The Dark Night of the Soul
I remember walking through Home Depot with my dad when I was about eight years old. On one of the aisles, I found a gospel tract with a gigantic yellow smiley face printed on the cover. In thick, black lettering it said, "Smile, Jesus loves you."
I thought it was inspiring. Someone left a gospel tract in Home Depot! How wonderful.
For some reason, the smiley face stuck in my mind.
In summary, that's what I thought Christianity was about. The gospel tract said it all. Every Christian was supposed to resemble that gigantic yellow smiley face. After all, Jesus died for His people's sins and loved them very, very much. Knowing that, how could they ever be unhappy? If they were, they obviously were mixed up. They'd obviously forgotten what Jesus had done for them. If they were on the right track, of course they'd be happy ...
To some extent, I still believe that. Usually my unhappiness grows from a heart that isn't focused on what Jesus has given me in His grace. When my heart is stuck on the ground and obsessed with unfulfilled wishes, I forget that Jesus has given me more than enough reason for joy.
But that's not the only cause of unhappiness. Throughout the Psalms, King David describes a deep sorrow in his soul:
But I, O LORD, cry to you;
in the morning my prayer comes before you.
O LORD, why do you cast my soul away?
Why do you hide your face from me?
Afflicted and close to death from my youth up,
I suffer your terrors; I am helpless (Psalm 88:13–15).
This "dark night of the soul" is described countless times during the Psalms and throughout the entire Bible. At one point the apostle Paul wrote, "For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself" (2 Corinthians 1:8).
Yes, you read that right. There was at least one period in Paul's life when he "despaired of life itself." When he didn't feel like going on. When he was certain there was no hope for his life on earth. And yes, even King David felt that there were times when God hid Himself.
Have you ever experienced the "dark night of the soul"? Have you walked through a period of depression so heavy that you struggle to believe that you'll ever be truly, sincerely happy again? You're not alone. I've experienced those times as well.
What are we supposed to do in those times? While there isn't a button that we can push to make God automatically feel close by, there are some efforts we can make to ensure that time "in the dark" isn't wasted:
- Cling to what you know. One man advised his friend, who was fighting depression, to hold tight to "objective realities"—the things that person knew were absolutely true. Hold onto the Bible's truths with both hands. Don't let the blues trick you into thinking God hates you. Read the Bible. Work to memorize verses on God and His character, so that in your darker moments you'll have truth to speak to your heart.
- Build your kindling. Do you want to be on fire for God? Do you want to grow in your faith? Although it may sound hard to believe, depression can actually be used by God to help our growth. (Keep in mind, He can use any bad situation for our good.) Try to use your time in depression to stay faithful in reading the Bible, praying, and praising God. Not only can those things help lift you out of depression and become a source of joy, those habits can help you grow for the rest of your life.
For me, one of the lessons I've learned during "dark nights" is that Jesus isn't a formula. He isn't a robot I can control or a genie I can call down to help me. Instead, He's a loving friend; and in the moments when we are most broken, when we don't even have the faith or strength to call out to Him, He comes down to us. He can be depended upon in the night, because much as we may feel alone, He promises to never forget us.