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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

  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.

Unlike the other griefs that we have considered in this book, the “dark night of the soul” can descend on us without any external loss or trigger. There are no words to describe the agony the soul passes through, when, for what may prove to be a prolonged season, we are more aware of His absence than His presence.

Although this is essentially a private grief, the Lord has caused the struggles of many who have experienced this seemingly inexplicable phenomenon to write it down as an encouragement to us to persevere.25

Do not all the best love stories include episodes of inexplicable separation? When we are in a “desert,” we miss the comforting sense of God’s presence – not to mention the excitement of seeing His Spirit moving in power. When it feels as though nothing is happening, and our hopes and dreams lie buried in the sand, there may be nothing that we can do to bring these desert experiences to an end. As Corrie Ten Boom reminds us, however,

  “When the train is in a tunnel, don’t get out of your seat:
sit tight and trust the driver!”

When we lose our “usual” sense of God’s presence, what is in our heart becomes crystal clear. Strong temptations we thought we had long since conquered return to torment us, and self-will once again becomes a major issue. The question comes down to this: how hungry and thirsty are we to honour the Lord? Are we prepared to use the darkness as a goad for seeking to honour Him more?26 Or will we give in to our doubts and disappointments and turn to other things to fill the vacuum? Truly, these times when the light of the Lord appears to burn low test our soul.

The Lord once gave me an insight into the scales that God uses to weigh and calibrate these desert times. He uses criteria that are so utterly different from our own that we would not even necessarily recognise them as scales at all. Be reassured: the Lord is still weighing our situation carefully. As Sebastien Valfrey puts it,

  When it is all over, you will not regret having suffered;
rather you will regret having suffered so little,
and suffered that little so badly.


Reflect and Pray
Reconcile yourself to wait in the darkness as long as is necessary, but still go on longing after Him whom you love.
The Cloud of Unknowing


Lord, where emptiness has scoured my soul
make my faith resilient and
my heart more full of trust.
For You created great swathes of desert
– steppe and glacier, veld and dune –
and You know how to sustain Your children
through desert doubts and droughts.
In the Name of Jesus, Who
neither sensed nor saw the Father’s love
in Gethsemane’s darkness, yet still obeyed –
and made the treasures of darkness
available to all. Amen.

Serif photo dvd



Part Five
Strategies for Resolving Grief
The Sacrament of the Present Moment
IF YOU WERE OBLIGED TO CARRY A BOMB, you would surely do so with the utmost care. Likening grief to a minefield, Sylvia Warner cautioned that “there is no knowing when one will touch the tripwire.” Grief episodes themselves are unavoidable, but we shall explore precious and important strategies here that will help to minimise their impact, and even harness their apparently negative power.  Read More . . .
25 The writings of St John of the Cross are particularly highly regarded in this regard. Mother Teresa's prolonged spiritual drought is a well publicised recent example. I have written in more detail about the dark night of the soul in Intimacy and Eternity

It would be a great mistake to assume that people who regularly receive inspirations and consolations enjoy a superior faith to those who experience prolonged seasons in which they all but lose sight altogether of the Lord they love so much. It might be nearer the truth of the matter that they are only able to stay the course at all because they receive such strengthening.
26 Cf 2 Chronicles 32:31, John 16:7

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