Spiritual darkness is a reality – St. John of the Cross’ Dark Night of the Soul and St. Teresa of Calcutta both wrote about the loss of solace from God. This lack can be anything from losing a feeling of comfort when you pray to dreading going to Mass because you ‘just don’t feel like it’ anymore.
And while we might want to be dismissive, we all know feelings have a way of waxing and waning to outright lying to us; feelings are real. Our child crying because of a broken balloon is to be consoled, not condemned. Of course, we know the limited life-span of a balloon but our 4 yr. old doesn’t and does not be told to “Grow up and get over it!”
The same is true for us adults – our feelings are a gift given to us from God. And like all gifts they need their proper place in our lives.
Think of it like this – a gift card from Macy’s cannot be used at McDonald’s. Both might be valuable to you in their own right and both can get you ‘stuff’ but that stuff is very different from each other and both have quite different values. The dress lasts longer and looks much more lovely on you than the double-cheeseburger.
Our feelings also have value but we need to use them in the right place and time and for the right purposes. Letting ourselves continue to have crying jags or temper tantrums over the broken balloons in our life would be childish. But, feeling sadness when life is difficult or when it seems as if God is not even listening to us should be attended to.
But how? First, know that our feelings have a way of distorting the truth. God is listening – He can’t help but listen to us as He made a covenant with us He cannot break. It’s impossible – absolutely impossible. God is always, always, ALWAYS there, even when we don’t feel Him.
Second, realize that darkness has a purpose.
For St. John, at one point he relates the darkness to the temporary blindness that occurs when we come inside from being outside on a bright day. We have all experienced this. Having seen the sun so clearly outside, our eyes seem to go blind when we go back into our homes. Watching this happen with little kids can be a bit funny as you watch them blink and blink or even cry out ‘I can’t see! I’ve gone blind!’. Soon enough, their pupils adjust and life is back to normal.
In St. John’s life, being so close to the Son of God, Jesus himself, can render us blind to just how close we are. We are so close, being held so tightly in his arms we are blinded to Him. He is there, closer than ever, but we just ‘can’t see’ Him.
Keep praying, keep talking, keep going to Mass despite your temporary blindness knowing that He is there holding you close.
Lastly, relate your darkness to other experiences that have a good ending – just as your darkness will (eventually).
Think of the familiar image of the light at the end of the tunnel – but know that some tunnels can be 30 miles long! There is a tunnel being created under the Swiss Alps, due to open this year, what will be just over 35 miles long! Imagine – that tunnel will keep you in dark for almost 40 minutes if you go about 60 mph. 40 minutes in the dark is more than this claustrophobic girl can take!
And tunnels always take you out of darkness – always, they have to, it is their design. They lead you from one point to another. From England to France in just 35 minutes via the Channel Tunnel – the Chunnel – which is approx. 31 miles long. From the land of the London Tower to the land of Eiffel Tower in just 35 minutes – imagine!
The creation of tunnels has helped man get under rivers and through mountains rather than the longer (and often more dangerous) over the land routes.
And think of treasure. Gold and diamonds, silver and opals. Gemstones of every kind are rarely found on the surface of the earth but must be brought out of the darkness of mines; some of which are miles deep. You can’t get to those treasures simply by wandering around in the sun. You have to dig deep and do some seriously hard work. But it is worth it in the end.
So, don’t give up. And, until the darkness is lifted use the light around you to remind you that God is there regardless of how you feel. Gaze at the candle on the altar, a lamp on the table next to you as your pray or the sunshine outside as you take a walk or play with your kids. Let those lights become the light of Christ in your life until your darkness ends. Your darkness is merely a tunnel to travel or a mine of treasures waiting to be found. You are closer to God than you know.