Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Smiling at God in the Darkness

What do you do when you wake up one day to find all of your spiritual feelings gone? You pray, but nothing happens. You read your Bible and there is no light. There is an inner emptiness that won’t subside. There’s no sign of God. You go to Bible studies, but still there is no response in your heart - just a deadness, a coldness that chills your soul. When everyone around you seems to be feeling something, you feel nothing. You frantically search for answers to your inner anguish, but you are left without any.

“I feel myself slipping into the blackness again – even despairing and the darkness is ever present. My heart is so full of anguish, so full of sorrow. I feel like I have been abandoned by You; like you have removed your presence from my life…tears flood my pillow; it is excruciating to feel your absence. I have never felt so alone. Help me out of this desolate pit,” read thoughts from my journal through five of the darkest years of my spiritual life. I pleaded with God for a touch, a whisper, even a glimpse of light, but there was nothing. Have you ever been there – perhaps you are there now?

The Dark Night of the Soul

St. John of the Cross called it “the dark night of the soul.” Charles Spurgeon preached about “the child of light walking in darkness,” and A. W. Tozer called it “the ministry of the night.” It is not a darkness resulting from guilt or sin, rather it is a withdrawal of the presence of God – resulting in a divine darkness. Young believers are rarely tested with this type of darkness. But as we mature in Christ, we must learn to walk by faith and not by sight, feelings, or human wisdom.

Not a New Experience

What you are experiencing is not new. It came to every major servant in Scripture. Job is the first to come to mind. In Job 23:17 he spoke about, “the thick darkness that covers my face.” It also came to a recent servant. For almost 50 years, Mother Teresa lived her life without sensing the presence of God.

Fifty years! Here was this great woman of God – giving her life away to serve the poor, giving up earthly pleasures and treasures - and in the middle of it she felt abandoned by God. This revelation has shocked the Christian community. Who would have ever thought by observing her life, faith, and ministry that just below the surface was a tormented soul? Just recently her struggles were released in, Come Be My Light chronicling her spiritual anguish - an anguish so deep and so unspeakable that she asked the few she confided in to keep it a secret. She lived in a state of deep, abiding spiritual pain. Though she loved Christ passionately, she was tortured by the reality that even as she served Him, she could not feel Him.

As I read one of her journal entries, “There is such terrible darkness within me, as if everything was dead….When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven – there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul. I am told God loves me – and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul,” it jumped off the page and resonated with my spirit, resembling the feelings of my own “dark night of the soul.”

Author Information: Shelly Esser is editor of Just Between Us. Additionally, she serves on the board of the Pastoral Leadership Institute. She and her husband live in Menomonee Falls, Wis., with their four daughters.

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