Many argue that humankind’s greatest spiritual challenge is aligning the will with that of the Great I Am, a striving depicted by St John of the Cross in his ‘Dark Night of the Soul’. This spiritual struggle involves a depth of despair many modern Christians prefer to ignore, lest it threaten their comfortable existences. They prefer, instead, to instruct their careworn brethren to hand everything to God and wait for their lives to ‘work out.’ Proper faith, sufficient repentance and an uncanny knack for knowing exactly what’s in the mind of the Creator, they say, lead us unerringly to abundant living.
I disagree. There are Christians whose lives appear to be charmed; they enter their middle years with secure marriages, fat bank accounts and the freedom to travel, invest, and indulge their whims to their healthy heart’s content. I cannot be counted among their number.
For decades I blamed myself for my lack – for not ‘hearing’ God correctly despite dedication to His Word. I sought pastoral counseling, prayer warriors, Christian literature and of course, scripture itself. My first thoughts, before opening my eyes each morning, have long been directed to my Father, and before those eyes open I ask Him to direct my steps.
It has not, nor has it ever, prevented any injustice, illness or abuse from infiltrating my being.
A brief synopsis of my adult experience includes sexual abuse, abandonment by my children’s father, single parenting without support and, twenty years ago, contracting a debilitating, life-limiting illness that remains with me today. I’ve also suffered verbal and emotional abuse at the hands of an intimate partner, abuse so sadistic that my psychologist describes it as a spiritual crime. I am left now, to face my golden years in poverty and pain.
But don’t grab the tissue box just yet because, frankly, I feel great.
And that, is surely the abundant life scripture promises. Christ came so that we might have life, and have it abundantly. Money is dead. Possessions are dead. Only the human spirit is truly alive.
The breakdown of my marriage, which lasted from 2011 until 2013, heralded my spiritual turning point.
From the outset, I laid my pain before God, never doubting He was ‘for’ marriage and ‘against’ divorce. I trusted Him to guide me towards reconciliation. I repented of every mistake and mis-communication. I begged for guidance and wisdom, and followed His leading to the best of my ability. Honesty and authenticity were integral to my actions. Deceit and manipulation seemed integral to the other party, a man I believed once loved me. I was absolutely certain the Truth would set me free; the Truth would out; the Truth would bring justice to bear.
It did not.
I raged. I told God I was through with Him. I called Him a flawed, gnostic demi-god and accused Him of abandonment. In a logical, worldly sense, He did abandon me. Decades of devotion had led me to naught. Liars and manipulators, I concluded, were the real winners in life. I was nothing but a mug. I dug my heels in and resolutely refused to give God another moment of my time. After all, how much worse could things get?
Weeks slid by. Nothing got worse. Nothing got better.
I wasn't grieving exactly, nor genuinely depressed. Just…empty. Lonely. Terribly lonely. Unfulfilled. Inspiration and creativity deserted me. I was cold. I had no compass for my life’s direction. Life became interminable nothingness.
This…was my dark night.
All the success in the world would never bring light to my soul.
I began, tentatively, to test the waters. Are you still there God? Like a small child, I clung to The Lord’s Prayer, saying it over and over. It was a divine anxiolytic, and from those small steps, I came back to the foot of the Cross.
And so I do not believe in a prosperity gospel; rather, that the treasures God gives us can't be measured by outer circumstances.
I am grateful for my dark night, and yet…a little fearful too. According to St John, there may be more dark nights to come. I hope I recognize them.
Mother and grandmother, writer concerned with social justice, equality for all; environmentalist who believes we are stewards of the earth, not controllers; follower of Jesus who prefers to think of herself as a Christianarchist.