Based on some comments from my last week's post on Walking Through the Dark, I thought it might be helpful to post some thoughts and clarifications as I've continued to think about the topic.
So, a few thoughts:
Some have asked if I mean that to be spiritually mature, we must wrestle and struggle through every dark time in our lives. Is it not possible to say, "It is Well With My Soul," through the darkness?
To which I say, I don't mean that every difficult time is the same, nor our response the same. In fact, if we do head through the dark times in honesty and truth with ourselves and God, we ought to come out different on the other side. And so each dark time will by necessity be encountered differently by us as we grow and discover how God is shaping us. And that's how we know -- have we come through the darkness changed, with an ability to see more of God, more of His truth? Or are we the same? Did we allow God to encounter us in the darkness, or did we cling instead to something else, a platitude, a saying, a vision of faith as a thing that never struggles?
Because even though I certainly believe that we can come through dark times saying "It is Well With My Soul," I also wonder if we can truly be who God envisions us to be if we NEVER struggle, NEVER question, NEVER wrestle, NEVER doubt. When I look at the witness of scripture - of righteous Job's questions and doubts, of David's Psalms of lament and crying out "How long?", of Habakkuk standing before God and saying, "I don't get it," of Paul beseeching the Lord three times, and mostly of Jesus sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane - I see faith strengthened through struggle. When I look to the witness of Christian history - of Teresa of Avila, St. Francis of Assisi, Luther, Wesley, you name it ... I see again a consistent mention of the "dark times of the soul." And when I look at the people I know whose faith inspires me, in whose eyes I see the depth of God's wonder, I find that they too, at some point in their lives, have had a time of struggling, questioning, doubting. They have come through their own darkness to be changed on the other side.
So, does every difficulty require struggle? No. But struggle is normal, and sometimes it's right.
Yet, what I find too often represented in our Christian culture is a picture of faith that disallows struggle, doubt, questions. Too often I have heard people told to "just have faith" and what is meant is that they shouldn't question, shouldn't wrestle. I've never heard anyone told that they aren't struggling enough (and that's not at all what I'm saying here either!), but plenty of times I've heard of people discouraged, disparaged, and put down for their struggles, doubts, and questions. That is the side of the issue that I believe we are most likely to err on -- to make people feel guilty and lesser-in-faith because they are wrestling, when wrestling may in fact be exactly where God wants them to be.
So, my point is, there are times in our walks with God when He brings us to the darkness, and when He intends us to wrestle with it - not every time, but sometimes ... and most probably in our lives, at least once! Just like when the "man" came to Jacob in Genesis 32:24 and "wrestled with him till daybreak." Notice that the man, not Jacob, initated the wrestling match (also note that not every difficulty Jacob faced was a wrestling match, but this one was). Knowing that wrestling, struggling, questioning is sometimes just what God expects, frees us to deal honestly with the darkness, allows us to approach those times in freedom, to find what God has for us. It gives us permission to rage if needed, cry out as necessary, express our deepest hearts in a way that is the most honest. We don't have to pretend.
So, in the end, if we never allow ourselves to doubt or question, if we tell others they are being faithless when they doubt, then we just may be thwarting what God has planned for those He loves. We could be standing in His way, and theirs.
So, finally, for those of you who have come through dark times, cherish the lessons you learned there. And walk forward in new light.
For those in the midst of the dark, hang on to Him. Embrace what is true, what is real, what is honest. If it is well with your soul, sing it! And if your heart is crying out, "Oh God, how You do this to me? I don't get it!" then express that too. Do what is right and true. Engage with God in the dark. And don't think that faith means never having a doubt. And know, too, that the darkness doesn't last forever. But within it can be found treasure that is mined no where else. Hang on!
For those who are approaching the dark, who see it coming, turn to Him. There are riches there that are painful to discover, but worth the try. He does not take you this way for nothing. Just turn to Him in as much honesty and vulnerability that you can muster. Don't think that faith means always saying, "I'm fine." And find friends who will allow you to express yourself most honestly and who won't judge or condemn or tell you that faith is never doubting. Then, hang on for the ride.