Does it ever feel like God has stopped talking to you? How do you react to that? Do you panic? Do you pray louder? Are you tempted to quit believing altogether? This time of silence is very common, but rarely talked about. Some refer to it as a “wilderness experience.” Others call it the winter season of life. The best descriptive term I have heard is “The Dark Night of the Soul.” It can last days, months, or even years. It is often misdiagnosed as depression, but it goes much deeper because it doesn’t just affect your mind or your emotions; it affects your soul. Here are some of the symptoms:
1. What used to work doesn’t work anymore
When I was a young Christian, I felt God’s presence all the time. If at any time I didn’t feel His presence when I thought I should, I would just pray harder or read my favorite passage of Scripture or listen to Christian music or anything else that gave me goose bumps and helped me feel God again.
One day I realized that I had not felt God’s presence in quite a while. I tried all of the remedies that used to work, but I felt nothing. During this time, God taught me that I can’t press a button and find God; that would make ME God.
2. Basic disciplines like prayer, reading the Bible, and going to church actually make you feel worse
I have heard people complain that they “can’t hear God” or “it feels like God is far away.” Often well-meaning people advise them to pray more or read the Psalms or go to a soup kitchen. Though this is generally good advice, during the Dark Night these things might actually make you feel worse. That doesn’t mean you should stop praying; it just means that it has become an act of faith just to pray because it no longer energizes you and you don’t feel like God is listening. God is letting you mature by holding back that conditioned response that used to motivate you to do spiritual things.
Think about it. As a child, you had to be bribed to eat your vegetables. As an adult, hopefully you learned to eat broccoli even if it looks and tastes like tiny trees. Or maybe as a child you would only drink your medicine if it tasted like bubblegum. As an adult, you take your medicine even if it tastes like, well, medicine. You do these things because they are good for you – even if it might even hurt a little. It is the same thing for your spiritual health. There comes a point in time when you don’t like doing spiritual exercises, but know you need to in order to become stronger.
3. One or more “Christians” have told you that you have lost your faith
“I haven’t seen you at church in a while. Did you backslide?” “God never stops talking; you just stopped listening.” “Turn that frown upside down. Today is the day the Lord has made!” Christians can say the stupidest things or the right things at the wrong moments. If it bothers you at all that God might have stopped talking to you, then that proves you care. You’re still saved, but you’re going through something that some Christians can’t relate to. Don’t worry about it. Sooner or later, they’ll go through something similar.
4. You have begun questioning everything you believe in – even the basics like “Does God exist?” “Are all my sins forgiven?” “Does God really have a plan for me or has He forgotten about me?”
Though many experience it in different ways, the Dark Night of the Soul is nothing new. Peter wrote about it to the persecuted church in 1 Peter. While many were wondering whether they should give up and abandon their faith, Peter said it was actually through their faith that God’s power was shielding them. (1:5) To drop their shield of faith would not only lead to their destruction here and now, but they would also be giving up their inheritance (heaven). He encouraged them not to give up “the living hope” that they had from Jesus’ resurrection – not a wishful hope like “I hope it doesn’t rain today” but a living hope that since God already raised Jesus from the dead, we can be sure that He will raise us from the dead to be with Him forever in heaven. Peter then explains,
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.
Notice three things about this passage.
If you are going through the Dark Night, know that you are not going through it alone. God walks with you and only lets your hand go so your faith can grow as He leads you through the stormy valley silently. Though you cannot touch Him or hear Him to know for sure that He is there, know that He is by your side protecting you the whole time while your faith is proven genuine and grows like it only could during such an experience. Remember Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. (Psalm 23:4)
You would think only so much can go wrong
But our Hope endures the worst of conditions
How do we comprehend peace within pain?
But our Hope endures the worst of conditions
Emmanuel, God is with us
(“Our Hope Endures” performed by Natalie Grant)