Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Dark Night of the Soul

Beginning in February of last year, there was a series of really difficult situations in my family life. My mother-in-law, who lives with us, had a big health scare and ended up in the hospital for about 3 months while she recovered. She almost lost her leg due to an infection. Because she was going to be in a wheelchair indefinitely when she came home, and we would have to be caring for her, we were told by the doctors and social workers that she would not be able to come home to the second story apartment where we live. There is no one else around to care for her, so the message was pretty clear. We had to move. Period.

Initially I handled this quite well because I had no doubt that God was going to take care of it. I knew that we did not have the additional money that it would take to pay rent on the new, bigger place that we now HAD to have. It was going to take a miracle. I also knew, however, that God can make the impossible possible. I knew that God “owns the cattle on a thousand hills”, as the psalmist writes, and our financial status doesn’t have anything to do with His ability to bless us with the home we needed. God had to provide. There was no other way it would work. I KNEW he was going to work it out.

In fact, I knew that he was going to use this situation as the catalyst to answer the prayer I had been praying for several years. Finally, we were going to have the bigger home we needed for our growing family. (FYI, we have 5 people living in a two bedroom upstairs apartment. I‘ve been asking for this for a long, long time.) I was so excited and full of faith about it, that I even told people, “I just can’t wait to see what God is going to do!” So many people were praying for us that I was really looking forward to going to everyone and saying, “Look what God did!” Honestly, I’ve never had such strong faith in my life.

We were on a time table for when our miracle had to happen, because, according to the social workers, we had to be moved to our new place before my mother-in-law could be released from the rehabilitation hospital, and they couldn‘t keep her forever.

During this time, things became very difficult, financially. We were driving back and forth to the hospital several times a week. We had to spend more money on fast food and hospital food (which really isn’t cheap, by the way) and gas. One of our cars broke down. We got behind on the rent one month and the landlord threatened to evict us. In spite of this, I believed with all of my heart that the Lord was going to come through for us. It was hard, but I knew that He would work it out in the end.

We had been talking about the situation with a lot of different people, and one day the mother of a child at my daughter’s school mentioned that she knew of a family who was needing to move to a bigger home and was looking for someone to rent their current house. They would have to have renters ready to go for the financing on the new house to work, so they would need people who could be flexible about a move in date. She said she would talk to them and that she felt like the situation would be a good fit for both us and them. I was so excited that it looked like this was how God was going to provide our new place to live. I waited patiently to hear word. I was trying hard to give God the time and space to work things out. I didn’t want to rush and ruin it. A few weeks went by with no information. When I finally heard from her again, the news was that the family had decided not to move right now. I tried not to let this discourage me too badly, but it was hard not to wonder why God had let it come up at all if nothing was going to come of it.

Finally, in May, my mother-in-law’s insurance money ran out and the hospital stopped caring about a ground floor home for her to live in. She was walking some, by now, and so they brought her by ambulance out to our place to see if she could walk up the stairs on her own. It took her a full 30 minutes, but she made it up the stairs. They released her a couple days later. They sent her back to the place they had told us so strongly, for three months, that she absolutely could not live in again.

So that was it. No miracle. No wonderful evidence of God’s bountiful provision. Nothing.

Things became more difficult and crowded than before. Now we had 5 people in a two bedroom upstairs apartment along with a wheelchair, a walker, and special equipment for the toilet and the shower.

I don’t know if I can adequately describe the freefall that I went into at this point. I had spent 3 months believing with all my heart that God was going to provide in a big, amazing way. I had put all my trust, all my faith, all my expectation that my “Father in heaven will give good gifts to those who ask” (Matthew 7:11) and He had ignored me. I had claimed the promise in Mark 11:24 that Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. I had believed like never before and, guess what? I didn’t receive what I asked for. God didn’t provide.

