This is the first post in a series of four which I wrote a while ago but didn’t want to post at the time. I’m not in the same place today that I was then; as a result, I’m tempted to edit the writing to soften or finesse it, but I’ve chosen not to!
Though the experience I describe is now historical, I’m posting the series because in the past similar posts have apparently encouraged others who sometimes walk through depression and darkness too. If you are one of those people, know that you are not alone; though he hides from you, if you have put your faith in him, he has promised never to leave or forsake you. This too shall pass.
Something has changed. Joy is gone and life is between two realities. For now, at least. One reality is peace and calm, at least, if not joy. And the other is dark, hopeless and panic-stricken.
I can go for days in the former state. It’s not happiness exactly. But it doesn’t hurt, I can laugh, I can engage with life and everything feels normal.
Yet, if I probe a little deeper, I know that things are not right because I’m no longer excited about anything much…even the things which I know I love to do: my job, my study, my writing and reading. Yes, if I probe a little deeper, I know that something has changed. The joy which is my birthright in him is gone, hidden. The God who says he loves me is nowhere to be found and I am left only with promises. More promises, actually, than you’d think one girl should need! Promises that I can’t give up on but rather have to fight to believe. Because somehow, somewhere deep within, I still suspect that he who promised is faithful.
And it starts to show in the kind of book reviews I write, which are impatient with authors for saying what has already been said, for saying it badly, or for not saying anything at all. It starts to show in my blog posts, which become more sporadic and, when I do write them, more forced. And it starts to show in the way that I feel when someone wants to share their pain with me, a feeling of having no more capacity for any more sadness, a sense that one more ounce of pain may cause me to break open like a river which bursts its banks.
But most people wouldn’t know. And, indeed, nor do I know for most of that time that anything is wrong.
But then those other moments strike. The ones where my whole world feels like it’s tilting on its axis. Where, as the panic creeps up on me, I think that I might implode physically. I hang on to something physical for dear life because, irrationally, I fear that I might otherwise spin off into a million irretrievable pieces. My mind cannot think rationally because of the vice-like grip of fear that holds it. The world is dark and who knows where God is?
Yet I have been here before, some years ago. I am not new to this path. I have seen that he who called me is faithful, that what he has begun he will complete.
And so this time I rest slightly more secure. Not so much that you might notice. But I notice it and am glad. The panic attacks are shorter, albeit just as intense; the blanket of fear is more easily dispelled; I am more able to take control of my thinking so as to reorient myself in the One in whom all things hold together.
In it all, I am more convinced than I was last time that he’s faithful, even if he is definitely not answering the big prayers in any way that I can discern right now. I have seen him answer more prayers lately in fact than I have for a while; many others are seeing their needs met and I am being reminded that this God is not absent, just hiding. And so, as the days pass me by, I am more aware than last time that he is there. That if this experience is continuing in the face of much prayer that it would be lifted, then it must be achieving something that he could do in no other way. That one day I will be glad of this process of becoming that is like no other and perhaps, in the spirit of 2 Corinthians 1 and God-willing, others might also be glad that I walked this way.
But very often we run from the via negativa, we eschew the pain, and we declare that such experiences do not come from God, for he is here and he is good. Last time, so many told me that very thing. They told me that the problem was with me (and it is, but not in the way they meant!). They said God would not be the author of brokenness, that he deals in wholeness, and they told me to ‘deal with it’ because it wasn’t fair on my church or my husband. They had no category for a brokenness which could prove constructive, a pain which might end up being redemptive. They were so sure, belligerent with it almost, that they made me start to wonder too.
Yet have we forgotten? Do we so easily misremember the old, old story of a God who became flesh and hung on a cross, suffering the physical pain of the nails, enduring the emotional and spiritual pain of abandonment? Are we so afraid to embrace the way of emptiness that we would deny it could be of the One who freely chose a path of sorrows for the joy set before him?
In the end, it is because of a conviction that this is the way of God, that this is as much a path to him as the one strewn with flowers and echoing with shrieks of laughter, that, with the hymn-writer, I will say as I said that last time too:
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Friend, say this with me today, won’t you? No matter what your trial? For, if you are in him, it is true though you feel it or not, though you say it or not.
And one day you and I will both see clearly just how well it always was…