Sometimes we’re afraid to show that we’re sad, that we don’t have it all together. We behave like those women from Desperate Housewives. We do the “I’m fine” dance–“how are you?” “I’m fine”–because we don’t want to show any cracks in our walk and we’re not sure that you really want to hear about it if we do. And you know what? Christians are supposed to be happy. At least we’re conditioned to believe that. Why not? We’re supposed to have all the answers. When tragedy pops up, we can have a moment of grief, but we’re supposed to move on fairly quickly. After all, we have the gratitude of salvation and the joy of being forgiven. So somehow prolonged sadness has come to be seen as a lack of faith.

However, some of us find ourselves in places of prolonged sadness. Spiritual ennui. Depression. A dark place where friends, family, and God feel distant. Our Psalm 88 place where darkness is our only friend. Our Job sitting on the mound place, where friends surround you yet you find no consolation in their words. What we aren’t told often enough is that this is a natural step in the critical journey of faith. You see, that conditioning that I was talking about refers to how the main thrust of evangelical thought on getting folks to spiritually progress goes along these phases:

1) to discover and recognize God
2) to start a life of discipleship
3) in order to get to a productive life (which usually translates into find a ministry in the church to get involved with)

For many folks, that’s where the critical journey ends. Well, that’s all fine and good, a “purpose driven life” and all that. I get that, but there comes a point where things just don’t add up anymore. where the answers that we’d come to depend on don’t cut it any more. If those three steps are the end of the journey, then we have to do all manner of intellectual hoop jumping in order to feel that we are still in the faith. Because we’re so uneasy with questioning things, some would say that periods of prolonged doubt would be symptoms of apostasy putting us outside of the faith.

On the other hand, such a phase was part of how the critical journey used to be taught. This stage was what some folks called the perplexity or illumination stage of thought/belief. It marked the beginning of the second half of the critical journey:

4) the journey inward – where your faith hits a wall, what some folks call the dark night of the soul, when God feels especially absent or at least silent.
5) the journey outward – where this time of shattering reflection causes one to turn outward in focus.
6) the life of love – where loving people becomes our (more) natural way of living.

You see the inherent problems, right? some folks get to that wall and don’t realize that’s a natural part of their spiritual progression and then jump off the train. Right when the key is to hold on and thrash your way through your doubts.

You may not have gone through any real hard times, but guaranteed, the longer you live, the more likely it is that at some point, you’re life will feel blown to crap. We’ve tossed around the Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross’ phrase “dark night of the soul”. Not every painful experience falls into that specific category. It refers to something more than simple misfortune, but we can learn much about getting through stormy times by learning about getting through those dark nights. Sometimes the dark circumstances are the exact times that God uses to transform us.

Overall, the process looks something like this:
-we feel that God is absent and inactive; He’s gone and we’re alone.
-we’ve come to the end of our ability to be in control.
-the familiar spiritual practices that we had come to depend on, that usually comforted us, instead seem hollow and ineffective
-BOOM! We hit a wall.

It is the feeling that God is not at work, that He has abandoned us, and all of our cries are going unanswered that causes us the greatest pain. All we can truly offer the person struggling through this time is encouragement to endure. However, let’s look at some typical responses we have. We – and by “we” I mean us the church and us as friends – like to talk people out of pain when we can’t offer answers. We get pre-occupied with wanting to provide an answer. Too often, that’s to make us feel better, to justify our theology. Our pat answers have become reflex, like we have to or are supposed to say something … Christian. We repeat the expected vocabulary, the Christian cliches, those over-used verses and phrases that convey little meaning after hearing them so often. To the point where they don’t have any power left, despite their inherent truth.

[to be continued]:

Dark Night of the Soul II – Cliches are Not Enough
Dark Night of the Soul III – The Movements
Dark Night of the Soul IV – The Caution

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