Dark Night of the Soul

I’ve been wanting to share something that I’ve experienced personally in the past few years. I have noticed a few others going through something similar, so I believe now would be a great time to share.

A few years ago, I went through the greatest season of loss I have experienced (since a divorce 20 years ago). This season has been very similar to a divorce but of greater capacity. This season of loss was not only of my job, but also of a great family of friends and many of those I loved in my own community.

Most detrimental (at the time, but now one that I am learning to be grateful for) was the loss of my identity. I pretty much lost everything that I ever knew to rely and depend on. What was one of the darkest seasons of my life led me to what I later learned was referred to as the dark night of the soul.

The dark night of the soul is when you come to a place spiritually (usually as a result of some sort of dramatic/traumatic shift) when nothing you have depended on before sustains you any longer. 2015 – 2018 was/has certainly been a season of the dark night of the soul for me. It has (in reflection) been one of the worst and greatest experiences of my adult life.

After having been in ministry for over 20 years, I was beginning to dread all sorts of participation in the “process.” I felt my prayer time was not productive. I dreaded leading the service that I was pastor of. I even began to dread worship (which has always been one of my greatest loves) or, at best, longed for something more in worship – more connecting, more transformational, more impacting. I began to feel like I was dead to all things “spiritual.” I no longer enjoyed things that had previously inspired me and revived me.

Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved the folks that I pastored but was starting to question the process of “church” altogether and felt like most of us were going through motions without true transformation. I decided, with much prayer and fasting (and a lot of other circumstances that I won’t go into) to resign from my pastoral position.

Immediately after resigning, I was invited to come on board with a large charismatic church in a nearby county. I was offered an opportunity to grow with an amazing staff who shared a like vision for transformation and living a consecrated lifestyle.

As if that wasn’t enough, I was contacted by a couple who lived in my community and was given a building in the downtown area of my hometown very near the college campus. I have had a dream of ministering to college kids who were searching for healing of their body, soul, and spirit and felt like this was the beginning of that becoming a reality.

Shortly thereafter, I was invited to join an international ministry that I had worked with for over two decades. I felt this was an opportunity to shift some things spiritually and move into a new season of challenge and change, not only for myself but for many others that I had been networking with for over 20 years. I took that position only to resign after a few short months.

Before long, I felt like I had no energy to do anything. I began to feel that I couldn’t carry out what I had so longed for. I slowly began to resign from every encounter that presented itself. I began to resign from ministry altogether, and then, life, altogether.

And with that came the onslaught of many long difficult years of “weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth.” I began what I felt like a wrestling with God that I’m still not sure is over. I couldn’t imagine that 20 years of ministry would leave me having so many questions and feeling so unfulfilled. I was angry and upset that I had sacrificed my life for something that was less fulfilling than a career where I could’ve at least made lots of money. I began an intense battle with God and my identity.

I felt I had “showed up” spiritually for the past few years and was really searching for something more than just “showing up.” Quite honestly, I felt I owed something more to myself than just showing up and I was sure God wanted something more of me than to just show up. So, I didn’t. I basically didn’t show up for anything except my family for at least three years.

I didn’t really do anything. Let me rephrase that. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t pray. I couldn’t read (something I have always – at least in my adult life – thoroughly enjoyed). I couldn’t even listen to music. The only thing I felt I was capable of doing was just being. And, most often, just being quiet. And for those of you that think you know me that wasn’t something that came easily. But that’s what I began doing. Just being quiet.

I found it very comforting to sit in my yard, on my porch, by the creek, pool, inside, outside, in my car, anywhere … just as long as it was quiet. I didn’t want to talk to anybody or do anything. I just wanted (needed desperately) to be quiet. I had a lack of interest in anything. Not even art! And art had been a place of solace for me my entire life. I only wanted to be with my family and hopefully, they would be quiet.

I also had a couple of friends who insisted in relationship (if it were my choice I probably would’ve removed myself from them as well but they were very tenacious). Instead of dragging me out of my quiet, they joined me in it. We started meeting for “church” in the barn of my neighbor’s property where one friend kept her horses. Every Sunday a.m. we would have a quiet service amongst the chickens, horses, a black cat, and a rooster who needed deliverance.

