Dark Night of the Soul – Revisited

This week in my Church’s Life Group (our housegroup), we watched another short video by Pete Scazzero, as part of his ‘Emotionally Healthy Spirituality’ study series. Pete ScazzeroThis is a great series for developing maturity  amongst Christians, and this week’s episode (the fourth in the series) was, in my opinion, the key part so far.

In it, Pete was talking about ‘the Wall’ – also known as the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’; a subject I have written on many times before.

An important point that he raised was that 85% of Evangelicals don’t make it through the Wall and, one presumes, they either have to live with their doubts or ‘fall away’. But Pete maintains that the Dark Night is a healthy part of normal Christian growth – if it is handled correctly. I’m writing this piece today in order hopefully to encourage those going through the Dark Night. If that’s you, please know that you’re not on your own. If that’s not you, it still might help to read this as if/when you go through your own Dark Night, perhaps you might remember some of this, and therefore be encouraged too.

I mentioned earlier that I have written on the subject of the Dark Night before. And so, for the reference of anyone else who may be going through the Dark Night at the moment – or trying to get through ‘the Wall’, or even for members of my Life Group who may be reading this and want some more background, here’s a collation of all the articles written about my ‘Dark Night’, how to handle it (for the person themselves and for their friends)  and/or what I learned while I was in there.

First, a piece on the warning of the Spirit about what He was about to do in my life:

Still Your Soul in Silence

still your soul

And now the main piece itself that describes what it looks like:

The Dark Night of the Soul

dark_night_header

Here’s a piece on how it affected me as a ‘religious’ person and how it brought me out of that state:

Blindsided by Grace

Grace2

And a piece about how I used to burn out in ministry; another slant on the point about how the Spirit led me into the Dark Night:

All I Desire

all i desire heaven_sm

Here’s my life testimony, showing where the Dark Night fitted in to God’s overall plan:

My Testimony

my_testimony

And then my first inkling that actually all I’d learned during the Dark Night was common to other believers as well:

The Shack

Shackover


Pete said that the ‘precipitating event’ for each person’s Dark Night could be something like a life trauma – loss of a loved one; a scary medical diagnosis; loss of a job – or it could be church disillusionment, or indeed anything else including even good things. Maybe the birth of a child shakes up your foundations of faith; you realise how Father God feels about you because of the way you feel about your own child. It really could be anything. But usually there is a ‘trigger event’ of some sort.

One of Pete’s main recommendations for those going through the Dark Night is that they maintain their relationship with Jesus through that time, no matter how distant He may feel. I might point out here that this is not always possible; sometimes the problem was indeed something to do with Church disillusionment and, because this was the problem, because the wrong image of God may have been presented to you as part of being in that Church, He will need to detoxify you of your former, incorrect, notions. And this takes time, patience and His love, even though you might not feel it at the time. But you will find that God does insert little glimmers of His presence along the way, just to reassure you! I can testify that Church disillusionment is in fact healthy, where that Church has not been teaching God’s Grace, His limitless, undeserved Grace, and where ‘Works’ have been prescribed, no matter how disguised as ‘service’ etc., as a means of drawing closer  to God. Any Church teaching ‘mixture’ – Grace and Works – is invariably going to present an incorrect picture of Father God which needs to be unlearned before further progress can be made. And, in my case, that was the problem and that took time to accomplish.
Don’t try to push your way to your ‘Dark Night’, in order to achieve this spiritual growth. God will bring you to it in His own good time, at a time that is right for you. And in the meantime, please don’t feel inferior because it hasn’t happened to you; you are right where God wants you right now and all you need to do is to follow Him.

And if you are in the Dark Night, remember that He is walking there with you. Don’t try to artificially ‘end’ the Dark Night; God will let you find your way out, all in His own good time. Although it might not feel like it, God is right there with you in this time. Remember that, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Ps 23:4) – David, the man of God who wrote this, was clearly familiar with the concept. In fact I would say that it isn’t actually possible to find your own way out; you must trust God to guide you. For me, every time I ‘tried’ Church again, I was so repelled by it that I had to get out of there. As I’ve said before, every time I went into a Church, it reminded me of why I didn’t!

What is the result of the Dark Night? I would say that the rewards of going through the Night are more than worth the pain of it. The believer finds a new, deeper relationship with Jesus; more love, empathy and understanding for others; decreased ‘religiosity’; a new understanding of God’s ways; less concern with the opinions of others, especially on theological issues; and mainly a vast, vast freedom to be who God wants him to be, and a freedom to live life in the Spirit; a renewed sense of God’s completely unconditional love and what this means in practice – well, the list goes on. You can see some of the fruits of my Dark Night in my insights in this blog. I recommend you go to some of my earlier posts (mid-2014 onwards) for a taste of this sort of thing.

My personal Dark Night of the Soul lasted for for fifteen years; I often refer to it as my ‘wilderness experience’. One thing that I have found since then is that there is a tendency both to see yourself, and for others to see you, as having ‘attained’ a spiritual maturity ‘level’ that is higher than others, and there is a tendency for pride to creep in (on my part) and for some feelings of being on the wrong side of elitism on the part of other people. I’ve learned, though, that actually we are all on a spiritual journey as Christians, and I am no more superior to those who have not gone through a Dark Night than is an adult to a teenager. It’s all part of spiritual development and we’re all at different stages. Having a prideful attitude can and will hinder not only your own spiritual growth, but also that of others too.

Jeff Turner recently commented on Facebook on this subject, quoting Fr. Richard Rohr:

“Once you say ‘higher level’ (regarding one’s level of spirituality), you appeal to the ego, and all the wrong instincts in people.”
-Fr. Richard Rohr

“When you begin to refer to where you’re at on your journey as a “deeper place,” “higher level,” “another dimension,” or some other such thing, you create a space where pride, arrogance, and superiority can thrive in the name or spirituality. No, we’re journeying, and on this journey, mountains are laid low, and valleys exalted. Every place is an equal place for the sincere, it’s just that we are never all in the same place at the same time, and tend to assume wherever we’re at is the place to be.

“The place to be is wherever you are”.

Wise words indeed; thank you Jeff Turner.

 

And finally, I also learned from Pete’s video that the Dark Night is not a one-off thing. Although for me, my fifteen-year Night was pretty decisive, I hope to go through others too; hopefully not so dark. ‘Hope’, you say? Wouldn’t you want to avoid the pain? Well, as I’ve said already, the benefits far outweigh the pain…this is a Good God we are talking about, remember; One in Whom there is no darkness at all (1Jn1:5)

 

So, if you’re going through a dark time in your life right now, be encouraged. There’s nothing wrong with you; there’s nothing you need to ‘do’ to try to ‘pull your socks up’ or ‘stop backsliding’. People who don’t understand might say all sorts of things to try to encourage/rebuke/correct you; right here and now, Father gives you permission to accept or ignore others’ comments as you see fit. You don’t have to listen to everyone; you don’t even have to listen to anyone (including me!) if you don’t want to. I and many other Christians have been there, and this experience is a perfectly normal part of being a Christian. The problem is that others might feel threatened or scared by the changes in you. This is perfectly understandable but you can always reassure them that God has His Hand on you, and that they need not worry; they simply need to trust Him.
So finally, remember that in all this (and I know you might not want to hear even this right now!): He is right there with you. This is normal. You really will be fine 🙂
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me”.
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