Tuesday Grace Letter:4

April 8, 2014

Kara, the writer behind the Mundane Faithfulness blog, has invited other bloggers to participate in a practice of grace- writing letters every week, each letter with its own focus. I do not know Kara. We live in the same city and some of my friends and family know her, but I have only followed her story in bits and pieces as others have posted her blog posts to their Facebook pages. Kara’s story is heart-rending and powerful and in the midst of her own suffering, she gives people a glimpse of Christ in her, the hope of glory. Today’s assignment is to write a letter of grace to a hard season of life.

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Dear Dark Night of the Soul,

I used to call you something different. Several things, actually. One term I used early on was “Season of/from Hell.”  Then after a person who suffered in the Bible, I called you my “Job Time.” And there were other more colorful words I used to describe you for awhile. But I have settled in the last year or two upon your real name: Dark Night of the Soul. (Thank you, St. John of the Cross, for gifting us with such a wonderful book.)

I can’t say that you were my friend… are my friend. I have such strangely mixed feelings about you, Dark Night. I can’t imagine my life without you now, and yet I would never wish you on my worst enemy. I am thankful for your presence, yet I despise you too. I’ve learned instead to live in the tension of that… and appreciate the tension that it is.

The thing about a Dark Night is that you are in many ways incomprehensible. I had no idea you would be visiting, and once there, I had no idea when you would leave. You overstayed your welcome far too long, you know that, don’t you? The most despicable part of you was the confusion you caused… and yet the most adorable part of you was that out of your confusion came such amazing gifts.

When I think back to the time before you barreled in through the door to my soul, I remember the person I was. A good person, but a scared person. A leader, but a terrified one. Too arrogant and sometimes immature in the internal dialogue I carried, and never being able to fully rest in the trust that comes from close union with Christ. I trusted Jesus, but only to a particular point. After that, it was up to me- or so I foolishly thought. I don’t believe for a second that anything I did caused you to come, as though I sent out an open invitation for you to wreck havoc on my life. Life just happens. It just does. Sickness and loss and death and grief- they are all experiences and most of the time, it is not directly related to something we did, especially as children of God. We are no more immune to pain than anyone else. Struggle, loss, hard- it’s all there, to one degree or the next. But it is not necessarily caused by us all the time. Even though we learn from our seasons of pain, we are not always the reason for them.

And that right there has to be a first grace God taught me. Because for so long, I believed that I had done something to cause my suffering. Ran a red light or thought evil thoughts about a person or some such thing. Somehow for a while, it was easier to think I had done some great wrong to deserve such pain. It was the only thing that made sense, even though I couldn’t make sense of it at all really. It was crazy-making… this fear that I did something but I don’t know what and that something that I did was, for some reason, unforgivable and deserved such a harsh punishment. It was crazy-making, but also part of me still controlling things. Not letting go. Because if I was to blame, then I was in charge. So when the moment came that I knew I had not done anything to deserve this, but instead this was something outside of myself, it was both freeing and difficult.

And another grace God taught me through you was what it feels like to be so desperate and courageous at the same time. In fact, sometimes desperation is the perfect soil for courage because it means that courage comes smelling of heaven and is not my own making.

At first, you taught me the courage of Rachel, weeping her loud sobs for her children, refusing to be comforted. Refusing to accept what was so horribly wrong, wanting only God himself to come and raise the dead. You, Dark Night, drove me first to stand beside Rachel, eating my own bitter tears and screaming for the God I knew who could indeed make things right if he so chose. And even though very few people understood this, you did, my Dark Night. God’s grace to me.  You gave me the courage to stand up Sunday after Sunday in brokenness and doubts and to preach the gospel I knew, even if my heart struggled to believe. You, Dark Night, reminded me of the words of John Wesley, “Preach faith until you have it.” That was hard, Dark Night. So hard to do. You know of the panic attacks behind the yellow door to the bathroom stall that you caused each Sunday morning, and yet you let me experience the arms of God, carrying me through the Sunday morning events and through the painful sighs and even the sometimes accusing eyes and cutting tongues surrounding me.

The next courage you taught me was the desperate courage of Job, who dared to reach out to a God who had every ability to respond to him. You showed me that Job was honored for speaking so boldly, for demanding some response from heaven. You showed me God’s deep love for the Jobs among us who have a courage to speak in sobs and prayers and demands and cries, who trust the strong fabric of their relationship with God even as they struggle.

And finally, Dark Night, you gave me the courage to walk away. To leave behind what was so toxic to my being and soul so that God might save my soul again and again and again. To challenge the areas in me prone to pride, jealousy, and false security. To leave behind a career and a calling, even as friends scratched their heads and as followers distanced themselves and enemies spoke mistruths. And in fact, it wasn’t my courage at all. It was the desperation that drove me to the God who would instill to me a strength I had never known. To throw myself again and again on the truth that his grace is sufficient in weakness. And so it was and is… sufficient.

When you drove me away from all I had known, Dark Night, you took from me the very things I had been using to prop up my faith. You removed the training wheels. You cut the apron strings. You pushed me into the deep end with no floaty arm things. You took my community of pastors who had always spoken my identity to me. You took my friends. You took my family. You took my sense of self. You even took my view of God. And all that turned out to be a good thing. Because I learned to view God anew and I learned to trust Jesus differently and I learned again that unless the Spirit speaks my identity, it is not my identity at all. You drove me out, Dark Night, and I spent time in the wilderness, choking on the dust and languishing in the heat, until I came to the end of myself and all I could do was sit and wait for a God I wasn’t sure about, but a God I wanted more than anything in the world. And at the end of all that, I met God. At the end of it all, I was held in the arms of Someone who loved me deeper and more than anyone ever had. Who showed me my areas of growth and who reminded me I need not be swallowed by their immensity. Who showed me who I really was simply because of who He really is. Dark Night, you took from me my reliance on the experiences of God, and after living in the tension, in its place you brought me to God himself. Without the baggage of my own views. Without the clouding voices of a community that is not always right. Without the need to rely on myself or my position or my reputation or my connections. You took from me so much. And you gave me so much too.

Without you, I would not understand trust. Without you, I would not know the taste of real love. Without you, I would not know the challenge and the intense desire of genuine union with Jesus. Without you, Dark Night, I would not understand grace. That grace is so much more than overlooking sin. It is so much more than being protected from danger or poverty or sickness or death. Grace is so much more than a slogan or a billboard or movie or a motto or a status or a tweet or even a plaque on a wall bought at the Christian bookstore. Grace is… well, grace. Held in the hands of a God who wants us to grow deeper so we can know Him, and not our versions or experiences or feelings of Him.

Dearest Dark Night, you have left me now. But your imprints remain, deeply etched in the walls of my soul. Your presence during that time cannot be forgotten. You left a sour taste in my mouth and beautiful mural in my heart. You came smelling of hell and yet you left me with a whiff of heaven. I still do not understand you. But I trust Him. And so because of Him, I accept you… for all that you were and are.

Thank you in the rough and tumble of our relationship for teaching me trust. Thank you in the darkness of your design for teaching me grace. And thank you in the press of your heaviness for teaching me who the Maker of grace truly is.

Sincerely, Me

For more Tuesday Grace Letters, please visit Kara’s blog here.

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