In hindsight, if it weren’t for my tenacious friends and my saint of a husband, I would’ve dived straight into the throes of depression. I had never been quiet and still before and it was very discomforting. Actually, it felt very much like depression, but not. (I went through severe depression after my divorce in the 90s and this was very similar but very different).

I just wanted everything and everybody to be still and be quiet. I felt like my very being demanded that everything in my environment be very quiet and very still. It was as close to satisfaction as I could get. And it wasn’t very satisfying but somehow seemingly necessary. I learned from my very dear friends who counseled me that this was the dark night of the soul.

I persisted (or should I say, God wrangled me) in my quiet for almost three years. In that place, a shift began to take place: My passions. My objectives. My heart. And, absolutely, the core of my identity. I was experiencing a death to self that I had not invited. And, without the help of friends, probably would not have endured. It was the most painful experience of my life. For the first time in my life, I felt like God had left me.

Now before you go getting all religious on me, let me clarify, I felt like God left me. He did not. But, I felt like it. Much like Jesus when He cried out, “Why have you forsaken me?” I very much felt like God had forsaken me. I heard nothing from Him, nor sensed Him for over three years. I say over three years because I am still learning this new place in Him. It’s not like before. It’s very different, very quiet.

I don’t know how to explain it. Before, I would do something because I felt like it was what I was supposed to do: the right thing, so to speak. Now, I don’t really do anything, unless He moves me to do it.

It is a very strange place in that I can sense Him, hear Him, move on behalf for others. But for myself, it’s different. As a matter of fact, in ministry I can certainly see Him as being more powerful than ever, more specific than ever, for others. But for me, it’s a different story. I am still being quiet and still.

I often wonder how long will this last for me? I don’t know. Maybe forever? I know of one pastor who went through the dark night of the soul for nine years and another for almost a decade. I’m not excited about that, but I am hopeful. And that is a change. I, at one point, lost all hope. In everything: people, “church,” even God and His plan for me. I’m getting back to that. It’s been hard. Unless I get real still. When I’m still, I feel like I’m making progress.

I’m still unsure about my identity. I’ve lost a lot of friends, my church. I still have a lot of questions about “the church” and a lot of other things that I thought I was sure of. I’m not sure of much now, other than the fact that God is good and He will work all things to good. But for now, I’m just being still. Being quiet and waiting.

I used to think I knew what His plan was. I don’t. Probably never did, but that’s okay. I do know that I don’t want to just “show up.” I want to be exactly who He desires me to be, doing exactly what He wants me to do. I know who my real friends are, and God is broadening that circle. There are a lot of us out there who are searching for our true identity. (I’m amazed how many aren’t and who are satisfied just going through the motions.) I know my husband is a saint. And I know I’m going to be okay. Who knows – maybe I was supposed to be still and quiet all along?

Now that I’m at least reading again, I’ve learned that there is a name for this place. It’s called “liminal space.” It’s the “place between the before and the after.” Jesus went here, at the cross, before the resurrection. Elijah went here in the cave, before his ascension. Jonah, in the whale before Ninevah, etc. – You get the gist.

I think we all will get to go here, if we are truly seeking God’s best for our lives. It’s a great and terrible place, but I wanted to write this so if you go here, you will know that you are not alone and it’s not a bad place (if you make it out, lol). I, we, you will learn that it’s not about us. It’s a place we all get to go for God to redirect our attention, our interests, most importantly our motives. And, if we all learn to sit quietly, we will learn, it’s all Him. It is all about Him. Once we learn that, He will take care of the rest. And, meanwhile, I’ll be resting. In Him.

Are You Bitter or Better?

“How do I know if I’m bitter?” I am often asked that question. Here are some ways you can tell:

Do people set your teeth on edge?

Who have you blocked on Facebook lately and why?

Do you cross the street when certain people come your way?

Does your jaw set when you think of somebody? And why?

