“The dark night of the soul”

September 16, 2023 THE MMA TEAM

It’s January 1st, 2023. I’m in flannel pajamas, curled up in an oversized armchair, wrapped in a blanket, staring out the window. The tears are rolling down my cheeks

I did not enter 2023 with energy, excitement, or bright and joyful hopes and dreams. Instead, I entered slowly, gingerly, and tenderly.

While I was genuinely overjoyed for those who were celebrating in less subdued ways than myself, I was simultaneously being so very gentle, kind, and gracious with myself. 

2023 found our family taking lots of deep breaths and learning to walk all over again. I'm sure many of you are familiar with the phrase "the dark night of the soul." That is where we had been living. Except for that "night" seemed to last for the better part of two years.

From 2020-2022, my husband and I collectively lost five grandparents, all of whom were more like parents to us. Most of those losses were unexpected, coming as a result of COVID rather than old age. We lost an entire generation, and that is a grief we still struggle to reckon with.

We were both born to teenage parents and so our grandparents raised us just as much as our parents did. These were the people who played a large part in making us who we are today. These were the humans we made time to call each week. These were the people who anchored our souls in this world and held our roots. And then, in quick succession, we lost them all. One by one.

As the family pastor, I officiated 3 of the 5 funerals. Someone commented once about my strength and ability to do such a thing while still holding myself together. The truth was that my tears had run dry. I was numb inside. I had been so thoroughly and sufficiently wrecked by grief that I was barely existing. 

In the midst of all this, there was also COVID to contend with.

And then there were significant and unexpected life transitions.
And then there was financial stress. 
And then there was church hurt. Deep, painful, scarring hurt and disappointment. 
And then...and then...and then...

Every time we thought we were beginning to heal, beginning to breathe again, beginning to claw our way out of the deep, dark pit that we had fallen into, we would find ourselves knocked down once more.

Just as the light was breaking through, another loss.
Just when the darkness started to fade, another wound.
Just when hope began to whisper, another disappointment.
This dark night of the soul was long, brutal, violent and loud.

It came for me.

It came for us.

It came for our marriage.

It came for our family.

We almost didn't make it. 

Now, typically, this would be the part where you would expect to see the words "But God." However, if I’m being honest, when it all came crashing down, the two words I actually uttered were "I’m done." And I meant it.

My faith had been tested and I was done. I'd experienced darkness and hurt and pain that I had never expected. Never thought possible.

I'd like to be able to say that, like Job (this guy from the Bible), I weathered the storms with conviction and held fast to my faith, but I didn’t ended up cursing instead.

Some days it was all I could do to get out of bed and take care of my kids. Some days I couldn't even do that. All I wanted to do was curl up in the corner and cry and sleep, and maybe just not have to wake up again. 

I was already in the midst of a "deconstruction" season with my faith when all of this started and so, added to the pain, was my own confusion about what I even believed about God in the middle of it all. Every pithy, churchy statement or scripture that came to mind was the cause not for comfort, but for further confusion.

Was God causing this?

Was God allowing this?

Was God even present at all?

Was I being tested?

What if I didn't want to fight?

What if I didn't have the energy to pray and worship my way out of this?

What if I was too exhausted to go into spiritual battle and just decided to give up and lay down and cry?

Would I still be rescued?

Would I still be held close?

How much effort did I have to put forth in order to get God to move on my behalf? 

If you have ever wrestled with your faith, questioned what you were raised to believe, doubted your theology, or had to deconstruct religion, you know what this feels like.  

All of that to say, my family and I have been through it. 

Yes, there were good days. Yes, life went on. Yes, we still worked and went to class and engaged with our community and yes we still laughed and drank lattes and visited family.  But nothing felt the same anymore. There was often a shadow over all of it, threatening to leave us sobbing, or bitter, or angry or exhausted at any moment without warning.  

Yet I am still here.

I am not still here because I quoted scripture every day.

I am not still here because I waged spiritual warfare.

I am not still here because I held fast to my spiritual disciplines, read my Bible and prayed.

I failed at all that. I was buried in the pain, the grief and disappointment.  

We are still here for one reason and one reason only. Because God is real and God loves us.

When I couldn't bring myself to open my Bible or set foot in a church, I still felt God's presence.

When I cried and screamed (sometimes in anger, sometimes in pain, sometimes in desperation) I sensed that I was not alone.

