When you think God is silent, is He really? Or have you just stopped listening? Have you come to a place in your spiritual walk where the path before you and behind you have been erased? Ever watch Disney’s Alice and Wonderland? I can often relate times in my life to parts, characters and feelings in this movie. My spiritual life, I guess, is no different.
I know all about the still small voice, and how I should remain still to listen for it. I’ve been still, I’ve been silent, I’ve been calm. I’ve begged, pleaded, waited, screamed and just spoke. I’ve been to adoration and spent time in absolute silence.
We can always look to the saints for help.
Mother Teresa lived in a spiritual desert for years, the more she reached out, the darker and drier her spiritual life became for her. Still, she continued to pray, knowing that above everything else, He loved her. She confessed to her spiritual director in 1957:
In the darkness . . . Lord, my God, who am I that you should forsake me? The child of your love — and now become as the most hated one. The one — you have thrown away as unwanted — unloved. I call, I cling, I want, and there is no one to answer . . . Where I try to raise my thoughts to heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul. Love — the word — it brings nothing. I am told God lives in me — and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.
Regardless, she followed the Gospel and did what she felt God was calling her to do. I am no saint, that’s for sure. I’m not sitting along the sidelines watching this happen to me, I am a seeker of truth. I needed to know, and diagnose what was happening. I read there are thresholds of spiritual walk, and I think I am what you would call a spiritual adolescent. According to a white paper by John H. Coe of Biola University titled Musings on the Dark Night of the Soul: Insights from St. John of the Cross on a Developmental Spirituality (2000), he writes:
St. John of the Cross explains the dark night as a middle state of experience in which beginners no longer know what they desire. On one hand, they are still so filled with themselves that they are unable to explicitly experience the Spirit as the Spirit. On the other hand, they are experiencing the filling of the Spirit to the developmental degree they are capable. The result is that believers in a dark night feel trapped. They become aware of how little they really love God, how little joy they take in the spiritual disciplines. Yet they also perceive, with a kind of sadness, that the world and its pleasures cannot satisfy. In equipoise, the human spirit does not know what it wants, feeling quite guilty and uneasy about this without knowing how to rectify the problem. The believer begins to lose his grip on the Christian life. What seemed to be easy during the beginner stage is no longer easy at all; spiritual pleasure and growth seem illusive, if not impossible to attain. This is precisely where God wishes his growing child to be.
While at the outset, this sounds jarring, coming from me, I can’t be dishonest about my faith walk. I’ve danced around it, confided in others about it, but just as I want to meet others where they’re at, I have to include myself in that outlook. I have to be kind and gentle with myself too. My prayers are often “Lord, help me find you again. Bring me back to where I was before. I am a believer, help my unbelief.” It’s not that I am losing faith. That’s something that could never happen.
Much like marriage, I look at my relationship with God as being in a room, with no doors or windows. There’s no escape of any kind. It’s just a comfortable room. While others would and could feel trapped, I feel safe in this cocoon because there is no where else I would rather be. This room is a sanctuary. I know what the boundaries are, and I am always safe within the walls of our refuge. I feel like someone drew a window while I was sleeping, and I woke up to a note from God: “Went for a walk. Be back soon. I love you.” It’s in this in between time that I feel desperate. Not desperate to claw at something new, but to cling to the bit of Him he left behind: a shirt, His drained cup of coffee on the table, the note He left and even the pencil He used to write to me, by way of the Bible. I cling to all of it with prayer, and hope.
I fall upon these verses to console me:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,
for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
2 Corinthians 4:7-18
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;
persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;
always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.
For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
So death is at work in us, but life in you.
Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.
I will always, always follow the Gospel and pray that I will be able to hear Him again. Until then, I remain in the Tulgey Wood of my faith, where nothing is familiar, and I am finding my way home, just like Alice.