Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
6 He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.
I’m super excited about the upcoming couple of weeks; I’m planning to spend some of my break time on a mini-spiritual retreat to pray about specific areas of growth God wants me to focus on next year (spoiler alert: humility seems to be an attribute warranting quite a bit of attention. 2013 may be rough). I do some kind of goal setting every year, and part of that always entails looking back on the year previous to capture in writing those themes and lessons that might otherwise last but a moment in my all-too-distracted brain.
As I’ve been pondering the lessons God has blessed me with this year, it seems that they all fit under a single word: harvest.
Those of you who are regular readers know that graduate school was rough on me. I was battling both chemical and spiritual depression and went through an approximately 2.5 year “dark night of the soul” in which I wanted badly to believe that God existed and cared, but in the midst of which I was unable to see his hand. It was hellish. Even today, I shudder at the thought of ever returning to that place. All I could really do was to pray that God would keep me faithful, because I became so exhausted that I couldn’t bring myself to care or try anymore. He was so faithful through that time. There were nights when I would cry myself to sleep, telling him, “God, I’m done. I can’t believe in you anymore,” and then wake up with a minuscule seed of belief replanted in my heart. That was nothing but grace, though my bruised heart couldn’t see it.
Fast forward to today. Around Easter this year, I finally came up for air, thanks to a series of events and realizations that made Christ real to my heart as well as my head. I finally grasped that to be conformed to Christ’s image is the only thing of importance in this life. That I can trust that whatever happens to me is ordained and will be redeemed for that purpose. That God actually likes me, as an individual, a person, rather than a random face in a sea of generic humanity for which he sent his son.
I’ve learned to let God in on the sanctification process; now, rather than trying on my own to do the whole Christian thing correctly, I am in constant communication with him, confessing that I often want sin rather than sanctification, and begging him to change my heart and my desires. I’ve realized that I can’t, at least not in any meaningful, lasting way.
Those 2.5 miserable years of depression and doubt and darkness marked me. That struggle has given me soul-scars that I hope will never fade. God has opened the door for me to use that hurt and healing to encourage others who are experiencing their own dark nights of the soul, who are on the last rope of their belief, who are scared that trust in God means nothing more than submission to a cosmic despot. Two years ago, my own fears of God and of honest doubt would have caused me to rush to apply the “right answers” to other people’s pain. I would have been too frightened to challenge them to go to God with their doubts and fears and frustrations; now I know that honest conversation is the only conduit to real relationship, and that God is big enough to handle it and loving enough to listen to our honest struggles and doubts, even as he reminds us of truth.
That whole time I thought that God was dead, hateful, or indifferent, he was sowing and tending to seeds that led to a harvest of trust, hope, joy, and best of all, relationship.
I write all this knowing that I have not yet closed the door of suffering in my life. I’m not sure yet what form it will take, but I do know that times will come that will tempt me toward despair, and I can’t guarantee that I’ll respond well. This current harvest is not penultimate; I will face others before I finally return home. I’m praying now that God will keep me faithful and incline my heart toward him no matter what I’m faced with, though I admit that I dread what might be coming.
I was going to end this with a plea to those of you who are in your own dark nights of the soul to hang in there, to know that God has not left you. . .but I don’t want to rush to apply unhelpful, “I-already-know-that” variety answers to your soul-aching questions. If my story gives you hope, great. If not, I pray that the God who heals, comforts, and redeems will soon reap a harvest of joy and trusting relationship in your life, as well, and that he will keep you faithful until that day.