I recently read a description of the ‘Dark Night of the Soul’ (St. John of the Cross) also referred to as ‘the Wall’ in Peter Scazzero’s book “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality”. I could immediately relate as I read about a difficult time when it feels like our prayers are not being heard and we experience weariness, helplessness, emptiness and a sense of defeat. I believe I have experienced this four times in my adult life. The first three were traumatic events: the shocking betrayal of my first husband who engaged in an adulterous affair; the sudden tragic death of the same husband in an automobile accident five years later; and the traumatic brain injury and near death of my two month old grand baby 14 years after that. Each was intense, exhausting and the effects lasted months, even years.
In each instance, God was my strength and my faith never wavered. I may have asked why but I did not linger in that questioning phase. I accepted that God had a plan and would carry me through. When my husband died, I received a card with the poem “Plan of the Master Weaver” which describes how we cannot see why the dark times in our life are permitted. It explains that there are things we simply will not understand and so we should just accept that and trust that God knows why. This made more sense than anything else I heard. It helped me gain a perspective that has stayed with me ever since. The acceptance that God is in control so I can let go comforted me. This is not to say I did not struggle- each of these episodes was a very dark time in my life, full of pain and extremely exhausting. But somehow I was able to stay grounded in God and with the support of family and friends, I made it through to the other side.
My philosophy about these difficult times in our life is that nothing is wasted if we learn lessons from what we experience. We can come though wiser, stronger, more mature and more resilient. We often are more compassionate toward others and able to understand their struggles. However, there is always a price paid. I know that I lost naivety and easy joy; I gained a greater awareness of sin and evil in our world and a realization of how fragile and unpredictable life can be. It has been a journey of restoration to trust again, to not be cynical, to allow joy to bubble up and to live with an expectation of good things. But there is a saying that when painful things happen we can respond either by becoming bitter or by becoming better. It is a choice and I choose better. My hope is that I have been refined through these fires and am more loving and wise.
My fourth, most recent, “dark night of the soul” season was different. Rather than one traumatic event, it was a series of waves pounding on me every time I tried to lift my head. I felt like it was difficult to raise my eyes to keep focused on God because another problem would knock me down.. It was like being in an endless maze of darkness; not able to see a way out. To some it may seem like the issues I was dealing with were not that bad; there are much worse ones that some people have to endure. However, it was the years of constant struggle and loss of hope that was wearing me down and eroding my ability to cope. From a bereavement point of view, it was a series of losses of every sort, each impacting the other and limiting my resiliency. By the end this 18 month intense season, I felt hopeless and falling apart. The scripture that says “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12) was revealed in my life.
Thankfully, three dear Christian friends listened and ministered to me. By giving me some new perspective, praying for me and speaking encouragement, I was able to regroup. I decided that with God’s help, I would not stay like this. I even came to believe that although I could not see with my eyes what plan for good God has for me, I would choose to believe that He does. Nothing changed but my perspective, thinking and new choices. This was the start of Becoming My Best Me and encouraging other women to do the same.
Are you in a season of testing and difficulties? I encourage you to be still and to turn your eyes to God. Turn on worship music that reminds you of His love for you and His greatness and victory over all the evil in this world. Release your concerns to Him. Believe His Word that He has a plan for good for you, even if that seems hard to believe right now? Allow Him to be your peace and your strength as He carries you through to the other side of this struggle. There is light ahead. Trust and believe.
Karen Sweeney-Ryall mentors women to live their dreams and fulfill the destiny designed for them by God. She has accomplished this as a women’s ministry leader, in small groups and bible studies, as a speaker and writer, and in her work with caregivers, volunteers and bereaved persons. Her blog website is BecomingMyBestMe.com. She has a B.A. in Psychology, In Christ’s Image Training and Ministering Spiritual Gifts certificates, is an avid reader, loves nature and travel, and enjoys her 4 children, 3 grandchildren, and one great- grandbaby.