In the final post of my 3-part “Dear St. John” letter, I wanted to actually give some helpful practical advice. There is a lot written about what we’re not supposed to do (ie. don’t do, just be, etc.) I wanted to give some encouragement of helpful ways to “be” in a dark night.
So what should you do? First, be encouraged; God is doing a new thing in you. I know it’s not fun, but your loving Shepherd is with you throughout this whole process. I know it feels like nothing is happening in your spiritual walk, but if you are willing to open to what God is trying to do you will see there is actually quite a lot going on.
You might be encouraged with a metaphor St. Teresa of Avila painted about the stages of prayer. In her metaphor she describes four ways to water a Flower Garden. The first is by drawing water from a well, the second is through pumping it from a well, the third is by diverting a nearby stream, and the fourth is by receiving unearned rain from above. The first way takes a lot of work and produces little water, the second is less work with more results, likewise the third way is even less work with still greater results, and the last is no work at all with the greatest results. Her metaphor draws attention to our part in prayer and God’s part in prayer. As we develop in our spiritual life there must be an acceptance of the fact we are doing less and He is doing more.
Doing less may make you feel anxious. Anxiety can be a great tool for you in prayer. If you’ll allow anxiety in your times of prayer, it’ll beckon “Follow me, I’ll show you where there is a lack of God’s Peace/Love.” In prayer you can pay attention to anxiety and follow it (with God) to a place of darkness He wants to shine light on. During this dark night since you are no longer feeling God, you are going to feel a lot of yourself. Don’t be afraid of what comes up. This is a time God specifically uses to bring up the areas in your life, which keep you from being in closer union with Him. You will want to avoid looking at yourself, it will be ugly and you won’t like what you see. Remember God already knows what’s in your heart, even the stuff you don’t know about yet, and He still died for you and now accepts you. The question to ask yourself as more and more of your heart is revealed is “Can I be with God in this?” Can you be attentive and thankful for what the Lord is showing you about yourself, without trying to cover it up, or getting rid of it quickly? Can you trust God to finish the work He started in you? Can you trust Him with your sanctification just as you trusted Him with your salvation?
You may wonder, “How do you get the feelings back?” You can’t. They were just as much of an unearned gift as this dark night is. There is nothing you can do in your power to earn His gifts. All we can do is be receptive and gracious towards the gifts He is currently giving us. I’ll leave you with one last word of encouragement about where you are at right now. Many of the spiritual writers talk about the dark night as an intense closeness with God. It only seems dark to our senses because of how overwhelming God is. Just as you feel blinded suddenly by a bright light turned on in a dark room, so is God’s presence blinding your current dim perception of Him. He is very close and is doing a good work in you.
Potential Next Steps for you: Learn More About Personal Spiritual Direction