When I curled up in a ball on the floor and said "I can't I just can't anymore," I felt the embrace of the One who loves me and heard Him whisper "That's ok...just rest...I'm here. And I won’t let go.

I did not do a single thing to get where I am today. I all but gave up, almost testing, or even daring God to prove Himself despite my inability to do my part. At times not even sure if I cared whether He showed up or not. Because what did any of it matter anymore? 

That, dear friends, is what the dark night of the soul felt like for me.

And that is also why I can share with you, with the closest thing to certainty that exists anymore, that you are desperately and wildly loved. In the deepest, darkest days of depression and despair, I was not alone. And neither are you…

 And here’s why…

Recently, I returned with my husband and kids from our annual trip to visit my parents and siblings. One of the highlights of this trip was the privilege (and once-in-a-lifetime experience) of visiting the Louvre Museum in France with the added gift of having an incredible tour guide.

The Louvre itself is a work of art. A masterpiece of magnificent proportions. The history, art and artefacts are overwhelming, to say the least, and there were many pieces that I was anxious to see in person for the first time, but what I was not expecting in the midst of our family vacation and museum visit, was to be reminded of God's goodness to us over the past few years. 

As we were making our way through the crowded halls, staying close on the heels of the tour guide, she let us know that the next piece we would be seeing was one of her favorites.

We slowly snaked our way through the throng, up a flight of stairs, and onto a landing. The guide led us to the middle of the landing, pressed up against the railing, and said "OK, now turn around." When we did, we found ourselves staring directly at Victory

Technically her name is Nike, The Winged Victory of Samothrace, but we called her Victory for short. As she did with each piece of art that we visited, our tour guide began to explain the rich history of Victory.

While her original placement and purpose are largely unknown, we know that she was likely erected as a monument or memorial.

First discovered in 1863, the initial unearthing only included part of her bust and feathers which were sent to the Louvre. A few years later, further excavations uncovered the base upon which she stands. Exploration continued through 1891, and over the course of almost 30 years, different bits and pieces were discovered, restored, and assembled. 

When she was finally completed and displayed at the Louvre, some thought that the elaborately gilded mosaics surrounding the Daru staircase where she was placed were an unnecessary distraction from the beauty of Victory.

The mosaics were covered in wallpaper which was then painted to resemble the stone that the rest of the building was made of. It was thought that there should be nothing to detract from the beauty and power of Victory because she needed no adornment. 

While this rich history was fascinating in and of itself, it was the final mic-drop statement that our tour guide made that almost brought us to our knees...

"So you see," she explained in her rich Parisian accent,"...it took many years of excavation before Victory was complete." 

And that, my friends, will preach.
It was as if everything else stopped. Time froze. The din of voices silenced while those words echoed in our ears and to the depths of our souls.

Sometimes it takes years of excavation before Victory is complete. 

You see, we do not fully know the majesty or glory of Victory’s first life. But what we do know is that with the first glimpse of her existence, someone realized “This has value!”

I can just see the kindness, tenderness, and love in the eyes of the one who unearthed her. I can feel the slow, steady pushing aside of sand and  dirt as she was brought fto life again. I can sense the joy as she was finally freed from the rubble and tenderly restored to wholeness once again.

In that moment, I knew without a doubt that this was the very same work that God had been doing in my life over the past couple of years.

Despite the fact that I had been broken and buried under hurt, grief, and pain, the God who created me and who loves me got down on his hands and knees and whispered “She has value.” Then, He began to dig.

 As the Father gets down and digs, slowly and gently brushing away the debris and dust, we are uncovered and brought to life. We are made new and made whole. We are lovingly restored and pieced back together, one bit at a time. Sometimes over the course of hours and sometimes over the course of days, months, or even years.

If this journey has taught me anything, it is that Victory is an experience.

It is both already secured through Christ and still working itself out in our lives.
It is both now and not yet. 
It is both finished and unfolding. 
It is both presentand yet still requiring excavation. 

When Victory is finally complete, it will stand and speak for itself.

It requires no fanfare or heavily gilded adornment. It is displayed through the quiet, steady confidence of a life that declares, in the words of Mary from The Chosen series, "I was one way, and now I am completely different, and the thing that happened in between was Him."

Victory stands as a guiding light for all to see and speaks of hope, redemption, and of a good and loving God who never stops digging. 

May you cling to this hope in the midst of your own excavation, knowing that your Victory is assured and the God who loves you will not stop until you are fully restored.

“Thanks be to God who has given us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."- 1 Corinthians 15:57

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