The Dark Night of the Soul
The phrase ‘dark night of the soul’ originally comes from a poem by sixteenth-century Spanish mystic and poet St. John of the Cross. But in today’s world, a ‘dark night of the soul’ usually refers to a crisis of faith. My own dark night of the soul happened almost twenty years ago. It’s not something I talk about very much, and it’s hard to put into words. But in this season of “deconstruction” in the evangelical church, my heart goes out to anyone who is struggling with their faith. I know what it’s like to feel alone, unsure of what you believe or who you are, and unable to share your doubts with other Christians. So I hope by sharing a bit of my story, I can shine a little light for anyone who is in the dark.
The Three D’s
A ‘dark night of the soul’ looks different for every person, but for me it was a season of disorientation, doubt, and disillusionment. I couldn’t find God in the ways I used to: the Bible, worship music and church. It felt like my reality shifted, and everything inside me was off balance. Soon, disorientation led to doubt. All my beliefs went through the fire of doubt, and there were times where I thought I would lose my faith. Along with disorientation and doubt, I also became very disillusioned with “the Church” as a system. Looking back, I see that the darkness was refining me, like fire refines gold. It wasn’t my faith I was losing, it was the unhealthy mindsets and patterns that had become attached to it.
Blinded by the Light
Sometimes the closer the light, the darker it feels, because God is doing a deep work in you. In Acts chapter nine, Saul was doing everything right according to Jewish law. To put it in our terms, he was the “perfect’ Christian. But when he met Jesus, not only did Saul lose his sight, but he also found out that everything he thought he knew was wrong. Imagine the agony of learning that all of the good (religious) things you’ve done for God were actually opposing Him! After three days, God healed not only his eyesight, but also his soul. Though it was a lot less dramatic, my experience was similar to Saul’s. The closer I came to the light, the more I had to face my own darkness. But I also came out of that season with clearer vision.
Light in the Darkness
I don’t know how or when I came out of the other side of my dark night of the soul. It was a slow dawning. Disorientation shook my fear and guilt-based thinking and brought me back to a foundation of love. Disillusionment taught me not to put my faith in people or religious rules and traditions. All of these things are important, but they can’t replace God in my life. And doubt taught me what real faith is: not a bunch of answers that I defend, but trust in the middle of mystery; believing God when it doesn’t make sense. As a result, I have less certainty, but I’ve gained a deeper sense of reverence and wonder. It wasn’t easy, and I’m not the same as I was. But now, on this side of the darkness, I see with greater light than before.
Don’t be Afraid of the Dark
What if your dark night of the soul is actually bringing you to the greatest light you’ve ever known? What if God is not far away but so close that you are in His shadow, tucked under his wing? It’s okay to wrestle with doubt, to ask questions, to struggle on your journey of faith. God is not afraid of our questions…but sometimes we are. No matter how dark it gets, God always provides a light. So don’t let the darkness win. Keep going…you will make it to the other side!