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.

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

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!

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.

“Why Is Cleaning Unsettling?”

Question: “I just spent 3 days cleaning my entire apartment. Inside-out. Got rid of boxes/closets/drawers full of stuff that’s been there since I moved in 5 years ago. You would think (and it’s usually the case for me) that after such a huge cleaning I would feel amazing. Instead, I feel very unsettled, disoriented, vulnerable. I have no idea why. I didn’t get rid of anything important, just years worth of old junk.”

Great question! And congrats on “cleaning out your closet” (so to speak). Just imagine that what you are doing spiritually is parallel to the natural. And what usually happens when you clean out your closets or behind your bed, etc.? You find lots of dust bunnies (or at least I do). And what else happens? You stir up a lot of “dust.” Anytime we make attempts to “bring things into order” whether it be physically, or emotionally, we stir things up. And this also stirs things up in the spirit.

We attach a lot of “value” to our “things.” And when we let things go, we often feel vulnerable and “discombobulated.” The same thing happens in our soul. When we dig around in the area of our heart we feel unsettled (for a little while). Give it a couple of days and see how you feel. I would encourage you to anoint your new clean space with oil, invite Holy Spirit to come in and fill the new space … wouldn’t even hurt to open a window and just covenant with a new season of fresh wind and purity in the name of Jesus!!!

 

Present, Presents, Presence

I wanted to talk a little about the Advent season. Advent is to me the season of Presence remembered. “Presence” represents God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. It is our opportunity to reflect on “Presence” and the effect Presence has on people’s lives. If you look at scripture, EVERY single time someone encountered Presence their true identity was revealed. Some were revealed in their true identity of evil and some their identity in goodness.

Let’s start with Mary. Mary was created to be the Mother of Christ. As a very young woman I am sure she was struggling to find out who she was. Suddenly, she encounters an angel of the Lord and HE reveals to her her true identity. Granted she had free will and could’ve said no. (If you remember she wasn’t married so this was not exactly an ideal way to step into your true identity – She had to consider that people were going to chastise her for being “pregnant out of wedlock.”) Nonetheless, Mary trusted God, in spite of the appearance of circumstances. She answered “Be it unto me Lord, according to Your word.” Because she said yes, she is forever revered as the Mother of our Christ. Mary had a choice. The choice to believe who the world would say she is OR step into her identity in Christ and fulfill HIS destiny in her… We all have that same choice.

We don’t realize that every day we meet that same crossroads of our own identity. Every moment of our life we are fulfilling a destiny. Every action leads us into a false identity or our true identity. Every circumstance that comes our way is a potential for growth. Are you going to grow in your true identity or build on the lies of your false identity. Mary could’ve chosen to “protect” her flesh (her reputation) and deny the angel. But instead she accepted God’s offer “Be it unto me according to your word.” In her decision, she stepped into the fullness of the destiny that God created her for. Advent is that season for us. It is recognizing Presence in this PRESENT moment.

This is the season!!! God is offering you your true identity. Do you want it? Are you sick and tired of doing things your way? There is a better way!! Is it worth it? You better believe it. It’s your destiny!!! I would challenge you right now that if you are miserable in your life, go back and ask the Lord where did I take the wrong path? Where did I choose to go my own way? When you ask Him, expect Him to answer! He will answer. Then what? Ask Him to get you back on the right path to your true identity. He never gives up on us but He often waits for us to give up on ourselves. When we are at the end of ourselves is when we realize we truly need Him. So whatever is hindering you? Give it up. Gift Him with your troubles, gift Him your false identity, gift Him your fear. Whatever it is, He wants it. He is thrilled to take it from you. And when you give it to Him ask for His Presence in exchange. Accept His Presence instead of your pain, your lies, your disappointment. That’s an amazing gift exchange huh? And once you’ve made the exchange, offer Him your life. Stand before Him in this present moment and say to Him “Be it unto me according to Your word.” You won’t regret it. You will begin to realize who He created you to be and it will be amazing. He did not create you to be miserable!!! He created you in His image and HE is amazing – If we are called to be a reflection of Him – we should be amazing also …So give it up … Give up your present in exchange for His Presence in this present moment … Just do it!