 5:15 where He says, "Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand."

I had been in my own Egypt at one time. I was a slave to my own plans, my own desires, and to my own sins. I couldn't overcome them. It took the Lord God showing Himself mighty on my behalf. Somehow, I could not forget that reality.

And even in what felt like abandonment, I knew He was. Like Job, I wanted to speak to my Maker and hear some reasons for my suffering. But I never got those reasons. Honestly, I wouldn't understand them if He explained them to me. So, like Job, I had to put my hand over my mouth and admit that such knowledge is too wonderful for me.

If you are going through a long dark night of the soul, I know this: your experience is unique to you. But maybe knowing you are not the first or the only to go through it will be of some comfort. Maybe being aware that other believers struggled through such times will encourage you. And even if you are finding it hard to remember the Lord your God, be assured that He is remembering you.

But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
the Lord has forgotten me.”
“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
    and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget, I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands;
    your walls are ever before Me.
Isaiah 49:14-16