I just read Richard Foster’s chapter on the Prayer of the Forsaken.
So. That’s what that was.
Those 3 years of quiet. Of wondering if I’d lost my mind or my faith or my direction. The prayers of concern that what I’d felt and known and took confidence in passed as a fancy, the product of a price paid to the local traveling salesman.
The disgust and cynicism toward others who love the God I love, but at the moment heard from him and had interaction. Frustration when given simple answers to “have faith” and “God is good, all the time”. Those mantras didn’t fit with my experience.
Then there was the phase of self-blame. It’s my fault. I don’t read the Bible enough. I used to get up and read it several days a week, devour it and find all kinds of ways it spoke truth into my life. I have journals full of thoughts and inspirations, covering the prior 8 years. For the past 3 years, the same journal had a few new pages scribbled, mostly a sermon note or a yet another attempt to get “back in the swing of things.”
But still. Nothing. Crickets.
If I someone were to take my story and insert it to the Old Testament, they’d ascribe my season to The Time of Findlay. Bible writers like to assign location to events and feelings and changes; my marker is the 3 years we spent in this wonderful town. The irony of it all is that I loved my time in that place and would move back in a heartbeat. But it also holds memory of the time of the Dark Night.
You’d have thought that after the first, oh, YEAR, that I’d think back to my seminary days and recollect the “dark night of the soul” or “cloud of unknowing” and then talk myself through the process to speed it along. But it never crossed my mind once that such a period is normal, even common, in the life of faith. Instead, I just stumbled through. Hoping. And crying every time we sang the right song in church (and by “right song” I mean the third one of the set. Any of them could do it.)
But as I begin to arise out of the pit – to hit my quota of Biblical imagery and language – I must give kudos to practices that often get a bad reputation in Christian circles – the art and act of rote practice.
Often in the name of authenticity we honor the experience and the feeling that accompanies faith to the expense of the practice. During Lent we’re encouraged that if nothing strikes us, then to not necessarily give something up for the sake of doing it. We should be “spirit led.” Mindless practice takes on a reputation of evil, the antithesis of “saved by grace.”
We may be saved by grace, but we are grown and strengthened through practice.
Throughout the past several years the only thing I could do was, as Jen Hatmaker
puts it, the next best thing. Sometimes that was simply rolling out of bed at 8 on a Sunday morning and making an appearance. To sing the words and hope they were true. To wait.
Foster puts it: What we learned to do in the light of God’s love, we also do in the dark of God’s absence. We ask and continue to ask even though there is no answer. We seek and continue to seek even though we do not find. We knock and continue to knock even though the door remains shut. It is this constant, longing love that produces a firmness of life orientation within us.
My daughter loves to sing and dance. She’ll sing and sing and sometimes I listen. Sometimes I don’t speak or move because I want continue to hear that voice. I know that if I jump into the picture, the moment would be over. But the song wouldn’t be complete.
“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 5:6)