Thursday, September 22, 2011

Hanging on to God in the Dark. . .

One day last spring, I sat in a college classroom chatting with a fellow student while we waited for class to begin. We’d gotten to know each other over the course of the term, and for some reason she really took to me and began to tell me about her life. On this day, she told me about being diagnosed with cancer a few years earlier and how it plunged her into depression. She said that something really good came out of it, though:

“It finally did away with the last vestiges of the Christian faith I was raised in. I came out of that cancer battle knowing that either God didn’t exist or that He didn’t care about me because I was alone in my suffering! I got through that time, and I learned that I didn’t need that crutch of religion. That I am a strong person who can fight her own battles. It made me free from the oppression of religion, and that is a wonderful thing.”

As she spoke, I knew I would respond, but I wasn’t sure how. I wasn’t about to begin a discussion of apologetics and defend my faith! It seemed silly and unloving to do so when she was sharing her honest heart, and I don’t know how to do that anyway. I wanted to speak to her honestly, in love, of God’s goodness and the reality of His existence. But the teacher was setting up for class, which was scheduled to begin right then, so I didn’t have much time. I was aware that others around us were listening, which meant I was essentially responding to them, too.

All I had time to say (generally, because I can’t remember the exact words) was, “Oh, that’s really interesting because my experience was exactly the opposite! I’ve been through some very painful trials and have suffered hard losses, and while there were certainly some dark, difficult times when I couldn’t sense anything of God and I sometimes had questions and doubts about Him, ultimately, I believed He was there. And as I held on to Him, light eventually came again, and it came brighter than ever. By hanging on to my belief in God through those times, my faith was strengthened. Like you, I was changed by my suffering, but in exactly the opposite way. I became more certain than ever that God is real and loving and good.”

“And,” I whispered, smiling, as the teacher called us to attention, “I’m really happy you don’t have cancer anymore!”

“Wow,” she whispered back. “The contrast of our stories is so interesting.”

We never talked about it again. I could go on about whether or not she ever did really have faith or know the Lord, but that’s really beside the point of what I want to say this morning (and beside the point of anything, really). I got to thinking about faith and trials and darkness when I cheated by reading ahead in my devotional this morning. For tomorrow’s portion, there is a passage by C.H. Spurgeon that says:

“Our faith is the center of the target at which God doth shoot when He tries us; and if any other grace shall escape untried, certainly faith shall not. There is no way of piercing faith to its very marrow like the sticking of the arrow of desertion into it; this finds it out whether it be of the immortals or no. Strip it of its armor of conscious enjoyment, and suffer the terrors of the Lord to set themselves in array against it; and that is faith indeed which can escape unhurt from the midst of the attack. Faith must be tried, and seeming desertion is the furnace, heated seven times, into which it might be thrust. Blest the man who can endure the trial.”

Before going further, I need to respond to that last sentence, “Blest be the man who can endure the trial.” I’ve been through some tough things, but others have suffered much, much more. God knows what we can bear, but He doesn’t leave us alone to bear it. What He really knows is where our faith will break, where we will stop clinging to Him and flee. He is willing and able to get us through anything, but He stops where our faith will fail. We are stretched, but He will not allow the one who looks to Him to be overcome. And the enduring? It comes from Him. It’s not about our own resolve but about the faith He gives us. He will give it to us in abundant measure, but we seem to need to be stretched for it to grow.

Our trials prove whether or not our faith is real. And, for the one who never really did know God, this ends up being something of a gift because it takes away the pretense of faith or the rickety props of mere religion. It strips us of all that (frees us!) so that we are now wide open, unhindered by our religious notions, to seeing who God really is. So I think my classmate was right. She was freed. It was a gift. And I hope that now she’ll find the God who loves her enough to die for her—the one who says, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” And means it.

But I said I wasn’t going to get into that. I don’t know if I would have thought to have related the story of the woman in my class had I not run across some loose papers in a box yesterday bearing some quickly, very messily, scribbled thoughts of mine that coincided with today’s devotional and reminded me of my classroom conversation.