When you hold onto unforgiveness and let it grow in your heart, before long you will have bitterness.

Bitterness grows roots that bury deep in your heart. It hurts you. It blocks God. It stunts your growth.

Think of your heart as a garden. What happens when weeds grow in your garden?

Hurt and bitterness are not necessarily the same thing. But hurt can lead to bitterness if you don’t deal with it. Bitterness is unhealed hurt. It’s when you keep gnashing your teeth long after the initial pain is gone.

Bitterness can be devastating. It causes further hurt to you and to the people you are bitter against.

Can you think of a time when you were hurt and felt bitter? Or a time when you didn’t?

Bitterness can also affect the physical body. It can cause the hands and feet to draw up. That’s a sure way for me to know if I’m dealing with bitterness.

The good news is that God has provided a way to get over bitterness:

1. Choose to forgive.
2. Then forgive.
3. Wash, rinse, repeat.

If you’re not sure where your bitterness comes from, ask God to show you who you have aught against, and why.

If you are ready to forgive those who have hurt you, here is a simple but powerful prayer:

Lord, I forgive _____ for _____ and I choose to release them.

Then test it out. The next time you see those people or think of them, how do you respond?

Do you growl? If so, wash, rinse, repeat.

Or are you able to pray blessings for them?

Follow the Pain

Have you ever wondered why we go through painful experiences? What purpose does it serve?

First, we need to remember it’s not about us. It’s all about God. When you go through a painful experience, God is trying to bring you to the end of yourself, so He can take over. He wants to stretch you and make you depend on Him. That doesn’t mean He causes the painful event, but He will certainly use it.

Did you know real emotional pain lasts only two minutes? The rest is perceived pain. We have a choice of how we respond to that perceived pain. It matters greatly what you do with your pain. Pain will point you to the path of your healing. Do you want to be healed? Follow the pain.

If God is God, why do we have to experience pain? That’s a question people ask often. The short answer is “free will.” God doesn’t cause the things we go through. But He does meet us in our pain. He uses pain to teach us how to come into His presence.

Another common question is, “Why do children have to suffer?” Children suffer because of sin in the world. Also, generational sin and troubles in the womb cause suffering in children. What bad fruit in your life do you also see in your kids?

When you go through a painful experience, or when you think back on a painful event, ask the Lord, “What did I do to cause this pain?” Practice asking the Lord. Listen for His response. Then repent, forgive, embrace, invite, endure. God will use the pain to get you healed.

By seeking God in the midst of your pain, you can learn from the experience. You will get to know God and His ways, and you will get to know yourself really well. You will start growing in the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). And you will get healed, get real, and get free. When you look at your pain, what is a new thing you can learn about God?

So, how do you get through the pain, so you can grow from it?

You start with Jesus. Invite His presence. Acknowledge your pain and invite Him to meet you in the middle of it. Be still. Let Him just be with you in your pain.

Then allow pain to do its work. Don’t keep trying to escape it. Don’t seek false refuges to avoid those two minutes of pain. Just be present with God in your pain.

We all have false refuges that we’re tempted to seek out in pain. False refuges are the things we turn to when we want to escape pain. What do you use when you are in pain? Can you exchange that for God? Seek Him instead? Remember that God will use your pain to get you healed, so you can be free.

Here is one of my favorite passages of scripture. The Apostle Paul talks about the fellowship of the suffering of Christ. Meditate on this passage and ask God what this means for you during your times of pain:

“But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

“Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 3:7-14 NKJV

How Do I Learn to Hear God?

I am often asked these questions: “How do I learn to hear God? What does God’s voice sound like? Is it audible?”

God speaks to us in many ways:

Scripture
Nature
Impressions
Dreams

Sometimes people wonder if they are hearing God or talking to themselves.

There are only three voices you can hear in your spirit. It will either be God, the enemy, or your own voice. You will have to discern among those three voices.

Ask yourself: “Does what I am hearing line up with God’s Word and with His nature?”

It helps to practice talking to God. You can talk out loud to Him. The more you call on God and ask to hear His voice, the more you will be able to discern His voice.