In September, there was a glimmer of hope that things could change. A lady I know at church approached me about a job opening at the company she worked for. It was right in line with my current job, but the pay was significantly higher than I was making. I kind of thought it was too good to be true, but I still believed that God could come through and maybe, if I followed through on this opportunity, it could be the answer to our prayer. She assured me that she had my resume and let me know that I would also need to fill out the application online. I did that and waited, anticipating, finally, our blessing of provision.

A week passed. Then two. Then I saw her at church. She apologized because she had never gotten around to submitting my resume. Because they didn’t have it with my online application, it was therefore incomplete and never considered for the position. I wondered why I had dared to hope for it in the first place. I felt like I was being teased these possibilities that always came to nothing.

I didn’t know how to answer the well-meaning people at church who asked periodically how things were going. The honest answer was that I felt that God had let me down. He didn’t show up when I needed Him. When I tried to talk about my disappointment, a couple of people said, “God did answer your prayer. You just didn’t like the way He answered.” While I’m sure these people meant well, this response didn’t help. It only made me angry.

I got so tired of this type of “pat” answer, that I mostly stopped talking about it. I say “mostly” because I couldn’t keep it entirely inside. I did talk to my husband. A lot. I’m sure he got tired of hearing about it.

My frustration about this spilled over into every area of my life. I began questioning God and His goodness. I stopped believing that my prayers mattered. I started seeing evidence all around me of the seeming randomness of “God’s Will”. Why does He heal one person of cancer, but someone else fights long and hard with many family and friends praying and believing for a miracle only to die a long and terribly difficult death? Why does a woman who desperately wants children struggle for years to conceive only to miscarry or have the baby be born too soon and not survive when there are so many other women who abort their babies or neglect or abuse the children they have? It doesn’t make sense. If God is so loving, why does He allow the atrocities that happen all over the world every day?

Around this same time, I learned of a young pastor’s wife who had just given birth to her second child. The baby boy was born with a chromosomal abnormality called Trisomy 13. She was chronicling their journey in a blog. You can ready their story from the beginning here: http://lisahusmann.wordpress.com/2010/10/11/its-an-extra-special-boy/

It’s long, and heart wrenching. Basically, Lisa Husmann and her husband had moved across the country to plant a church, at the leading of the Lord. Shortly after they got there, they discovered that their unborn child, whom they had decided to name Jaxton, had severe birth defects and probably wouldn’t be born alive. Against all odds, he survived to birth, but his condition was worse than originally thought. This young couple spent every day of their son’s life praying, trusting and believing that God was going to heal their child. Even down to the moment when, after the doctors had done everything known to repair his body and there was nothing left to try, they made the decision to remove his breathing tube and trusted God to do what the doctors couldn’t. Lisa’s baby boy breathed his last breaths in her arms when God didn’t heal him.

Because of the blog, people around the world started following their story and joined in the prayers for healing of this little boy. But it didn’t matter how many people were praying or how strongly they believed. God didn’t show up.

Now, I have never met this couple, but after reading what they were going through and adding my prayers for Jaxton’s healing and strength for his parents, I felt like I kind of knew them. When Lisa’s friend posted the update that Jaxton had gone to be with Jesus, because Lisa couldn’t face doing it herself, I sat at my computer and cried. I couldn’t believe that God had let them down.

Lisa’s story was just more evidence to me that “God’s Will”, if it exists (because I was doubting), is not necessarily good for those who are supposed to be His children and under His protection. Where was Jehovah-Rapha, (“The Lord our healer”, Exodus 15:26) for the Husmann family? Where was Jehovah-Jireh (The Lord will provide: Genesis 22:14) for my family?

I won’t go into all the details and specifics of my doubt and anger. I’ve filled pages of prayer journals with all my questions and accusations to God. It all really came down to two issues for me. First: Do my prayers matter? If God is going to do what He wants whether or not I pray for something and how much I believe doesn’t make a difference, then why bother?

Second: If being a Believer and serving God to the best of my ability doesn’t mean that God is going to protect me (and my children, for that matter) from the terribly difficult things that can happen in life, then what’s the point? Am I willing to trust God to direct my life if it means that He might, and probably will, have enormously hard things He wants me to go through?

