After more than a month of doing little writing except for this column, life has settled down somewhat, and this past week I got back to responding to the journal prompts in Debbie Macomber’s Once Upon a Time: Discovering Our Forever After Story.
The chapter I read dealt with what St. John of the Cross called “the dark night of the soul.” Macomber describes her dark night of the soul when her son Dale, who suffered from depression, committed suicide.
The prompt, of course, was to write about a time in my life when I experienced a dark night of the soul, when I didn’t sense the presence of God. In light of what Macomber shared, I debated whether I’ve ever had a dark night of the soul.
I’ve had challenging times – difficult stretches when God seemed not absent, but withholding His presence, His blessings. I’ve struggled, questioned, searched. I’ve dealt with loss, heartbreak, disappointment, despair. I’ve suffered through betrayal, been cheated out of a job, lost the man I thought was the love of my life, dealt with a mother suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, moved stuff out of the house I grew up in when it was put on the market, lost my father on my twentieth birthday, lost my sister when we were just beginning to get close, shook my fist at God, been disappointed in Him, questioned and rebelled when my life circumstances weren’t what I ordered.
St. John of the Cross’s poem “The Dark Night of the Soul” describes a spiritual journey.
My entire life has been a spiritual journey, but more like Pilgrim’s Progress, with Giant Despair’s Doubting Castle and the Slough of Despond. Not that there haven’t been any dark nights. There have. I just never doubted God’s existence, presence, and control of my life.
I was surprised to learn that one of my heroines, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, suffered through a dark night of the soul for nearly 50 years. She wrote about a “terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing.”
Really? Mother Teresa?
Yet she continued her ministry to the poorest of the poor. She didn’t depend on feelings to fuel her faith. She obediently followed her call through the darkness – and came out on the other side. Toward the end of her life, she wrote, “the darkness left.”
“It’s only in telling the story that we begin to see God’s hand,” Macomber writes. “I’ve learned that it isn’t until you are facing your own black tunnel – the biggest challenge of your life – that God reveals how He’s been preparing you for this.”
As I look back on my life, Lord God, I see that You have indeed been my “refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1) – even when I didn’t understand it. Thank You! Amen.
Special-Tea: Read Psalm 46