Try this to start a conversation:

Say, “Jesus, I love you.” Then be really quiet. What do you hear? What did God say?

People have also asked me, “When I think I’m hearing from God is it because I want to do what I want to do?”

Again, does what you are hearing line up with God’s Word and with His nature?

What are your own motives in what you are asking Him? Are you being selfish and focused on you? Have you really asked God and are waiting to hear His response? Or did you just decide, “God, here is what I’m going to do, please bless it”?

Ask God something that’s on your heart. Listen for His answer. Check it out in the Bible. Does the answer you heard line up with what He says in His Word?

Another common question is this: “What if I don’t like His answer?”

What makes you think you wouldn’t like His answer? He always wants His best for you. Why do you assume you wouldn’t like His answer? Ask yourself where that concern is coming from.

If you hear His answer and don’t like it, ask yourself why you are reacting to it this way. What is His answer triggering inside of you?

Remember, God likes obedience. Have you ever given your children an answer they didn’t like?

Here is another frequent question: “Can other people hear from God for me?”

Yes, they can, but why would you want them to? Don’t you want to hear from Him yourself?

Other people can confirm what you are hearing, but God wants a relationship with you.

If someone hears a word from God for you, do you witness to what they say? Does it resonate with you? Be cautious of who is telling you. Don’t cast your pearls before swine.

If you feel that other people can hear God, but you can’t, ask yourself, “Who is God to me?”

Your relationship with your earthly father can affect how you hear from Father God.

Here are some ways you can get better at hearing God:

  • Study the Word. God speaks through His Word, and His Word helps you learn to hear His voice.
  • Talk to Him. Then listen for His response.
  • Journal what you hear from Him. Look to see if it lines up with His Word and His nature.
  • Build a friendship. Ask God a “get to know you” question you would ask a new friend.

Take some time now to practice. Ask God a question. Write the answer. Check that it lines up with His Word.

Keep practicing, and you will get better at hearing God.

Keys to Being Real

God’s plan for freedom is beautifully simple. He gives us these keys to find healing in our hearts:

Repentance

When we repent for specific ways we have judged people, and for the lies we have taken into our hearts, we find freedom. Repentance allows us to break out of the enemy’s hold on our hearts. We replace lies with truth.

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is one of the most powerful healing tools God has given us. When we forgive, we release others to be who God has created them to be. And we free ourselves to step into healing of our hearts. The article Wash, Rinse, Repeat will help you learn more about the process of forgiveness.

Presence

We have the privilege every day to just sit still and be in God’s presence. Quieten yourself. It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do for your life. Don’t expect it to get easier. It never changes. It’s always hard. But the results are life-saving. Presence. Don’t leave home without it.

Accountability

Find people, a tribe, a community that will help you when you’re good, bad, or indifferent. You can’t navigate your authenticity without it, because you lie to yourself, and the enemy reinforces those lies. You lie to yourself about yourself, so the reality is you only have the Word of God and your people to help you navigate what’s true about you.

Truth

Truth is your greatest weapon against the lies that have taken root in your heart. A lot of people avoid truth because it seems harsh. Here’s the reality: If truth can save your life, and heal you, don’t hide from it. If I went to my doctor’s office, and he discovered I had cancer, wouldn’t I want to know, so I can be healed? What if the doctor didn’t tell me because he was afraid the truth would “hurt” me? Let God’s truth do its work in your heart.

Peace

Peace is a Person (Ephesians 2:14-18; Isaiah 9:6.). As you develop the practice of peace, He, the Prince of Peace (Jesus) will walk with you and teach you how to live in the now (present), in the moment. Shalom is mind, body, spirit in complete unity and rest.

Wisdom

Wisdom is also a Person (Proverbs 1:20-33). She will take up residence and walk with you, after you search her out in God.

Sabbath

God rested on the seventh day. So should we. Not necessarily the literal seventh but at least one of every seven. One hour of every seventh hour during the day.

