Life with Jesus, in its essence, is simple. "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it." (Matthew 18:25) Fleshed out practically though, is difficult. And the last 18 months for me, give or take, have been difficult. There have been good and wonderful days and moments, yes. But God has seemed far and more often than not, the Word seems like just words, and I feel like my prayers hit the ceiling. What I know to be true in my mind, doesn't change how I feel. And I think this process of preparing to move to Spain has brought some of that to a head recently.
I picked up Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (by Pete Scazzero) and started reading it again. Chapter 6 "The Journey Through the Wall" met me right where I am at.
For most of us the Wall appears through a crisis that turns our world upside down. It comes, perhaps, through [divorce, loss, betrayal, a disillusioning experience, a shattered dream, a deep desire to marry that remains unfulfilled], a dryness or loss of joy in our relationship with God. We question ourselves, God, the church. We discover for the first time that our faith does not appear to "work". We have more questions than answers as the very foundation of our life feels like it is on the line. We don't know where God is, what he is doing, where he is going, how he is getting us there or when this will be over.
On a certain level it is correct to say that Walls come to us in various ways throughout our lifetimes... Unintentionally and unknowingly we fall back into imperfections. Bad habits are like living roots that return. These roots must be dug away and cleared from the garden of our soul... This requires the direct intervention of God.
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 faith to flee the pain of our lives rather than trust God to transform us through it. We utter platitudes like "God uses all things for good". We smile and sing contemporary praise songs about our victory in Jesus. We don't curse or get bitter toward God. We keep it together to demonstrate to the weaker members of the body and the watching world that our faith is solid and strong... [but] emotionally healthy faith admits the following:
- I am bewildered
- I don't know what God is doing right now
- I am hurt
- I am angry
- Yes, this is a mystery
- I am very sad right now
- O God, why have you forsaken me?
How do we know we are in "the dark night"? Our good feelings of God's presence evaporate. We feel the door of heaven has been shut as we pray. Darkness, helplessness, weariness, a sense of failure or defeat, barrenness, emptiness, dryness descend upon us. The Christian disciplines that have served us up to this time "no longer work". We can't see what God is doing and we see little visible fruit in our lives.
St. John (of the Cross) wrote: "[God] is purging the soul, annihilating it, emptying it or consuming in it all of the affections and imperfect habits which it has contracted its whole life... These are deeply rooted in the substance of the soul... At the same time, it is God who is...working here in the soul."
The critical issue on the journey with God is not "Am I happy?" but "Am I free? Am I growing in the freedom God gave me?" The Wall, more than anything else, cuts off our attachments to who we think we ought to be, or who we falsely think we are. Layers of our counterfeit self are shed. Something truer, that is Christ in and through us, slowly emerges.
I am so very much in process here, and not an easy one. Parts of myself, some of my dreams and deep desires have to die. My heart resonates with the fact that "God is purging the soul...of the affections and imperfect habits..." And that takes time, and tears, and the determination to believe that not matter how I feel, the best thing is that I go straight through it, and the One who is leading me is the One who give me His life in return. He is the One who redeems and restores, but first He must refine.