“If you ask people who don’t believe in God why they don’t, the number one reason will be suffering. If you ask people who believe in God when they grew most spiritually, the number on answer will be suffering.” John Ortberg wrote this in the chapter on The Dark Night of Soul in Soul Keeping.
Today’s chapter in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero addresses the Wall and the journey through it. He subtitles this: letting go of power and control. Do you desire to let out a primal scream? Am I alone in feeling this life of service is one long slide of giving up power and control? Part of me wants to say, “Is it too much to ask for a corner where no one can touch?!”
Not everything needs to be shared or offered to be shared. But that’s not what he’s talking about. As Scazzero defines is, “For many, going back in order to go forward thrusts us up against the Wall. Others are brought to it by circumstance and crises beyond our control.”
The Wall can enter our stories in so many ways:
- a local friend not being healed and instead dying,
- being part of an organization that seems to care more about policies than people,
- a child who is not thriving, a marriage that is straining under the constant (year-after-year) screaming needs that never abate,
- a crisis back home either in your family or community,
- a team that is so dysfunctional, but no one will acknowledge it because then who will do the work?
“Regardless of how we get there, every follower of Jesus at some point will confront the Wall.” So, let’s talk about the Wall (and our theme this week of Control), I wanted to scream when he said it wouldn’t be once and done, but I know that’s true. We might have big Walls and smaller ones. “Without an understanding of the Wall in the journey, however, countless sincere followers of Christ stagnate there and no longer move forward with God’s purpose for their lives. Some of us hide behind our faith to flee the pain of our lives rather than trust God to transform us.”
As much as I’d rather read this chapter and say to myself well, isn’t the interesting and move on, I do not want to be one who stagnates. And I don’t want you to stagnate either.
But can we be honest, these Walls, they are a @#%*$. I’m not normally a cusser, but to say, “oh they are hard” misses the depth and does not honor how gut wrenching they can be. And then to have one on the field?! How do you communicate what is going on to those who need to know, so that you have help and fellow-sojourners? While balancing that not everyone needs to know everything?
I hit a wall in August. A wall that didn’t start in August, but several years ago. I can point to when I slammed into it, and let me tell you, I did not see it coming. I hadn’t realized how much this one corner of my soul I was guarding until someone asked me to relinquish my avid guarding of that place and re-engage in community. I’m good with communication, and one skill I have mastered after years of being a cross-cultural worker is sliding in and out of cultures. So, I can make a situation look different than the reality (this is a bit like when we talked a few weeks ago about facade).
As of this writing, I am mostly through this wall. I was saddened that this stupid wall even came up. But as I read in this chapter about characteristics of life on the other side, there is hope!
- A Greater Level of Brokenness.
- A Greater Appreciation for Holy Unknowing (Mystery)
- A Deeper Ability to Wait for God
- A Greater Detachment
” Remember, God’s purpose for us is to have a loving union with him at the end of the journey. We joyfully detach from certain behaviors and activities for the purpose of a more intimate, loving attachment to God.”
Back to John Ortberg. When he experienced the Dark Night of the Soul, where God is silent, he called Dallas Willard. Dallas responded, “This will be a test of your joyful confidence in God.”
Isn’t that painfully beautiful?! Ortberg also says, “Modern churches [and I’d add our kind of organizations] with linear models of spiritual growth and large-scale models for devotional life rarely speak of or help people with the dark night. We are uncomfortable with it because we want to do something — because we sell formulas and steps and programs, and the dark night of the souls is not our program. The dark night is for souls that learn to wait.”
Kimberly Todd shared this song at the editor’s retreat and I have been listening to it—dare I say—obsessively recently? If you’re reading this in an email, you can listen here. The line “you restore my soul oh God” is balm to a weary soul.
This chapter is a complex one to engage with, but it’s also deeply important. Let’s talk about it more in the comments,
P.S. Next week is chapter 7 in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero.
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