One thing I have learned in the past several years is that I am doing myself and others a disservice when I pray against hardship. Someone somewhere got the idea in their head that hard equals bad, and pain equals doom. A friend is suffering a terrible loss, so we pray she would feel no pain. A small group member goes under financially, so we pray he has enough “faith” to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Or maybe it’s the co-worker we pray for whose child ran off, or the family member who is depressed. When we pray for someone’s feelings to change, what is it we’re really asking? Perhaps we’re asking God to make it better so that we don’t have to worry about what to say to our friend in the midst of the dark cloud that makes us so uneasy.
Call me backwards, but I would like to suggest that devastating emotions, which are certain to accompany crisis or distress in our lives, are one pathway through which personal and spiritual development occurs. Just as remission from cancer does not take place until each cancerous cell has been discovered and then removed or eliminated, growth in the face of despair and extreme change cannot take place until the depths of one’s circumstances are laid bare. These dark nights of the soul are more likely to inform us of the deepest parts of our existence than times of comfort and peace. The concept of choices (and our responsibility for the ones we make) gains new meaning. Dark times allow us to see things which might ordinarily go unnoticed, developing a more keen sense of meaning and awareness. Growth emerges as a result of what we do with this ensuing insight.
This notion of growth amid darkness is not new, but frequently bypassed. It is in the descent of human pain and uncertainty that individuals discover who they are, what they want, what they value, and where they wish to go. The doorway to the spiritual is opened; deeper meaning is sought after. Many, however, step through this door of the spiritual expecting to find glowing, gentle relief on the other side, and what they find instead is a journey into the depths of their calamity. Painful as it may be, it is on this journey that the seeds of faith are planted, and a deep revelation of what our life is about takes place. Healing and growth occur, not by patching up open wounds, but by revealing them, exposing them to the cleansing that only darkness can bring. Here, the relationship between the darkness of crisis and the illumination of spirituality is fashioned.
Personal futility is exposed on this journey from the plights of crisis to the depths of our soul, hastening an appeal to a deeper source of vitality and understanding than exists in ourselves. Answers conceivable with the human mind alone no longer suffice. The hope of Christ is an opportunity for transformation when the core of our being is on the line. This opportunity is accepted as part of a realization that we are limited in the human capacity to understand, reason, or conquer the unacceptable conditions of life in this futile world. We are beings made for another purpose. This act of yielding ourselves, especially when it is unseen in the natural realm, entirely challenges the way the humankind today is told to solve problems. Ideas of gaining control, organizing interventions, and task implementation permeate the modern mindset of how to handle crisis, which cause friction with this idea of surrender. This is not a fatalistic stance, but rather a constructive aspect of admitting personal limitation and divine order. It is what we were created for.
In spiritual surrender, we are submitting to the Divine and being entirely transformed as a result. The ideas of surrender and transformation are not to be confused with defeat, but instead are an expansion of the self in truest form. We encounter something larger, deeper, and more intense than ourselves. By engaging in this process, a new perspective of life and self is found—Truth.