In his book Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You, John Ortberg writes: “In the dark night, my prayers feel like they reach no higher than the ceiling. …In the dark night, the Bible I read turns to ashes. In the dark night, words and books and songs that once spoke to my soul now leave me cold.” Ortberg goes on to explain, “It is important to understand that the dark night, is not the soul’s fault. Of course, it’s possible for me to grow cold toward God because I cling to sin, or prefer an idol, or simply become lazy. These are all real occurrences that require wise response. But they are not the dark night. The dark night is God-initiated.”
Jenny Simmons writes of her wilderness experience in The Road to Becoming. Jenny’s view of God’s silence differs from Ortberg, “When I can’t hear, I confuse my not hearing with the idea that God is momentarily not present with me. That He’s unavoidably unavailable. All too quickly I begin to believe that I have to walk through my lostness while the Great Comforter remains silent. But I get it completely wrong. The Great Comforter is incapable of being silent” Jenny goes on to explain that even when we hardly hear God He is present in nature and even our own heartbeat.
As my own wilderness dragged on I found that in the depths of the silence I felt, the distance I couldn’t seem to shorten was hard to figure out. I don’t know who separated first, it didn’t matter, what I felt was that the ache was too much. I couldn’t pray anymore. I couldn’t face it. I cried out “God it’s too much, please, I cannot handle it!”
In her book “Empty” Cheri Hill says, “When we’re ’empty’ our lives, which are compiled of moments, hours, days and years, well up from hidden depths within us that reveal more about us than we’d like. It’s what’s on the surface that gives insight to what’s going on within; and at this point, none of it looks good. In our desperation, we attempt to fill and satisfy, what we perceive as our deepest needs but nothing quenches our undying thirst. And “empty” takes on a whole new meaning.”
What I couldn’t understand was the timing. Why, on the cusp of 10 years of hopes and dreams finally developing was God further away from me, harder to hear, and not answering prayers that seemed so logical to answer?
The promise I needed was found in Deuteronomy 1:29-31 (NASB) ” Then I said to you, ‘Do not be shocked, nor fear them. The Lord your God who goes before you will Himself fight on your behalf, just as He did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness where you saw how the Lord your God carried you, just as a man carries his son, in all the way which you have walked until you came to this place. ‘ “ These verses became my plea. As I prayed these words in substitution for my own I realized I had lost the energy to do anything but pray it. I couldn’t fight, I could only ask for help and so I did.
Naming my dark season as a wilderness was the beginning of God turning my heart and attention to Him in a new way. I was astounded at how many authors, bloggers and pastors wrote and spoke about the wilderness. I realized that it wasn’t just the Israelites who God called into the desert. As I explored the stories others pointed me to, like that of the Israelites being brought into the wilderness by Moses, the part that stood out the most was how God provided for the Israelites in the desert for the entire 40 years. As I thought about the Israelites learning to trust God, their creator whom they had been removed from for 400 years, it struck me. The wilderness is a place where God brings His people to reveal more of his character to them.
It was in these moments of surrender, trying to seek God fully and without condition I began to accept my present state as necessary. My savior began to whisper to me in a new way. He reminded me my dreams were His dreams too, and He reminded me He always keeps His promises.
In the early months of my wilderness, when I accepted my prayers would not be answered in my timing it was not God’s words that gave me the most comfort. As I read and listened to speakers and authors tell their stories of getting through hard times I was comforted by the repetitive conclusion. God had carried them all.
“There’s a purpose for our pain, there’s a reason for our emptiness. God ALWAYS gives us more than we can handle, in order to reveal what He is to do through our faith in Him. We must be emptied of ourselves, so that God Himself can fill us-He wants to show us that prayer works.” Empty Cheri Hill
I cannot tell you what your wilderness season will look like, nor can I tell you when it will come. My prayer is that you will see your story in scripture and hear how God is pursuing you.