I told myself that He loved me enough to handle everything I was throwing at Him, but mostly I felt that I was miserably failing some kind of test that He was putting me through. To add insult to injury, I began to accuse myself of my own lack of faith. I knew that what I was dealing with was not really a big issue in the grand scheme of things. I was reminded of Christians in other countries who are tortured and see their family members murdered for their faith, yet they stand firm. I had thoughts like, “You call yourself a Child of God, but you fall apart and question God’s sovereignty over this? In the Middle East, people face death for believing in Christ, but you’re going to get mad because God didn’t answer your prayer. You’d never survive as a Christian outside the USA. You aren‘t strong enough.”

Sometimes I would remember that in the Psalms, David yelled at God a lot and accused Him of not caring or answering. For example:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.
Psalm 22:1-2

And also:

You have put me in the lowest pit,
in the darkest depths.
Your wrath lies heavily on me;
you have overwhelmed me with all your waves.
You have taken from me my closest friends
and have made me repulsive to them.
But I cry to you for help, LORD;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
Why, LORD, do you reject me
and hide your face from me?
Psalm 88:6-8, 13-14

So, there is definitely precedent for the questions I was asking God, but we are also told not to waver in our faith. Not to doubt God, because:

When you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. James 1:6

Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done.
Matthew 21:21

And of course we shouldn’t question God’s goodness in our lives or what he has us going through because:

We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:27-29

Not a day passed that I didn’t wrestle with these things and fight to keep my faith from dissolving. I know that nearly everyone thinks about these things at one time or another, and I have, too, but slowly I began to realize that this was different. I couldn’t get away from it. For several months, I struggled every day just to hold onto my belief that God was real and that He loved me. I kept going to church and I stayed serving in a couple different ministries, but I didn’t know how long I could keep it up. The fight was wearing me out.

Maybe you could say that I was depressed, but I believe that it was more than that. I now believe that I was under a spiritual attack. I believe that the enemy and his forces found a place in my mind that was weakened from stress, disappointment, fatigue, and fear and they took full advantage of it. They plagued me with constant reminders of the ways God had “let me down” and they ways He doesn’t “live up to His end of the bargain” every day, all over the world. They kept me in a kind of emotional and spiritual darkness that only the brightest of occasional lights could shine through. That’s not to say that I never laughed and I was never happy. The times of joy, though, were tempered by the heaviness that weighed me down all the time. I believe that I was going through what has been referred to as "the dark night of the soul".

Not too long ago, our pastor said this is one of his sermons about going the distance in your faith, “Crisis always reveals who you are. It brings the real you to the surface.” This statement hit me pretty hard and the internal dialogue that followed went something like this: See? Crisis came and you fell apart. That’s the real you. Questioning your faith for MONTHS because of one little crisis. You thought you were strong, but take a look at yourself. This is truth. You can’t hold your faith together when it counts.

In the beginning of March, the youth pastors at our church spoke on a Sunday night. Pastor Lynn used an illustration that I have heard before, but this time it made a real impact on me. They told the story of the nine year old boy who was taken by his mother to see a world famous concert pianist perform. The boy was taking piano lessons and she wanted him to see what could be possible if would dedicate himself to his lessons and putting in the practice time.

While the audience was waiting for the concert to begin, the mother turned away from her son and engaged some of the people around her in conversation. The boy wandered away from his seat and made his way up to the stage. He walked up to the huge, beautiful grand piano and sat down at the bench. Then, to the astonishment of the audience, he began to play Chopsticks. You can imagine the murmuring that began. “What’s he doing up there?” “Where is his mother?” “Who would bring a child here?” “Someone get him away from that piano!”

