Our small group is studying the spiritual disciplines in the book Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. This week we studied the disciplines of simplicity and solitude. The former I will write about another day. It is the discipline of solitude I write about today, more specifically the experience of "the dark night of the soul" within that discipline.
We were asked if any of us had experienced this time that Foster describes when "we may have a sense of dryness, aloneness, even lostness." Foster says in his book that "the dark night is one of the many ways God brings us into a hush, a stillness so that he may work an inner transformation upon the soul." There was a time period in my life that was immediately recalled in my mind, and as I continued to read about it, I realized I had experienced this before. It is a time where "feelings leave and there is the sense that we are not getting through to God...during such a time Bible reading, sermons, intellectual debate all fail to move or excite us." We often make the mistake during this time of blaming everyone and everything for our "inner dullness," but this is also a time that has come about as a result of God's loving hand in our life, not as a result of sin or disobedience.
It is difficult to describe the feelings that go on during this time period. I had such a desire to learn more about God and put all of my dependence on him. I clung to the promises I read in the Bible, but I never felt that he was "pulling through for me." I continually prayed that I would not compromise and that I would remain faithful to him, even though I felt so lost and empty at this time. It is quite emotional to recall all of this as those feelings of loneliness and emptiness become all too clear, and so I thought that I would just post some of the thoughts I wrote down in my journal during this time to help give a better picture. I described to our small groupies last night that it was the most difficult time in my entire life, but I would go through it all over again just to experience what I did on the other side.
I started to copy some of the thoughts I had written over and over in my journal, but there are just too many to put here. I cried out for help constantly and clung to his promises I read in his Word, and I tried to find ways to thank him and praise him in little ways. But the whole thing just brings tears to my eyes to read again, mainly because I remember how painful a time it was and then because I also remember his goodness in bringing me through such a dark time.
It's not like depression; it's something totally different. I didn't feel depressed, just lost and empty, crawling to God on my hands and knees everyday to search and know him better. Although I didn't enjoy it at the time, I knew it was happening to make me into the person he wanted me to be, to be more like Christ. I knew that and believed that with all of my heart, but it was so difficult to get through.
As God did bring me through it, my journal entries seemed to change overnight as I no longer felt lost of empty. It was the most joyous time. Life did get better. I remember the day(s) when things really changed, and if you talk to anyone who really knew me before and after this time in my life, they would tell you that I became a different person. My mom still talks about how I was a different person after experiencing this "dark night of the soul."
Although it was so incredibly difficult, I will still say that I would go through it all again. Even as I read through my journal and my thoughts, I see God's hand working in me and bringing me closer to him. Richard Foster says that "it is an experience to be welcomed much as a sick person might welcome a surgery that promises health and well-being. The purpose of the darkness is not to punish or afflict us. It is to set us free. It is a diving appointment, a privileged opportunity to draw close to the divine center."
I can tell you that I truly felt FREE!
I became zealous to understand holiness and to be more like him, and the more I studied the more I realized I wasn't like him. But he still loves me! So I remain a sinner saved by grace who is constantly making mistakes yet striving to be more like him.
I close with a few thoughts I wrote down during and after I went through this time.
"I stand between the saint and the sinner, chasing after holiness, close enough to grasp, but still it's just beyond my reach."
"Sometimes I think, how can you love me? My thoughts are so far from your own. Why choose me Lord? I'm a poor reflection. Why use me to make yourself known?"