In the beginning, I gave Him my heart. My heart of hearts. Deepest desires, dreams, wishes. And, one by one, they died.
Do you know what it is to see your desires, dreams, and wishes crucified? I do. I was angry.
Then my heart withered.
And I felt nothing.
I didn’t want to speak to God. I had nothing to say to Him. It was He who was to guard my heart, and He pillaged and plundered it.
You who have never been down this road will not understand this post, and because you do not understand, you will make judgments about me and my walk with God. You will say, “God would never have put you through that; He is good. What you went through must have been the consequence of your sinful actions.” And I’m going to let you think that, because I know you do not understand. That is okay. This post is not for those who have never been through a dark night of the soul or a crisis of the faith; it’s for those of us who have been, and those of us who are going as we speak.
The second thing is that I don’t presume to know anyone else’s experience with this; I only know my own and can only speak from it. I don’t take the terms dark night of the soul or crisis of the faith dramatically or lightly: even with Christ, this was the very darkest season of my life, and I believe it is so for anyone who goes through it.
One of the first things you should know about this dark night of the soul, this crisis of the faith is that you feel like you are facedown on the ground, being kicked repeatedly in the stomach. When you try to fight and get up, it’s like someone has a foot on your back, holding you down. You have no choice but to sit there and take it. You wonder where God is in all of this, and because your vision is extremely limited, you wonder if perhaps He is the one holding you down. You cry out for Him to help you up, to rescue you from this brutality, and there is no answer.
The second thing you should know about this dark night, this crisis is the depressing realization that continuing to fight is useless. You are effectively stuck where you are at, whether because God Himself is holding you down, or He is allowing something else to. So you stop fighting, because nothing you’re doing is working, and you stop crying, because God is not responding. You lay on the ground, not moving, because you can’t; at least, you can’t unless you want to get beat up some more. It’s suffocating.
After a season of stifling, you are going to get extremely angry with God. Maybe like me, you’ve been angry with the people and the Church who have grievously misused and abused you, but at some point, you will face the undeniable reality that God has allowed these people and circumstances into your life. I’m not saying He made these things happen, but He’s God, and He certainly could have stopped them. It’s an unforgiving and cruel thought. You will get angry, and possibly ask God if He gets some sick pleasure from your pain. This is the midnight hour.
Then you will go numb. It’s not because anything is holding you down anymore that you don’t move, but because you just don’t care. This numbness can go on for months.
Eventually, though, the dawn breaks in the form of a reawakened desire. It’s nothing you do, there’s no secret recipe for making it happen, it just does. Suddenly, you feel like you’re pulled up from under water, and you can breathe again. Suddenly, that desire that got ripped away from you is in front of you again, more a possibility than ever before. Of course, you don’t fully trust it right away, because something about this dark night of the soul, this crisis of the faith makes you feel perhaps this desire is wrong. Yet, God tugs gently at your heart to bring that desire to Him and ask Him for it. You may find in this reawakened moment that you don’t really trust God, either; He did allow what just happened to you. What if you allow yourself to desire this thing, and He yanks it away again? The temptation to suppress the desire is ever present the first few months.
Still, I’d advise you to take a leap with your shattered faith. Trust God with that desire, let Him wake you up. You will find Him good and faithful, perhaps so much so that you’ll wonder how you doubted in the first place. You become more aware of the truth about Him, and I think, you become more aware of the enemy. You come to understand that he is the one who held you down, and that his intention is to hold you back from good.
It’s anything but easy, and it’s lonely. Trusting God again is hard, especially when He’s been the bad guy in your mind for so long. It’s also hard to find safe people to talk to about a dark night of the soul or a crisis of the faith, while you’re going through it or when you’ve come out of it. In part, this is because it’s such a personal journey (with you and God) and it’s hard to know how to talk about it. The flip side is that it is hard for Christians to understand, because this journey often doesn’t make sense, and many Christians feel the need to make sense of everything that happens. This is the first time I’ve talked so publicly and unambiguously about my experience with this. Otherwise, I only have a handful of friends who know a few of the gory details.
Hang in there. Whether you’re going through a dark night of the soul, a crisis of the faith or you’ve just come out, hang in there. I say what I say now from deep experience and it in no way negates the terrible pain you may be in at this moment: what you are going through, what you have been through on this journey has immense benefits.
You are going to learn a lot about yourself. A dark night of the soul, a crisis of the faith is an introspective season. You’re going to learn your strengths and your weaknesses, your boundaries and your breaking points.
You are going to learn what it really means to be still. Especially if you’ve been service- and ministry-oriented for a long time, you don’t really have much time for yourself. Not being able to move or serve or ministry, can be a much-needed rest, even if you wouldn’t have chosen to have it this way.
You are going to get to new levels in your relationship with God. A dark night of the soul, a crisis of the faith is really and truly just you and your Maker. There is a season of distance, there is. After the anger and the mistrust and the giving up can come intimacy and re-learning trust and joy. When it’s just you and Him, there is greater clarity about who He is.
It will strengthen your faith in God being who He says He is. It takes time, but ultimately you begin to trust that God is who He says He is – that He is good and faithful and gracious and loving and just. You begin to recognize the voice of the enemy trying to persuade you otherwise, and you are better able to combat the lies.
It will make you more empathic and less judgmental. I’ve always favored empathy over judgment. It’s who I am. Still, having gone through this, I am more likely to “weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice” without worrying about why they’re weeping or why they’re rejoicing. I am less likely to apply rules to people and situations. I am more likely to listen, and less likely to bring my assumptions into conversations.
You will appreciate life so much more. This is cliché, but the darkness makes the light that much brighter. Bluer skies, greener grass, you know.
Again, all of this takes time.
Did God allow the dark night of the soul, the crisis of the faith? He did. That’s a hard pill to swallow.
BUT (and if you understand nothing else of what I’ve said today about this journey, please understand this) it’s never, ever God’s intention for you to be held down and held back from freedom and fullness of life. God went to great lengths in making a way through Jesus to a relationship with Him, our Creator (the only way to experience true freedom and fullness of life), even after humans had messed up so badly. And I think that holds even if sin in your walk with Christ or someone’s sin against you has brought this experience and journey through darkness about, God still wants you to have a free and full life.
So while God allowed this, I don’t think He caused it. And because you are His, He intends for you to be strengthened, not weakened; He intends to bring you closer to Him, not drive you further away; He intends to tune your heart, mind and soul to His voice, not to give air time to every voice you hear; He intends to make you a better minister of His heart to the world, not to pass judgment on your neighbors, family, and friends; and most of all, He intends to bring you through it to freedom and fullness, not to be held down and held back.