Encounter: Meditate on the words of Jesus in Mark 14:32–42; 15:33–39 & Psalm 22 & 42, underline words or phrases that speak to you about a dark night of the soul that perhaps you have experienced. Times when you felt God was distant or nonexistent and hopelessness set in.
In a scene from the 2004 film Ray, about the life of Ray Charles, the character flashes back to a time in his childhood, early in his blindness, when he stumbles on his way into the house and calls out for his mother. Though she’s just a few feet away, she says nothing and waits for him to pick himself up. Slowly, he does, listening for cues around him (a teapot’s whistle, a passing wagon, a cricket) until he finds her again. “I can hear you too, Mama,” he says, as he knows she’s been there all along. In our own dark nights, though we may not be able to see ahead of us, we can be sure that God is there with us all along.
A sense of God’s absence is felt by every follower of Jesus at some time in their lives of faith, appearing through a crisis of some kind and brings with it among other things, distress, suffering, feelings of injustice, and temptation. We question ourselves, God and the church. Actually, we question everything. Known as “the dark night of the soul”—a phrase borrowed from the poem of the same name by John of the Cross—this experience is both a crisis of faith and an opportunity for our faith to grow. The challenge is at the time we cannot see it because our feelings of God’s presence evaporate and we feel the door of heaven has been shut as we pray and this can cause us to be disillusioned unless we expect that this is a part of our journey.
Many of us have experienced our minds racing at night, filled with worry, unable to sleep as we wait for the light of dawn. It’s then that God often comes to us. The scholar Walter Brueggemann points out that lots of pivotal events in the Bible take place at night. “Unlike the daytime, the nighttime is vulnerable and exposed and dangerous. It is that time when we cannot manage, and people are drawn to God as a source of safety when there is no other source of safety, and as a source of presence when the world feels absent.” I wonder if we might see an invitation in these nighttime hours?
In the book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Pete Scazzero writes about this dark night being like a wall you have to go through to get to the other side. He writes, “Failure to understand its nature results in great long-term pain and confusion. Receiving the gift of God in the Wall, however, transforms our lives forever.” There’s a gift in these darkest of nights? Yes, and one of the most important is maturity in our faith and a deeper experience of God’s presence in our lives. It is easy to say but it literally can feel like you are hitting a wall because what takes place is a shedding of those things within us that are not yet Christ. When we hit the wall, things like pride, envy, impatience, judgment, pleasure seeking and running from the hard things are removed and God will insert something of himself into our character that will be with us the rest of our journey with Him. We may feel like we have lost, but what we will have gained is more of God himself. We may feel like we have lost power and control, but what we will have gained is freedom from clutching hard this world to grasp the hand of God who guides you.
Let us not fear the dark places, who knows what unexpected gifts they may bring. Let us say to God along with David who knew many a dark night,
It’s impossible to disappear from you
or to ask the darkness to hide me,
for your presence is everywhere,
bringing light into my night.
There is no such thing as darkness with you. The night, to you, is as bright as the day; there’s no difference between the two. (Psalm 139:11-12)
Reflect: What resonates with you from the scripture passages? Journal your feelings and use these to write a prayer to God from the questions that may come up in your soul about times when God has seemed absent. Be honest and genuine. Maybe you’re experiencing that today. Ask yourself, “What it God saying to me?” And reflect that back to God.
Encourage: Do you know someone who is going through a difficult and dark time? Think about whether forwarding what I have shared here would be helpful. Or maybe purchase the Emotionally Heathy Spirituality book for them. Gerald May’s book on The Dark Night of Soul is also a helpful book. There are podcasts and articles that take help explain the mystery of this season. Click here to read another blog post on this subject, https://www.soulshepherding.org/in-the-dark-night-remember-god/
Gather: Spend some time in your Life Group or with a few friends sharing about those times when you have experienced a dark night of the soul. Discuss what was helpful in those seasons and what wasn’t. What was confusing or if you experienced a gift that you can identify on the other side of the wall.