Adpated from an article at Counseling Solutions
A true story: once upon a time God allowed me the privilege of entering into what I called the “dark night of the soul.” What really happened is that my loving and merciful Heavenly Father escorted me into the crucible of suffering.
It was a time in my life that lasted over nine years.
Though it’s a hokey cliche, I must say, “It was the best of times and it was the worst of times.”
What I mean is that there has never been a time in my life where I felt more in tune to God and there has never been a time in my life where I wanted the unrelenting pain to go away more than then.
I was hurting, angry, bitter, and hopeless, but I knew the Lord was mercifully and incrementally helping me to die to myself.
You see the juxtaposition of the fear/faith tension in John Donne’s Holy Sonnet, where he pleaded with the Father this way:
Batter my heart, three person’d God; for, you As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow mee,’and bend
Your force, to breake, blow, burn and make me new.
Has God ever “battered your heart?” What began as knocking, breathing, and shining soon turned into breaking, blowing, and burning?
The beginning of woes for me was 1988. That was 23-years ago. I can look back on it now with more clarity and understanding.
The day God began battering my heart
One of [my] favorite Broadway plays is Les Miserables. One of the characters in the play is Fantine, who lives a mostly miserable life and ends up dying too soon. Her “song” in the play is called “I Dreamed a Dream.” Here is a portion:
I had a dream my life would be So different from this hell I’m living,
So different now from what it seemed…
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed…
I understand. During the season of my crucible I was extremely bitter about where my life was and where it seemed to be going. My desire and God’s desire were colliding and I was not one bit happy about the story He was writing for me.
The first four years of my dark night of the soul was spent studying the Book of Job. During that time I read, meditated, prayed, and cried through Job’s struggle. I’ll never forget the day when I arrived at chapter 23 and read these words:
But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back? What he desires, that he does. For he will complete what he appoints for me, and many such things are in his mind. Therefore I am terrified at his presence; when I consider, I am in dread of him. – Job 23:13-15 (ESV)
The words above stunned me. God is changeless, even when suffering is appointed for me! Are you kidding? Are you saying I cannot turn Him back from the course He has me on? Correct. Are you really serious that He is thinking about a few other things for me too? Yes. Then what else is in His mind?
I wonder if I can fake God out?
As I meditated on these thoughts that were really more than I could process, it occurred to me that God released Job from the crucible of suffering and wonderfully blessed him in due time. (Job 42:10) At that point I began to think that He would release me too.
I concluded that all I needed to do was let God know that I had learned the life lessons He was teaching me and that I was not bitter or angry anymore. He needed to know that I was ready to move on to the blessing He had prepared for me. This is how I prayed:
Thank you Father for the privilege of suffering. You have taught me many things and I am grateful for the life lessons. You are merciful. Your work in me has accomplished many things and I am now ready to go to the next thing. I’m ready to be released from this suffering and look forward to much fruitful ministry that I know will grow because of this season you have spent in my life. Amen!
I knew in my heart of hearts this was “manipulative praying.” I was desperate and hurting. I was the one deciding when enough was enough and was unwittingly (okay, wittingly) trying to manipulate God with the hope that the suffering would end. Then I read this verse again:
But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back? What he desires, that he does. – Job 23:13 (ESV)
At some level of my heart I knew what I hoped through this kind of praying would not happen. I also knew He was not through with me yet. God sees in the dark and He most certainly knew what I needed then and now. In fact, He knows more of what I need than I do. The real issue for me was whether I would trust Him as He did surgery on my soul, regardless of how long the surgery would take.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. –Hebrews 4:12-13 (ESV)
It took nine years for that operation…and, thankfully, He is still relentless in His pursuit of me.
What he desires, that he does. – Job 23:13 (ESV)