This is the third post in my 4-part series on the heart.
“…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” -Paul, A Letter to the Philippians (3:7-11)
Although my usual patterns of Scripture reading, prayer, singing, reading, and journaling still left me wanting, I kept at them. These were the only means I knew how to seek the Lord, and I knew I needed Him. I later felt compelled to read Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, which I had read years ago, but it seemed like something I needed now. I see now that God was graciously leading me even when I didn’t see it too clearly.
Foster reminded me of St. John of the Cross’ infamous “Dark Night of the Soul,” (see also Sproul’s thoughts on it) the eerily still place where God does heart surgery on His beloved patients. Of this dark night, Foster writes, “Every distraction of the body, mind, and spirit must be put into a kind of suspended animation before this deep work of God upon the soul can occur. It is like an operation in which the anesthetic must take effect before the surgery can be performed. There comes inner silence, peace, stillness. During such a time Bible reading, sermons, intellectual debate—all fail to move or excite us.” (Celebration of Discipline, p.103)
Mmm… that sounds really familiar.
As another writer describes it, you are wrestling alone with God in this time when “God is ready to do His divine surgery on you [and] brings you to an ‘alone’ place. Nobody invites guests into an operating room. Neither does God. His work on you is private.”
Oh… hence the aloneness.
Foster expands on this thought, “When God lovingly draws us into a dark night of the soul, there is often a temptation to seek release from it and to blame everyone and everything for our inner dullness… This is a serious mistake. Recognize the dark night for what it is. Be grateful that God is lovingly drawing you away from every distraction so that you can see him clearly. Rather than chafing and fighting, become still and wait.” (Celebration of Discipline, p.103)
I sensed a giant light bulb go on.
All of this silence and stripping away wasn’t a sign of God’s punishment or threatened abandonment. He was conducting a most needed surgery, pulling a surprise audit on my heart. He was cornering me, making me face what I didn’t want to face through the solitude that He kept bringing me back to: myself.
I found a strange comfort in these words. Finally, someone could articulate clearly what I had trouble understanding on my own, and I was encouraged to keep pushing through this “dark night.” I continued seeking God in the quiet, listening for His voice to guide me through this. It’s been many days of being alone with God… even when I didn’t want to be. It’s taken days and weeks of going through the records of my memories and thoughts, confessing to Him all I found there. It wasn’t easy, as God felt near and far, but by His grace, I persisted at it.
Along the way, He came and showed me me. Honestly, it wasn’t easy to look at myself as is, but it’s only through humility that we can receive His grace. The more I would tell Him, the more would come out… circumstances I’d reflected on time and again were seen in a new light. There were things I’d never realized about myself, agreements I never knew I made, beliefs that I never knew I held, and a deep-seated mistrust of God that I never realized I had, they were all revealed in these intense times with Him.
It’s been a grueling process, but God is working in it.
So remember my financial checkbook? You know, the one with the 27 cent error? Well, weeks later, I eventually decided to quit trying to fix it and started over based on what the bank was saying. I would begin by writing down what my bank’s records said and then reconcile my own records accordingly. So I ripped out the pages in my register with the errors sprinkled throughout, and I began afresh to write down the figures that the bank said I saved and spent, what I had and didn’t have, but I decided to add the balance column myself.
And you know what I discovered?
I was still off by 27 cents.
I discovered this wasn’t a matter of incorrectly applying the appropriate corrections to counter my mistakes. This also wasn’t solved by throwing my hands up and starting over using the the figures from the bank. After checking each balance against the bank’s records, I discovered one small, elementary mistake that never occurred to me: I had transposed the numbers on a single entry. Mmm… 52 cents. This should say 25 cents. What did this mistake equal? 27 cents.
Two different times. Two different situations. Two different approaches. Still the same mistake. Apparently, I experienced a mild case of momentary dyslexia while crunching the numbers. I never thought to second guess my ability to read a number and write it down with accuracy…
And now I wonder…
In all of this heart examination and cross examination, what is the basic issue that I’m still failing to see?
Read the fourth and final installment of this series.