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Pilgrim's Guides


  Minimizing Grief's Desolation
Part Four



Expressing Grief and Loss
When Impatience Sets in
The Power of Resilience
Bringing Rest to Troubled Souls
Too Many Choices
When the Grass Appears Greener
Wounds in the Household of Faith
Moving beyond the Reefs of Rejection

Handling Dark Times: Tunnel Experiences
The Dark Night of the Soul

  We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. And He did rescue us from mortal danger, and He will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in Him, and He will continue to rescue us. And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety. 2 Corinthians 1:8-11  
  A few weeks before Rosalind’s spasms began, a friend from church had a picture that we were about to enter a dark tunnel. Although she could see a bright light at the far end of it, she sensed that we were not going to reach that light immediately.

Other warnings followed hard on the heels of this picture. A few days later I had an intensely dramatic dream in which I was being pursued by a monster of a bull that was charging straight towards me. There seemed no conceivable way that I could avoid its lowered horns. I woke with the bull still racing across the field in pursuit of me.

A few days later I had another dream. On this occasion a thick cloud of midges was heading straight towards me. Again, there was no way I could avoid them. I could feel them crawling all over my face – and yet I had not been bitten.

I know enough about dreams to realise that if the same theme is repeated more than once, it is likely to be significant, and quite possibly urgent.20 Often, the reason for such dreams and impressions is that the Lord is allowing us to glimpse the scenarios that Hell is seeking to bring about.

The Lord permits this so that we may rally our defences, spring to action stations and pray away the dangers we have foreseen – or, at the very least, reduce the effect they have.

At the same time – and here we see again the paradoxical nature of so much that we associate with grief experiences – we have also discovered that the Lord often uses these perilous and unpleasant situations to catapult us forward into some new phase of our lives.21

Within a few weeks of these dreams, we found ourselves beset by difficulties, culminating in the extraordinary spasms that convulsed Ros. The fact that we had experienced many such tests before helped us to endure those agonising months.22

We are also aware that attacks tend to come in proportion to the significance of the task we are engaged in. Not only is there often “backlash” after some major step forwards, there may also be intense “pre-lash.” After all, the best time to attack an aircraft is while it is still on the runway.

When the powers of darkness are launching assault after assault against us, the more resolute we are in counter them with prayer and declarations of faith, the less power they have over us. It is better still if we can identify the source of the attack and come specifically against it. It is only when we heed our fears that we lose sight of the fact that God still has good things in store for us.

For the time being, however, His plans remained entirely hidden from view, because we were still in a “tunnel.” Tunnels block out light, and cause any words that are spoken to bounce off the walls, echoing and distorting them to the point where we are not sure what it is that we are hearing.

From time to time, the path we are ascending is so rugged that we are required to advance by faith alone. When Jeremiah lamented how hard he was finding his calling, and the opposition that was coming even from his own family, the Lord’s reply appears almost brusque.

  “If racing against mere men makes you tired,
how will you race against horses?
If you stumble and fall on open ground,
what will you do in the thickets near the Jordan?”
Jeremiah 12:5

Effectively, the Lord was telling him to use what he had learned during this present round of difficulties to help him cope with the tougher times that lay ahead.

Horatio Spafford must have understood this when he wrote this hymn, whose words have become well known all around the world.

  When peace like a river attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

You might be forgiven for supposing these words to have been penned by an exquisitely happy man in a mid-summer rose garden, surrounded by his adoring family. In reality, they were written in the middle of the Atlantic, as Horatio made his way to rejoin his grieving wife.

Spafford had previously sent his wife and four daughters on ahead of him to Europe, but the ship had collided with another vessel, and all four of his daughters had drowned. Spafford had already experienced much suffering in his life, but this still greater test lent yet more authenticity to his words.

  Though Satan should buffet,
Though trials should come,
Let this blessed assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound
and the Lord shall appear,
Even so, it is well with my soul.23

Sharing our emotional pain is important, but it would be naďve to expect griefs as great as these to disappear overnight simply because we have spoken them aloud. Like Job we may find ourselves lamenting:

  If I speak, my pain is not relieved; and if I refrain, it does not go away. O God, You have ground me down and devastated my family.
Job 16:6-7

The best way to handle those agonizing times when we are unable to sense the Lord’s presence is often just to act as if God is in control and knows exactly what He is doing – for the simple reason that He does.

It is not hypocrisy to act as if the Lord is close by – He is. This is why it is important not to hang on to truths and practices that have served us well in the past. Despite the dead weight of our feelings, we will benefit from attending to necessary practical matters. Apart from anything else, this will bring us the comfort of knowing that we are keeping on top of our workload, as well as sparing us from too much introspection.

Better times will return, and we will be grateful that we kept moving through the tunnel. The Lord is still on His throne, and even the most intense sadness will lift in time. The day finally dawned when Jacob declared, “You will no longer be called Son of my sorrow, but Benjamin, the Son of my right hand.”

Neither do I imagine Rachel weeping to the end of her days.24 Somewhere along her journey, the Lord will have found ways to call this grief-stricken woman back to life. Just as He found ways to restore Naomi after her great losses in the book of Ruth, so He will draw us out again into a more spacious place.

Reflect and Pray
I walked a mile with Sorrow, and ne’er a word said she. But oh, the things I learned from her, when Sorrow walked with me. Browning

Think back to any “tunnel” experiences that you have been through. Did the the Lord give you a verse or a promise to hold on to before you were plunged into the darkness?






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The Dark Night of the Soul
He has walled me in so I cannot escape; He has weighed me down with chains. Even when I call out or cry for help, He shuts out my prayer.
Lamentations 3:7-8

Grief falls into many categories – and none. You may be neither bereaved, nor divorced, nor even, God be praised, burnt out, yet you find yourself assailed by overwhelming sadness, perhaps even by all but compulsive urges to give up. Many of the greatest saints have experienced prolonged seasons in which they have felt all but completely bereft of any sense of God’s presence.  Read More . . .
20 See Genesis 41:15-37
21 This is where it is worth recalling what I said earlier about the words for "tempt," "test" and "try" being one and the same in both Greek and Hebrew.
22 You may recall the "little whiles" that Jesus speaks of, during which His disciples would not be able to discern His presence. Cf John 12:35, 13:33; 14:19, 16:16-19
23 Cf Philippians 4:11-13
24 Cf Genesis 35:18

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