Empty Spirit: The Dark Night of the Soul
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” 2 Corinthians 4:7-9
“And 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 8:28
As I was reflecting on the Fruits of the Spirits (Galatians 5:22-23) and how to end this series, I began to wonder what about when life’s circumstances cause the fruit to all but disappear or so it seems. What happens when you no longer have joy, are living in the absence of peace, and your longsuffering is…well, long? Years ago, in my Spiritual Formation class in “Bible College”, my teacher spoke about a time in a person’s life where they feel adrift and spiritually bereft called the Dark Night of the Soul. The phrase describes spiritual discontent, disconnectedness, and a general feeling of separation from God over an extended period of time. Although it is not a biblical term and I had never heard it in any sermon before (or after), it is widely used amongst many theologians, pastors, and spiritualists. Initially, it was a hard concept for me to understand; yet upon reflection, I realize it was hard for me to understand because the concept, at the time, was foreign to me. How could I be a Christian yet feel abandoned and disconnected from God over a long period of time? Little did I know, soon thereafter I would begin the journey of my own Dark Night of the Soul. One of the key things that I remember during class discussions was that once started and the journey complete; you would never be the same. I can attest to that. You see, it is easy to write about how our walk with Christ should produce the Fruits of the Spirit in our lives, but it is hard to understand your walk with Christ in the absence of that Fruit. It is hard to understand when you are quite honestly, empty. Many of you may not know what to call that emptiness you feel; that separation you can almost see, and sadly our churches and church leaders often ignore the occurrence of the Dark Night of the Soul. My Dark Night of the Soul was not because of one instigating factor; instead it was the culmination of years of disappointments in God, man, and me. However, although trying, the Dark Night of the Soul results in greater faith and a greater intimacy with God.
So, what do you do when you encounter something that robs your Spirit of Fruit? When you are in the pit of despair and reaching out to a God whose hand you doubt is reaching back?
You keep reaching.
In my opinion, this is where many people of faith falter. They simply stop following. My Dark Night of the Soul lasted for over 2 years. I went to church, and although my praises felt empty, I kept praising. I prayed and no longer believed I would see the fruition of those prayers, but I kept praying. To look at me, you would see no difference in me, but I knew. I stopped writing devotionals and I withdrew from God because I thought He withdrew from me. If you are where I am describing, if you feel separation from Him, you are not alone. Great men and women of God, of Christ, have experienced the same thing and we don’t share it. We don’t readily share how the suffering turned into patience; we do not share how the despair turned into joy, nor how the discord turned into peace. The journey to the Fruits of the Spirit is the Cross; the Cross we bare each and every day. In Romans, Paul wrote that in ALL things God works for good to those that love Him, in ALL things. The cross that Jesus bore worked for the good of humanity. It produced Fruit. It produced you. Wherever you are in your journey of the soul, keep reaching to Him. Keep praying to Him. Keep praising Him. Keep the faith; because on the other side you recognize the purpose in the pain, the suffering, the despair, and the separation is the sweetest Fruit you will ever have. Sustaining Fruit…the Fruit of the Spirit that is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. You will then understand “we are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:7-9).”