Offstage, the pianist heard the commotion and, though it wasn’t time for the concert to start yet, he went to investigate. When he saw the boy innocently playing the little song, he walked onto stage and went right up behind the boy. Leaning down, he whispered in the child’s ear, “Don’t stop. Keep playing.” The master musician then began to play along with him. He added chords and harmonies that turned the plinks and plunks of the child’s rendition of Chopsticks into a masterpiece of classical music that left the audience in amazement.

“How many of you feel like a little child tapping out the notes to your little song on a huge piano in a concert hall and feeling completely inadequate for position you find yourself in?” she asked.

This analogy resonated with me because one of the ministries I am involved in is singing with a worship team. I know that God wants me doing this, but I feel so inadequate. I find my own ability to be so much less than what I believe is necessary in order to be effective. I do it, though, because I believe that it is what God has called me to.

“Right now,” she said, “God is right behind you saying, “Don’t stop. Keep playing.” He can take your little melody and craft glorious harmonies around it that will make it into so much more than you can do on your own. More than you can even imagine. You just have to keep playing.”

There was much more to the sermon, but this story opened a floodgate in me. When the pastors asked for anyone who wanted prayer to come to the front of the church, I couldn’t help but go. I stood there before God, with many other people, and felt His presence wash over me in a way that I haven’t felt in a very long time. All the pain and doubt that I had been carrying around for the past year came pouring out in a flood of tears. It’s very difficult to explain this kind of feeling to someone who hasn’t experienced it before. God was suddenly so very close to me and the love that I felt from Him was overwhelming.

I don’t know how long I stood there while God poured His love and peace into my soul and washed away the fear, doubt and anger from my heart and mind. I know that when I went back to my seat I felt free. And joyful. I sat for quite a while, unwilling to leave because I didn’t want the experience to end.

After a few minutes, I heard these words whispered to my heart, “You passed the test.”

That night was a turning point for me. The circumstances of my life didn’t change. I still don’t understand why things have happened the way they have. I still don’t know why God allows the horrific tragedies that occur every day around the world. The difference is that, now, I don’t have to know. Those questions don’t plague me anymore. I can see them and feel the pain of them and still know that God is sovereign and He will take care of it in the end.

In the following days, I began to understand, that God had allowed me to go through those dark months to see if I would hold on to Him in spite of the way I felt. Would I hang on and wrestle it out with Him, taking my anger and fear to Him? Or, would I decide that if it didn’t make sense I wasn’t willing to believe and walk away?

I’m so glad I didn’t give up. This experience has given me insight, though, into why someone would. It has shown me how a Christian can become so hurt and disillusioned by events of life that they would decided that if God would allow such things to happen, they don’t want to serve Him any more. And if this honest pain, fear, and anger is magnified by the enemy, it can easily be built into a wall that separates the child of God from his Creator.

I had one glorious week completely free from fear and doubt. One week of refreshing and spiritual rest. Then the old thoughts started coming back. Now, however, I recognize those thoughts for what they are: attacks from the enemy. I refuse to allow them to take root in my mind. I will not go back into the oppression of the spirits of doubt, anger and fear. Now, I will choose to hold onto the promises of my Father in Heaven, who has promised in Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 1 Peter 5:10

1 comment:

  1. This is SO incredible!! I want you to know, if you don't already, that your testimony in the making, the fact that you DIDN'T walk away from God, is the kind of testimony that not only changes your life but others as well!! You did the hard thing, and didn't take the easy way out. God can do, is doing, and will do great and mighty things with that. Thank you for being honest enough to talk about something many believers won't really address....how to justify personal suffering, as well as the suffering of the world. What you said, that you don't have to know is HUGE! That was Job's response. And the piano story was so beautiful, so touching, it made me cry. I related to that little boy, and then I saw God in that analogy and I felt surrounded by his goodness!

    Angel, you are INCREDIBLE, and SO genuine, I hope you know that!! And if you don't hear it quite enough, then I will just keep slapping my sappiness all over you, because you should know that, everyday you are INCREDIBLE in my eyes, other peoples' eyes, and especially God's eyes!!!! I don't know how, but God is and will only be able to use you in continually mighty ways!!!!