The author, priest and professor, Henry Nowen, wrote about the “dark night of the soul.” When I first heard the conclusive diagnosis for my daughter’s cancer on July 2, I entered into a spinning whirling darkness. On the surface I looked pretty good and held myself together about 99% of the time. Inside, in the depths of my soul, I entered a space I had not yet experienced to this degree. I asked God questions about why He allowed this in our lives. I didn’t get an answer. At least not a direct, audible one.
Life is perplexing. Things happen that we don’t have answers for. People we care about get hurt or die. We are sometimes the one who is hurting. Maybe it’s depression we’re dealing with or a job loss, messed up relationship or an illness. When life is going well, we’re generally upbeat but when the bad stuff comes along, we spiral. I know this pattern. I live it. Not every day and not always in every circumstance, but I do experience this.
I often wonder why God didn’t set the universe up so that only good things happen. I know why in the very technical theological terms. I get all that but then there’s real life; when I’m in the trenches of the pain of life, I don’t like it. I get the idea of free will and sometimes it makes sense to me. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I think God should shake it up and change the rules.
So far, He’s not adopting my new plan. The pain we experience, our dark night’s of our soul, end up being the very ingredients that soften us. We can choose to be bitter. But we can also choose to allow our circumstances to shape us and stretch our compassion tanks. It’s perfectly acceptable to feel our pain, the emotions that come when life is beating us down. We acknowledge them, give them their space, and then we turn to the areas we have control. Sometimes the only area in which we have control is how we respond to these battering circumstances. Jesus modeled this beautifully for us. He cried out in anguish the night before he was crucified. He pleaded with God to choose another path. When it was clear He wasn’t getting out of it, he accepted and went willingly, with gentleness not bitterness.