Growing in the Dark
After nearly 30 years as a ministry leader and pastor's wife, I went through an experience that some would describe as a dark night of the soul.
In the past when I heard someone complaining of enduring a dark night, I was less than compassionate. What a drama queen, I'd think. Everyone goes through spiritual slumps. What's the big deal?
But then I experienced one that I couldn't escape. I was humbled.
My dark night was sparked by a series of unanswered prayers. Actually, my prayers were answered—but definitely not in the way I had hoped. To understand my disillusionment, you need to know a bit about my personality. I'm a life-long activist, a habitual doer. I can take anything but standing still.
So when God blocked my "doings," which I was sure I was supposed to do, I became frustrated. One "no" from God was followed by another, and another. Then an extended stretch of divine silence shook my faith, triggering a dark night that lasted three years.
I had never experienced such silence from God. Sure, I had been distant from him, but the distance had always been my fault, born of my rebellion or indifference. This was different. I was reaching out to God, but couldn't feel his presence. Prayers stuck in my throat, or bounced back at me off the ceiling.
Comedian Susan Isaacs tells of a similar experience: "All my life I had felt God's presence … even when I pushed him away he remained the still, small squatter I could not evict. Now I could hear nothing, feel nothing, know nothing. The squatter had vacated."
Mother Teresa describes the pain: "I am told God loves me—and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul …. What tortures of loneliness. I wonder how long will my heart suffer like this?"
The problem was amplified by the fact that I had to continue to lead ministries. I have leadership roles in our church and community. I'm a pastor's wife. In the midst of my "not hearing from God" time, it was difficult to know how to minister, or even if I should.
I cut back on some of my ministry responsibilities. For years my husband and I co-led a small group Bible study. As the dark night continued, I didn't have much to offer. I realized that while I could handle the administrative duties associated with the study, I needed Mark to shoulder the spiritual leading.
Other times, however, when I could accept a leading ministry role, my dry spiritual state occasionally seemed to help me. One summer I facilitated a study of Philippians for a group of 20-something women. Their un-churchy vulnerability was refreshing and meant I didn't have to be "on" all the time.
I also agreed to speak at a neighboring church's women's retreat. The church was struggling with unity. Rumors of a split were floating around. In that environment it seemed trite to talk about mentoring, which was my assigned topic.
By the second talk of the morning as I looked out at the women's faces, their pain was obvious. I knew ...