What does it mean to rest? Quieten yourself, do things you enjoy: art, nature, music, presence. Quiet. Fun. Adventure. Friends. Puppies. Whatever brings you joy … recalibrates you … resets you mind, body, spirit … resynchronizes you with the Creator in rest.

You have the keys to your identity. God has given you everything you need. You are ready to walk out your identity quest with Him.

This is the last article in the Identity Quest series, and I hope you have enjoyed this series. To see all of the Identity Quest articles, you can follow this link.

To read more articles on the topic of Identity (including the Identity Quest articles), you will find all of my Identity-related articles here. God bless you on your identity quest!

Spiritual Identity Theft

God created you with an amazing identity. He has awesome plans for your life. Jesus wants to give you an abundant life (John 10:10) but the enemy has tried to steal your birthright. How? By trying to weigh down your heart with wounds and dysfunction. The enemy is the ultimate identity thief, and his goal is to replace God’s truth with hurts and lies in your heart.

Do you recognize any of these fruits in your life? This is the enemy’s plan for identity theft. (The links below will take you to more articles on those topics.)

Bitterness
Unforgiveness
Trauma
Fear
Sleep struggles
Emotional upset
Masks
Shame
Performance
Weight of the world
Sick and tired
Lies
Neglect
Judgments
Dishonor
Walls around your heart
Generational sin

No matter what is weighing you down, Jesus is here to bring healing to your heart. He can help you find freedom in each of these areas. You can read that in Isaiah 61.

God provides amazing keys for your freedom. To help you discover some of those keys, here is an article on Keys to Being Real that will show you how to start living in greater freedom.

To read the next article in this series, please visit Keys to Being Real.

If you would like to read all of the articles in the Identity Quest series, you will find them by following this link.

Personality, Talents, Passions

Personality, talents, and passions direct you into who God created you to be. God has innately deposited a plumb line into your being – a plumb line of your perfect created self. You can seek that out by pursuing things you enjoy that line up with His will, His Word, and His Spirit.

For example, obviously, drugs and alcohol may make you feel good, but they don’t line up with God’s will, His Word, and His Spirit. But hobbies, talents, giftings, or the pursuit/enjoyment of, help you to see and affirm who He has created you to be.

For example, when you listen to music, or you participate in art, in mindless creative artistic projects, you check out of your mind and into your spirit. And so your spirit is in His Spirit, and His Spirit is in your spirit. You are united with Him in the creative process. When you finish, you will realize you’ve spent time with Him, spirit to Spirit. It affirms God as the creator in you, and affirms His identity in you.

As you begin to step into your true identity, you may notice some lies and dysfunctional behaviors holding you back. That is the work of the enemy – the ultimate identity thief. To learn more about spiritual and emotional identity theft, and how to step into healing, this article on Spiritual Identity Theft can help you see what is weighing you down.

To read the next article in this series, please visit Spiritual Identity Theft.

The following link will take you to all articles in the Identity Quest series.

Living out of Your Creative Self

If you are searching for your identity, it’s important to learn how to live out of your creative self. This is living from the perspective of the Creator, so that you’re consciously aware of colors and smells and your senses are heightened. When you live this way, you’re smelling, seeing, hearing, touching, feeling your feet on the ground, and aware consciously of your environment in the moment.

The Word says we all are creative beings, and all uniquely in synch with each other. What is our part in nature? How does nature recalibrate us? How are we recalibrated in line with the Lord? How is our spirit in synch, how does our song tune in with nature and God, how are we a conduit for Him?

The Word says rocks will cry out and every being has a song, so how do we tune into that and calibrate ourselves in line with nature and God … as individuals … in peace and rest … coming out of disharmony, addiction, emotional discord, and hatred. How do we come into the shalom of who, what, and where we are in the universe as a whole?

When you begin answering those questions with your life, you move closer to your true identity.

To read the next article in this series, please visit Personality, Talents, Passions.

To see all of the articles in the Identity Quest series, please follow this link.

Art of Identity

If you are searching for your identity, here are some steps that I hope will help you. To find your true identity, you have to recognize your false identities, and you need to discover the things that keep you locked into those lies. You also need to listen to your heart, and listen to God. He knows your real identity. He created your true identity when He created you!