The papers told part of the story of my struggle to hang on when God seemed far away in the midst of my struggles. I want to share those jottings here because we all go through dark times (if you haven’t yet, you will), and we all have our faith stretched and tested, so that, as the Bible says, it can be proved genuine. Have you had times when you doubted or wondered if God was real or if He cared about you? Did you wonder if He really was in control, or if He was powerless to do anything about your situation? Have you doubted He was listening? I have.

Here’s what I wrote. It starts sort of abruptly and reads somewhat stilted throughout because I didn’t initially write this to share with anyone, and I want to leave it unedited:

When the battle begins, I am ready for it. I think I’m surrendered. I proclaim high ideals and trust. And I humbly mean it. I know that my hope is in Him.

And the war comes. And I pray. And I feel so buoyed and strengthened. I praise God. I am hopeful. I know He is victor!

And the fight continues, day after endless day. My feelings of conviction do not strengthen me anymore. I face the hard fact of battle. It is relentless. And God does not keep me floating victoriously above it. I’m in it. He’s there, too, but this is not so easy anymore.

And the battle, the struggle, goes on and on and on. And I become weary, begin to doubt. Where is the victory? Where is the glory? Where is God’s honor? Why do I hurt so?

And the battle goes on. Relentless. Hard. And I grow even more weary. Faith is tested. High spiritual ideals are smashed. All of my “readiness” is long worn away.

Now I am at the bottom. There is no end to this. This is not fun. It is not easy. I do not feel in any way strong, ready, or victorious. I have no battle charge left in me. I do not know what God is doing, and it does not seem to matter.

A choice: Will I trust Him? Will I walk on, believing that, in spite of all appearances, all lack of apparent victory, with no feeling whatsoever of battle-readiness or even battle-willingness, He is God? Even further, do I believe in Him at all? Is He really there? Is He paying attention? Does He care? Does He love? Is He really Sovereign? Even in my situation?

What if it never gets easier? What if this is the 100-year-war—a big one? A hard one? And there are 40 years left of my life? Am I willing? Do I believe? Is there any beauty? Love? Goodness?

Can I have joy in the midst of the war? Victory over my self? Will God do that? Can He develop my faith? Can He give me joy and strength?


From the humbled state where all is gone and my faith shakes, when I am reduced to doubt and questions once again, He strengthens and encourages, but it’s not once for all. It’s day by day, minute by minute. . . that’s how He works.

Psalms and coffee. (Dorothy Day: "My strength returns to me with my morning cup of coffee and reading the psalms.”) No joke. My strength returns. Without it, I’m empty. Discouraged. Battle-weary. Unable to fight. Unwilling. Apathetic.

Daily He arms me with strength. Daily, it is Him.

I thank Him for the struggle. I thank Him for the low place. I think I can’t bear more, but I trust Him. Either He is who He says He is, or He isn’t. I will believe Him, and I will trust Him to help me in my unbelief.

It’s all about Him. There is no fight for this battle left in me. No battle-charge. Just a willingness to walk straight into it every day, trusting in His love and goodness. And I can’t even be willing without His help.

Lord, help me!

: : : : :

And here I am now, probably a year and a half or so after I wrote those words, still on a path that is not always easy, that hurts often, that is somewhat lonely at times, and I still sometimes find myself in the dark, but I am also deeply and richly blessed. I have so much! And God has proved Himself to me again and again. Many, many times He has given me an especial, overwhelmingly sweet sense of His love and nearness. This is a gift that is given in the dark.

God is faithful, and He does love us. Amy Carmichael once wrote that God entrusts us with the unexplained. Faith keeps going. Don’t give up. Look to Him! He has said, I will never leave you nor forsake you.

I wish I could make everyone know, make everyone believe. But all I can do is say is what the Bible says, and what I know to be true--that He is there, and He loves you, even in the long, silent dark.

Blessings to you today.


  1. i love this. it's strengthening. and especially this... ***Psalms and coffee. (Dorothy Day: "My strength returns to me with my morning cup of coffee and reading the psalms.”) No joke. My strength returns. Without it, I’m empty. Discouraged. Battle-weary. Unable to fight. Unwilling. Apathetic.*** because this is me. completely. thank you for sharing this today.

