Monday, October 19, 2015

A Journey in the Dark Night of the Soul

Provision by Claudia Wood Rahm
In the past couple of years, as I was nurtured by my study in the seminary, I experienced a never before spiritual drought. During this time, I had difficulty hearing and feeling God, as if God had turned a deaf ear to my prayers, or that He had abandoned me. It was a scary lonely feeling. It was like walking in the dark all by myself, and yet I didn’t know where I was going, and how long must I go. I called out in despair for help, but no one was there to answer. In the Christian tradition, this experience is often termed as the “Dark Night of the Soul,” and it’s sometimes described as a spiritual “desert wandering.” It’s a time of spiritual solitude. People usually experience it when God is moving them towards the next spiritual life stage.

In the beginning of my Dark Night, I wasn’t sure what had happened, but somehow, the sense of God’s togetherness was diminishing, and my prayers were often met with dead silence. In the first half of my journey in the Dark Night, my spiritual life became like Elijah’s two journeys in the desert. In 1 King 17, after pronouncing the curse of a drought to Israel, Elijah went to hide near a brook in the desert. While he was in the desert, he drank from the brook, and ate from the pieces of bread that the ravens brought him. However, the brook eventually went dry. In Elijah’s second journey in 1 King 19, he was escaping from Jezebel the queen of Israel. He was exhausted and frustrated. In the desert, he sat under a tree, and said to God, “I’ve had enough! Now, O Lord, take my life” (1 King 19:4, NET). Nevertheless, the angel of God brought him just enough of food and water to keep him going.

During this time, God’s presence to me was a lot like the bread crumbs and cakes that the ravens and the angel brought Elijah. They were a little here and a little there. At first, they were enough to keep me going, but eventually the brook went dry. I became frustrated, and I said to God numerous times, “I’ve had enough! This has got to stop!” Yet, even my protests were met with dead silence. All my life, I had been able to feel God’s togetherness, and so I took His presence for granted. I had no idea how lonely it was to be without His Spirit. It was a loneliness that nothing can fill. It was a spiritual loneliness.

God felt just so cold and distant. When I prayed, I heard only the echoes in my head. It was like when you tried to call somebody on the phone, and all you heard was, “I'm sorry, the number you have reached is disconnected…” I was convinced that God didn’t care about me anymore, and so I gradually stopped to pray. At its worst, I wondered if God enjoyed watching me suffer from afar, as if my life was a cheesy soap opera. In the latter half of my journey in the Dark Night, I eventually lost any feeling of God’s presence in my life. I began to doubt God’s existence. I thought to myself, “Did I gave up my career at its high, and spent all these big bucks just to find out that God isn’t real? What a joke it would be if I become an atheist after all these years of seminary training!”

I was so frustrated that I became angry at God. In my distress I cursed God, and I thought to myself, “Life would be so much easier without God and the burden of this religion!” That’s when I realized that I had become the Israelites whom God brought out of Egypt. In their distress, they grumbled against Moses and God, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this desert to kill this whole assembly with hunger!” (Exodus 16:3).

I was convicted by my own thoughts, and I realized how I had been like those stiff-necked Israelites who had little trust in God. I repented from my pride, and I humbled myself. However, God was still out of reach. I hated that feeling of being without God. It felt like I had become an orphan, or that I was divorced, or that I lost my best friend. Something that was close to heart went missing. I apologized to God over and over again for any possible offense I may have done against Him, but nothing was changed. Then I thought, maybe God wasn’t listening to me, because I wasn’t praying right; or maybe it was because I wasn’t getting my theology right. What if I read more Bible? What if I try to be a nicer person? Yet again, nothing was changed. I wished desperately that there was something I could DO to bring Him back.

After years of wandering in the spiritual desert, at the end, it was the Holy Spirit who led me out of it. The Dark Night of the Soul turned out to be an opportunity for growth in so many different aspects of my spiritual life. Based on the Christian tradition, with which my own experience resonates, the most important area that God wants us to grow through the Dark Night is our relationship with Him. One crucial lesson that I learned from my journey in the Dark Night is that there really isn’t anything that I want more than God’s togetherness. It doesn’t matter where I go, what I do, or whom I’m with, I’ll be fine as long as I have God in my life. There really isn’t anyone or anything that I need and love more than God.

My journey in the Dark Night also taught me that there really isn’t anything that I could DO to be close to Him. God is a real Person, who desires REAL and INTIMATE relationship with us. I used to feel this distance from God that I could only address Him as Lord or Father in my prayer, but now I feel safe, comfortable and intimate enough to call Him Dad. Nevertheless, because the relationship between each person and God is unique, how God wants you to grow in your relationship with Him through the Dark Night will be different from that of mine. This is the area that you will have to wrestle with God in your own way and your own pace.

The Dark Night is also a time for us to broaden our theological boundaries through the guidance of our biblical knowledge, but not limited by it. It’s a time to prioritize things in our lives, to explore our heart in a deeper level, to reflect on our relationship with our Heavenly Father, and to grow into a deeper relationship with Him. For those who are experiencing the Dark Night of the Soul right at this moment, I pray that the Holy Spirit may bring you peace, and guide your way. May God watch over your coming and going all through this journey, so that your foot may not slip. I will pray for you when you can't pray. I hope you’ll take comfort in knowing that God is there with you, even when you couldn’t feel it.

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