John of the Cross wrote over 500 years ago about the Dark Night of the Soul. Every addict/alcoholic in recovery has experienced their own Dark Night of the Soul. What about the rest of humanity? Do all people share this? And what exactly is it?? The Dark Night of the Soul is a season marked with helplessness, hopelessness, fear, anxiety, grief, sorrow, anger, and isolation. We aren’t talking about getting stuck in traffic or having a crappy day at the office. We are talking about a whole season of life when your prayers feel like they are bouncing off heaven and you’ve been left all alone out in the storm.
We all have these seasons.
Some people embrace the suck of the season, choosing to surrender to some unseen misunderstood God, while others use anything to avoid surrender. Addicts and alcoholics use mind-altering substances, while non-addicts use work, caring for others, volunteer work, Netflix, food, Amazon, romance, sex, skill mastery, hobbies, sleep, “positive mental attitude,” “warrior mindset,” the list could go on ad infinitum.
The natural question is why? Why must every human experience seasons of darkness? John of the Cross wrote that God sends us into the “dark night of a loving fire” to free us. Free us from behaviors and attitudes that put us in conflict with ourselves and others. No one wants to be so proud that he judges his neighbor or himself. It’s not a peaceful place to be with your mind constantly churning about how this one is doing it wrong and how that one isn’t a faithful God follower, or how “I suck and won’t ever get it right.”
Nor does he want to lie, cheat or steal. And yet we all do it. I hear you. You don’t lie. Of course not. You’ve never told yourself that “This time it will be different” or “I can handle this.” And then whatever “this” is turned out to be a dismal failure. Sure, you’ve never cheated on your special someone or a test, but maybe you’ve fudged some numbers in Turbo Tax to bring the amount owed down to a reasonable figure. Sure, you’ve never stolen anything in your life, except your mother’s peace of mind when you were an errant teen. Or maybe you’ve stolen your teen’s sense of individuality by inserting yourself in everything he does.
See, it’s not so clear when we are prideful, dishonest, or hurtful. Hence the need for a season of darkness. Sometimes the darkness is brought on due to our actions, as evidenced in addiction. But other times, it feels random and unfair, like a cancer diagnosis for the mom who makes good choices and has two beautiful children and a loving husband.
The way I see it is that you, me, everyone must make one of two choices. Either we surrender to the “dark night of a loving fire,” or we ignore it and act like everything’s gonna be alright. Here’s what I know from my personal experience: if you ignore it, it’s going to come back. Only surrender, trust, and patience will burn off those things that stand in the way of our spiritual and emotional growth. You do want to grow, don’t you?
Just for today
If I am in the Dark Night of the Soul, I will not run. I will sit in the fire and let it burn away anything that’s not for my highest good.
God, remind me minute by minute that you are good, and you are for me. Give me hope and help me trust you.