What do you do when you find yourself walking in the darkness of life? Seek to walk with God by faith – not by sight, feelings, or human wisdom.
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 but there is no light. There is an inner emptiness that won’t subside. There’s no sign of God. You do Bible studies, but still there is no response in your heart – just a deadness, a coldness that chills your soul – 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, Lord; 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.” I read those 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. 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? 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”.
SERVING GOD ANYWAY
I think the example for us all is that she continued to love and serve the Lord despite the lack of presence she felt. It would have been easy to give up. But, her devotion and faith wasn’t dependent on her feelings. In fact, she finally came to a place where she was able to accept that absence even if it never lifted. She wrote, “I can’t express in words – the gratitude I owe You for Your kindness to me – for the first time in…years – I have come to love the darkness – for I believe now that it is part of a very, very small part of Jesus’ darkness and pain on earth. You have taught me to accept it as a ‘spiritual side of your work.’”
TRUSTING GOD’S CHARACTER
So what do you do when the spiritual feelings disappear and the presence of God appears to have exited your life? There is no human solution for it. Only God can lift the darkness and it will not lift until He has accomplished His work in your soul, but Isaiah 50:10 says, “Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God.”
God is the same unchanging, unshakable God that He has always been. He has not changed in the darkness. Remember who He is and what His character is like. He is not missing because we cannot see Him. Our inability to feel Christ in our lives doesn’t mean He isn’t there. God is committed to an everlasting covenant with us and He is faithful and will remain faithful. And as Mother Teresa asked others, “Pray I keep smiling at Him in spite of everything.”
We also need to keep walking. Mother Teresa found a way to live with the darkness and neither abandoned her faith or ministry as a result. Likewise, we are to keep serving, to keep going in the same direction that we were going when the darkness hit. It can feel like hypocrisy, but it will protect us from shutting down spiritually and will enlarge our faith. A confidante told Mother Teresa that feeling Jesus is not the only proof of His being there and that her very craving for God was a “sure sign” of his “hidden presence” in her life; and that the absence was in fact part of the “spiritual side” of her work for Jesus.
TREASURES IN DARKNESS
Finally, don’t try to escape the darkness. Even in the midst of her darkness, Mother Teresa got up every morning at 4:30 a.m. to commune with Christ, still writing to Him, “Your happiness is all I want.” If God has put you in the darkness, let it do its work in your soul. Isaiah 45:3 says, “I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord…” There are those treasures about God and yourself that you will discover and learn no other way but in the dark places. Wonderful things will come out of the darkness! I know that has been true in my own life. I watched as my fickle, almost infatuated love for God was transformed into an unshakeable, unconditional, committed love that was no longer dependent on my feelings. I had to ask myself, “Do I really love Christ or just the good feelings that come from loving Him?” I was sobered to see just how shallow my love for Him really was. I had fallen into the trap of seeing only the blessings God had for me instead of seeing God Himself. Surprisingly, I saw my love for Him deepen during those years of not feeling His presence. It was sort of like finally being able to put away childish things as Paul spoke about in 1 Cor. 13:11.
If you are in a “dark night of the soul” experience, know that you are not alone. It is my prayer that “you will ‘accept it as a spiritual side of God’s work in your life’ and… ‘keep smiling at Him in spite of everything!’”