Words fail me.
A year ago I was full of words, and then I wasn’t. I have very few memories of times in my life when I had nothing to say, and yet, starting last August, the usual explosion of ideas and phrases just disappeared, evaporated, was taken from me. It wasn’t just in the area of writing either.
I usually plan my sermons in series, months ahead of time and then, suddenly, silence; a wall of quiet; an empty well; a locked chest with no key. That time seems to have passed but I have been loathe to write again, and I feel the probably narcissistic need to record my experience; partially as catharsis for me and partially as an act of obedience.
I have always had depressive tendencies. When I was younger and had no experience of depression, I didn’t recognize them as such. I thought of them as ‘black moods,’ and ‘melancholies,’ and, thanks to Garfield the Cat, ‘Deep Blue Funks.’ In any case, they were always there. With age came education, experience and the realization that I must not ever give in to the nagging dark when it came. However, knowing a thing and actually doing it are very different.
I would cycle through these times of absolute inertia, unable to self-start and unable to self-diagnose. I would let things go, procrastinate, in areas where it was terribly harmful to do so. I would find ways to self medicate, emotional surrogates and what-have-you, and then eventually, break above the surface again; three months behind on everything and totally out of breath. I finally found a way to work through the problem.
Now, I’ve never had much luck with counseling. It’s not that I don’t believe in it, I do. I have dear friends who have found their way through tough times with a counselor and I have dear friends who ARE counselors, but for counseling to work you have to trust the process, and for whatever reason, I don’t, it’s a kind of weakness in me I guess. My brain turns off when the questions come and my spirit doesn’t work from the same intellectual base. It’s just me. What has worked for me is Spiritual Direction. My Spiritual Director is Randy Frye in Lockhart, Texas, this is his blog. Spiritual Direction is much like counseling but is primarily concerned with what the Spirit is saying to you and where He is leading you. Also, it is less anonymous and more about intimacy, making it a better New Testament fit, at least for me. A few years ago I had stopped meeting with my director, not as a matter of prayer but as a matter of my thinking it was no longer necessary in my life. Stupid is as stupid does as Forrest Gump would say.
Now church planting is hard work after several years of sustained growth we encountered some serious difficulties. The details aren’t important. Suffice it to say we had some great victories and some sudden and horrible reversals. I had stopped the discipline of Spiritual Direction and not replaced it with anything and in the soup of failure and difficulty I slowly became less and less interested in the things happening around me.
I was depressed, or close enough that it made no difference at all. I was still connected to God and heard His voice as He led me through a wilderness of new thoughts, but I made a mistake even so.
It is possible to be obedient to God and to disconnect from Him emotionally. I relied on Him for guidance, but not for strength. I knew He loved me, but my returned passion was restrained. And I sinned. I sinned by building idols that I could transfer my love for God onto. Golden calves that I could see and feel, “here are your gods who brought you out of Egypt.”
Here’s the funny thing, I didn’t even notice what was happening. It took my brothers in Christ, in my church, to recognize that something was wrong. (A quick not here to say that you can never be the Christian God wants you to be outside of the community of believers. Scriptural fact. I welcome arguments to the contrary.) Oh, I knew I was hurting, I had begged God for months to remove my problem. His response was a constant litany of “My grace is sufficient for you…My strength is made perfect in weakness,” which is not what I wanted to hear. When deliverance did come it was sharp and difficult and it took me months to piece together the truth of what had happened. I had shattered myself against my own sin. Repentance followed and then the rebuild.
St. John of the Cross writes about “The Dark Night of the Soul.” In that great book and poem he teaches the idea of God putting us, or allowing us, into a darkness that so tries, exhausts and frightens us that we go through a purgation of our senses; a burning away of our fleshly, emotional desires. In his classic play, Our Town, Thornton Wilder puts it this way,
Gradually, gradually, they let go of the earth-and the ambitions they had-and the pleasures they had-and the things they suffered-and the people they loved. They get weaned away from the earth-that’s the way I put it, weaned away. Yes, they stay here while the earth part of ’em burns away, burns out….
Now, in Our Town, Wilder is referring to the dead, but it is an appropriate statement for us as believers who are gradually leaving the old life behind them, dying to it. God puts us through this death, this darkness, so we can better hear Him and come closer to the purity of heart that He wants for us. His desire is that we long for Him above all other things or people in our lives; and so that we learn to rely on Him and His promises above all other guarantees and promises of our worldly relationships. After much long, honest wrestling with the Holy Spirit, on my own and with the input of others, I realized that this is where I was. My darkness was part of His plan, and frankly, as darkness goes, it was a wimpy one.
As I begin to see dawn up ahead, a bright morning, I realize a few things. I am very, very weak. Scripture says without Him I can do nothing and I certainly see the truth of that statement. What if God had chosen to put me through long illness, or the loss of a loved one? How would I have been ready?
Secondly, I understand less than half of what I think I do, maybe less than that. I just have to trust and be obedient and live the life God has given me.
Third, never go where you are not led. We have to live within our weaknesses and sometimes that means we have to take chances and walk in dangerous places but we must be certain that we are led there. Prayer is an absolute necessity for those of us who are born of the Spirit, we must act within the confines of truth and God’s revelation. Don’t assume you know anything about what the Spirit is doing. Ask.
As I finish this post, I am aware that I am a work in progress, with many bright mornings ahead. In the next few weeks I’ll share what God has been doing in my life and hopefully now, I can write again.
Thank you for reading. Love and Peace.