John of the Cross writes about the Dark Night of the Soul, that place where you feel as though God has left you out in the storm alone. He posits that this is the time when God purges us of the attitudes and behavior that block us from the Sunlight of the Spirit.
We all have seasons in our lives that constitute a Dark Night of the Soul – health scare, a wayward child, a divorce, the death of a loved one, a job loss. In our fear, we try to control the outcome. We go to God and tell him exactly what He ought to do: heal, fix, repair, comfort, and replace.
While we should go to God and ask for what we need, we have to be careful not to subordinate our Higher Power. When rattling off a to-do list, we’ve made God an administrative assistant. We’ve forgotten that God is not subordinate to our wishes, but instead, we are to be submissive to his wishes. Why? Because God is all-knowing, all-wise, and frankly knows more than we do.
Richard Rohr talks about how God’s freedom, his incomprehensible ability to do whatever He wants, can be threatening to mere mortals. Because “it takes away all of our ability to control or engineer the process. It leaves us powerless and changes the language from any language of performance or achievement to that of surrender, trust, and vulnerability… we cannot control God by any means whatsoever, not even by our good behavior, which tends to be our first and natural instinct.”
Currently, I’m in the middle of a Dark Night of the Soul and I’ve been through this same process of trying to bribe God into doing my will so that I’ll feel more comfortable.
My prayers look like this:
Fall: “Dear God, you can do anything. Please give me the power and knowledge to take the next right step to fix this.
Winter: “Come on, God, I’ve been asking for direction. Tell me what to do.. “
Spring: “God, I’ve been praying about this for months; I don’t know what to do. You’ll have to fix this.”
Summer: “Can you fix this? It seems like you’ve backed yourself into a corner with this whole free will thing.”
Fall: I’m wasting my time. God isn’t listening.
Winter: Forget it.
When I stop cajoling, negotiating, petitioning, and outright begging, that’s when I have surrendered. If it looks like giving up, it’s because I have. I can’t engineer or control; I have to be vulnerable before God. The temptation is to think that if I take action XYZ, then my situation will change. That’s just another way of my trying to control and engineer. I may feel better taking some action, but ultimately, it’s God’s movie; I’m just a bit player.
Why this process? Let’s go back to John of the Cross. He says it’s to burn away the stuff that’s standing in the way of true intimacy with the God of the Universe. We want to be free of these thoughts and behaviors that put us into conflict with others and our selves. Allow God’s love and light to flow through us like a sieve. It never runs out, always flows forth. Now that would be some good stuff, right?
Just for today
I will wait for God. I will trust that whatever is happening will ultimately improve my soul.
God, when I attempt to control you with my prayers or thoughts, please give me the presence of mind to remember that You are God and I am not.