  2. I guess we all must go through these dark nights to learn, really know that He is there, that He is who He says He is, that He truly never will leave us or forsake us. It's an individual thing, nothing we can experience for others, though sometimes I wish we could. Thank you for sharing this Susan--for comforting others with the comfort which you have received.

  3. this is perfect for me THANK YOU!
    (Please don't delete this post anytime soon;)

  4. I can *so* relate to this post, Susan. The last few years have been full of trials, really HARD ones. There were moments when I felt I couldn't endure anymore. And there were times when I wondered if my faith was in vain. And then I'd ask myself....Do I really want to live my life without faith in God? And the answer was always, No. And you are right, God took me right to the edge, stretched me quite a bit, but let up the fiery furnace when He knew it would be too much for me.

    I wrote a post about this time in my life called, Brutal Honesty, if you'd like to read it. It is not written as eloquently as you always write your posts--mine never are, but in it you'll see some of the same feelings that you described.

    Oh, and I also wanted to say that I think the answer you gave your college classmate was *perfect*.

    Thank you for sharing this, it was very helpful and edifying for me. :o)

  5. I am thanking GOD right now for His Presence, His WORD (which is absolutely True!), His people (whom He uses to help and encourage us), and your personal story of His goodness and faithfulness that you shared here today with us. And that every hard thing that we go through with Him strengthens and buoys us up for the next hard things to come. I can always look back and see His goodness and faithfulness to me THEN, and know that this same GOD will be that to me again, NOW, in this hard thing, whatever it is. Praise the Saviour, ye who know Him! Who can tell how much we owe Him? Gladly let us render to Him all we are and have. Thank you and GOD continue to bless you, Susan.


  6. P.S. And I love how GOD gives us the words to say in the very moment that we need them, as He surely did when you answered your classmate in the presence of other classmates, giving God glory. Just wonderful how He does that!!! :D


  7. dear Susan,

    I love your response to the woman in your class.

    And I nodded and tears welled up as I read the truth of your words about faith and how it is hard and these tests; these battles, come down to that: will we believe that He is who He says He is?


    And so we can continue on because we trust Him.

    I thought of that this morning, too- when the kids and I gathered around the breakfast table and I read the familiar story of Abraham and Isaac. To think of Abraham there, his precious son Isaac on the altar- and what must Abraham have been thinking?! We talked about that, and I told the kids that what I would have been thinking (or rather, praying, loudly!) is: "Okay, God. Here I am. Now... what are You going to do, here? Please show up."

    So often in that moment (season) we just have no idea what He's doing; we can't see where He's working or how. We feel so beated and bruised and weary and all that remains is trusting in Who He is. And that's enough, isn't it? Oh, how grateful I am for a God who is indeed trustworthy. And wise. And good. And- never leaving us nor forsaking us.

    Your words today make my heart full of praise for His faithfulness!

    Thank you.

  8. What a beautiful honest post. Thank you for sharing.I have definitly felt the same way.


  9. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. II Cor. 1:3-4

    All of us who know Him have known what you describe above. We partake in His sufferings.
    Sadly, not many of us talk about this aspect of our christian lives. I think if we did - we would all gain courage and encouragement.
    Thanking God for you.

  10. Thank you for sharing your heart so openly and honestly Susan. I've walked through the same darkness. There were times I could barely hang on to faith - could hardly pray. I fought bitterness and anger and got lost in the Why.
    Ultimately I knew that, for me, there was nowhere else to go but Him ("Who have I in heaven but You?"). I began to understand that what He was asking was "Will you trust Me?" I, who have always clung with tight fists to what I desperately wanted to control. I felt, in those moments, that my whole life's journey of faith was centered on that question.
    Once I settled it in my heart, there was such a sense of peace. The circumstances really didn't change, but my heart did.

