My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me? Far from my deliverance are the words of my groaning. O my God, I cry by day, but Thou dost not answer; and by night, but I have no rest. Yet Thou art holy, O Thou who art enthroned upon the praises of Israel.” (Psalm 22:1-2)
There are days when it is difficult to breathe. The world is shrouded in suffocating darkness; the path to heaven is blockaded with boulders, overgrown thistles and howling wolves. Every breath is effort, every movement is painful, and every part of your being is parched. Nothing seems to satisfy and nothing comes easily. Are you in this desert, are you suffering from spiritual pneumonia?
St. John of the Cross called this the dark night of the soul. God’s presence feels far away and the world seems empty of solace. During a dark night, the soul is stripped of all imaginary supports – even the experience of God’s presence. Somehow the wind is knocked out of you and your faith begins to crumble. Doubting creeps in and depression begins to take hold as emptiness seems your only companion.
“Turn your soul, I say, to walk toward God when all seems blackest and there is no light of His presence to be seen anywhere. Though this seems harsh at first, you will soon understand how this journey through dryness and darkness is God’s chosen way of purging your soul.” St. John of the Cross
When you feel as if God has abandoned you, you faith has come to its first real test. Faith means hanging on to God’s word even when it offers no encouragement because it looks only like ink on a page. Faith is the assurance that God is present regardless of my feelings. The dark night is a time to die to my selfish expectations of God and find a new faith that is based on truth not only experience.
“Mature Christian prayer inevitably leads to the purification of the dark night…which buries egoism and leads us out of ourselves to experience God...The sign of the cross is written large on the interior life of every authentic disciple.” Brennan Manning
When we let go of our desire to know the answers and when we stop asking why, God brings a peace in the midst of our darkness. We can truly be still before Him and just focus on breathing instead of thinking so hard about everything. So, the darkest of nights becomes a place where we find rest and learn to hear His voice when we stop asking and start listening.
Doubting God’s character in challenging circumstances is natural and though God welcomes it, this is a sign of the dark night. It is not so much the trial we are facing; it is our questioning of God that causes us to suffocate spiritually. When we wonder if God is really loving or if He actually cares for us, then we allow doubt to put its grip around our throats.
“Who is among you that fears the Lord, that obeys the voice of His servant, that walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God” (Isaiah 50:10).
If you walk in a valley of shadows, know that you are not alone – it a path that all disciples must face. Paul, David, Job, Habakkuk begin the list of those who have sat in darkness and who came out on the other side with a new song.