It is God’s desire to help you strip away all the junk that’s been piled up in your heart all these years – your junk, family junk, the world’s junk, the enemy’s junk. He wants you to let go of all that. Recognize where you’ve held onto things that block the truth. Find forgiveness for those who have dishonored your identity. And then walk with Jesus through the cross. That’s where you’ll exchange the lies for the truth of who you really are.

God wants more than anything to restore your true identity to you. Then you can be free to live as who you are meant to be; to enjoy all the desires God has put into your heart. And you can help others find the same freedom He offers.

Are you ready for freedom and true identity?

Here are some ways to start listening to God, and listening to your heart.

Exchanging Good For Bad

Take a pen and paper. Find a quiet place, preferably outside.

Be still.

Be quiet.

Take inventory of your emotions, good and bad.

Make two columns: Good. Bad.

Ask God to show you each emotion.

As He shows you, write the emotion, and ask Him where it came from. One at a time.

Forgive or release the person or the circumstance that caused each negative emotion.

Lay it at the cross.

Thank Him for the good. Offer Him the bad.

Ask God to show you what He wants you to have instead of the bad.

Write that down.

Re-check the negative emotion. Is it still there? If so, repeat the process, writing what you hear on each step.

Where Is Jesus?

Take out your creative journal.

Write your negative emotions, giving them a negative visual appearance.

Write your positive emotions, and give them a positive appearance.

Now draw what’s happening that would have put you in the places where you’re struggling.

Whatever the Lord shows you about the things you are wrestling with, draw that, and include yourself in the picture.

Now ask Jesus where He is.

Draw Him into the picture.

Ask the Lord what He wants to show you about that scene.

Thank Him for the answers.

What Are Your Passions?

Write down your passions, hobbies, ideal job(s). Now give those to the Lord and ask Him how to incorporate this into who He has called you to be. If you had a free pass to create your ideal work responsibility, what would it be? Now present it to the Lord and ask Him to open the doors.

How Do You Hear God?

As you go through this creative process, you might be asking, “How do I hear God?”

He’s not going to speak audibly. He speaks more loudly in silence. You would most likely have an unction to do something, or no sense of peace in moving. That’s how He speaks generally. If you don’t “hear” Him, you’d better not move. Or you’re going to have a whole lot of undoing.

P.S. The more you know Him, the less likely you are to feel Him, either. He will use anything. If a cardinal is symbolic for you, He will send a cardinal. That’s an example of the Lord using your environment to speak to you. A flower, an animal, a cloud, a puppy, newspaper headline, something somebody says.

If you wake up in the morning and you focus on God and read His Word, and ask Him to affirm His Word in your environment throughout the day, and then open your senses to awareness of those opportunities, you’ll start to see God affirm what He gave you in scripture that morning throughout your day.

To read the next article in this series, please visit Living out of Your Creative Self.

You can find all the Identity Quest series articles by following this link.

Truth Versus Lies

We often get stuck believing lies about who we really are.

What are the lies you’ve most believed about yourself? Take a moment to ponder that. Can you name them?

Did you know that when you identify those lies, they give you keys to your true identity?

The enemy always shows his hand. When he convinces you of a lie about yourself, name it, and look for the opposite. That is your true identity.

For example, if the enemy has convinced you, your whole life, that you are stupid, you are actually brilliant. If the enemy has convinced you that you have no worth, the Lord wants to teach you your worth.

Whatever the enemy has taught you about yourself, turn that around, and there is your identity.

Moses stuttered and he was called to lead nations. Do you see how the enemy attempted to kill, steal, and destroy his identity? (John 10:10)

What lies have you believed about yourself?

What is the opposite of those lies?

That is your truth.

Your identity.

Spend some time bringing those two questions to God. Let them sit a while in your heart. See what you hear.

Write your answers in your journal: What are your lies? What is the opposite of each lie?

Now pray and ask God to help you step out of each lie and into your true identity.

To read the next article in this series, please visit Art of Identity.

All articles in this series can be found by following this link.