  11. Susan,
    I've been so excited that you're back to sharing your heart here in blog world. So often I've referenced your blog to friends of mine and shared it with others. It sounds like you've been through some terribly dark times in the last couple years, but your willingness to share your trials and triumphs with us is a gift. Thank you! This particular post was especially poignant to me because I have found myself in several conversations in the past like this. It's a difficult place to define an answer, and your answer was beautiful. I always pray that my words will at least show a flicker of Light to people who have walked away from God.
    I'm so thankful for you and your words of encouragement, strength and honesty. Thank you deeply for coming back to give anonymous strangers a little bit of yourself here. It is truly a source of strength!

  12. Thank you. This post has spoken volumes to me.

  13. Thank you for this powerful post. I agree with the above comment -- don't delete it any time soon!

    Dare I hope that the Summer notebook will continue through the Seasons?

  14. Thank you, Susan. I've gone through hard bits here and there, but no truly dark times--yet. Sometimes I get anxious, wondering when those dark times will come, but I know that is the wrong attitude. Instead, I must bolster my faith now so that it is not so small when the going gets really tough. Also, I think that gratitude plays a bigger role in our faith lives than most people realize. And I can see clearly that your gratitude for even the small things has built your faith and trust in God as you walked through darkness and are coming back out into light. Thank you for your mentoring here, Susan!

  15. I'll have to make these replies brief because I could go on and on. . .

    Amy, thank you for saying what you did. Most of us are there at one time or another, that's for sure. I'm glad you were encouraged. :-)

    Silvana, yes, you are so, so right. :-)

    Okay, Anonymous! I will leave it up. I promise! :-)

    Judi, I *love* how you keep it focused on the Lord! Yes! :-)

    Stacy that warmed my heart, and I know exactly what you mean about the Abraham story! I put myself right into those stories, too, and know that my reaction would not always (rarely?) be faith-filled! Thank God for His grace and mercy! :-) Your words encouraged me.

    Yes, Melanie, so many of us can relate. I'm glad you commented. Thank you. :-)

    Sandra thank you for sharing those good words. You are absolutely right! :-)

    Yes, Linda, when we are assailed and there's not a thing in the world we can do about it, we find out how much we like to be in control of our days and our lives! :-) So, it's God's goodness that allows us to be stripped of that security. He turns trials and suffering--even what is intended for evil--into good in our lives. Amazing.

    Karah, wow. Thank you so much. That is truly encouraging to me. I'm so glad you commented because it's so nice to put faces and names to people who are out there. It's nice to know whose reading here. :-) (I'm glad you are.)

    Annie, thank you. I appreciate you and the beauty you share from your place in the world. :-)

    To the other Susan! :-) I won't delete it. And I will see if it will work to post occasionally here. I don't know, but I'll try. :-) Thank you.

    Rebecca, I think you are absolutely right about gratitude. It changes everything, doesn't it! And the great thing about God is, like manna in the wilderness, he gives us the grace and strength, and even His special tenderness and presence) we need to hold fast. Otherwise, I would not have made it. :-) So, yay! Thank you for being here, Rebecca.

  16. Susan, I'm back because I thought of you when I read this prayer this morning in Great Souls at Prayer, by Mary W. Tileston. (Well, I thought of me too when I read it, but I also thought of you!;) )

    O Lord, Shield of our help, Who wilt not suffer us to be tempted above that we are able, help us, we entreat Thee, in all our straits and wrestlings, to lift up our eyes unto Thee, and stay our hearts on Thee.--Amen. (Christina G. Rossetti)

    And then the words of the old refrain came to me:

    Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
    Look full in His wonderful face.
    And the things of earth
    will grow strangely dim
    In the light of His glory and grace.

    Verse 1: O soul, are you weary and troubled?
    No light in the darkness you see?
    There's light for a look at the Saviour,
    And life more abundant and free!

    (And now I'm started, I can't stop!!!...)

    Thru death into life everlasting
    He passed, and we follow Him there;
    Over us sin no more hath dominion--For more than conq'rors we are!

    His word shall not fail you--He promised;
    Believe Him, and all will be well:
    Then go to a world that is dying,
    His perfect salvation to tell!

    Strong words. True words. To buoy us up when we're sinking!!! How we need them. And I know you are relying on them. And when you (or I, or anyone else) do/does, it encourages GOD's people to do the same. GOD's best to you, Susan, in your strait place.