The last year we lived overseas, I experienced what some might call a “dark night of the soul.” For half the year, I felt out of touch with God and His word. It felt like He had dropped me in a hole and left me there to figure my way out. When I read scripture that in the past had brought my soul to life, I felt nothing. I asked my counselor, “Do I just need to keep feeding myself the truth until I believe it?”
“It won’t hurt. But trust that He is doing something here.” Lingering was painful, but it seemed I was helpless to change my situation, no matter how much I soaked myself in scripture. Most people couldn’t understand the place I was in, so I stopped trying to explain it to most of them.
While part of me felt abandoned by God, another part of me felt sure that He saw me in that desert place.
It wasn’t easy. Many times, I cried out to Him to just pull me out of this dark hole. I knew He could. I just didn’t know why He wouldn’t, and that shook me. Leaving me there felt cruel. I wanted to be done with whatever lesson He seemed to want to teach me. But I also didn’t want to miss what He had for me.
In his book Becoming an Ordinary Mystic, Albert Haase writes, “rather than searching for logical reasons for the dark night . . . the ordinary mystic searches for an appropriate response to the dark night.” While it was easy to try to search for some logical reason for this time, or some rational way out, I wanted to understand how God was asking me to respond.
Waiting in the wilderness is a raw and exposed place. We want answers. We want to know why we are stuck in these painful seasons. I believe God wants our honest hearts in suffering, not a sanitized faith response that ignores what is difficult. But what does it look like to be honest while hopeful and trusting?
That is the question I come to again and again when God leads me into the wilderness. This last year, I have had health issues that baffled all the medical professionals I saw. I have run the gamut of responses to this season-trust, hope, despair, contentment, frustration, rejection, acceptance.
Maybe the “appropriate response” isn’t necessarily the steady one. Maybe it’s letting whatever God is bringing us through stir up what is true in us, including our doubts and questions. Maybe it’s just putting one step in front of the other while we stumble toward grace. Like a girl raging against His chest, then collapsing into Him, we let out all that we might cling to for life that isn’t Him, all that holds us back, and we surrender into His embrace.
As I look back on this last year, when I think back to that dark night, I see God’s patience with my raging and questioning. I see His steady presence, refusing to be or do what I demanded, but persisting also in His compassionate pursuit of me.
I see a God who hopes that we won’t give up on Him, who longs for us to want Him more than we want answers, or a way out. I see a God who waits vulnerably as we stumble toward the realization that He is what we’ve actually been looking for.
A comfort in these seasons has been this: In Deuteronomy 2:7, in speaking of the Israelites, it says, “He knows your going through this great wilderness.”
He knows our going. While the dark places can feel wild, and it can feel like He has abandoned us, ignored our needs, or forgotten our troubles, He knows our going. He knows that what He has led us to is hard, and so He stays with us for as long as it takes. He holds us while we stumble.
Gina Butz and her husband, Erik, have served in full time ministry for 25 years, 13 of them in East Asia. They are currently raising their two third culture kids and an imported dog in Orlando, Florida, where Gina serves in global leadership development at Cru headquarters. Her first book, Making Peace with Change: Navigating Life’s Messy Transitions with Honesty and Grace, released February 4th. She blogs at www.ginabutz.com and loves to connect on Twitter and Facebook.