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Harder to Explain… Harder to Endure

January 9, 2008

I have recently found myself in a season of grief that is much harder to explain than the ones that preceeded it.

The early months after my mother’s death, I was met with such a profound and enveloping sense of the Lord’s nearness. Though it seemed as if my life had been shattered, I was filled with joy and peace that (upon reflection) were almost (ironically) unsettling.

Outside of that time, however, the predominant feeling of the last year has been utter abandonment. I can tell myself that I have not been forsaken… but I cannot feel it as true. I can remind myself of His nearness… His inescapable presence… but I cannot detect it.

Fortunately, hope does not require happy circumstances and a general sense of well-being in the status quo as prerequisite. In fact… the hope that I now desperately grasp for would mean very little to me if I were not acutely aware of my need for something drastically different from what I am now experiencing.

This is not to say that those early months of peace and joy were devoid of that hope. Quite to the contrary, I would say that they were primarily characterized by hope. I partially define hope by peace and joy… confidence and rejoicing (Hebrews 3:6)… the “joy and peace in believing” that are given by the “God of Hope” (Romans 15:13). It was the God of hope, and not my circumstances, that led me into such joy and peace.

Nor would I say that I am experiencing a lesser degree of hope at present. Or am I? I am certainly experiencing the violence with which one must sometimes fight to hold fast to hope.

What I can say is this: my experience of the last several months has, for the most part, much more closely resembled the following:

Believers are not always happy, cheerful and peaceful, any more than Jesus was. They are saved none of the torments of soul which people used to call ‘assailments’. The Spirit leads them into the wilderness just as it led Jesus too. By this I don’t just mean the external lonelinesses. I mean the soul’s dark and desert hours. John of the Cross called them the ‘dark night of the soul’, times in which prayers do not just remain unheard but cease altogether, and no sense of God’s nearness consoles us any more, when God-forsakenness drives a soul into cold despair, and we can only go on clinging to faith in God in companionship with the assailed Christ between Gethsemane and Golgotha: ‘Not my will but yours be done’ and ‘My God, why have you forsaken me?’ In times like this experienced faith becomes naked faith. Faith in God turns into faith ‘nevertheless’. (Jurgen Moltmann, The Source of Life, p 32.)

Am I saying that I am experiencing the dark night of the soul? No. So you can add that to the growing list of things that I am not saying in this post. (I do seem to be doing a great deal more of the “not saying” than I am actually articulating anything.) But my experience at present does much more closely resemble such a season.

I am so grateful for those moments when I have known the “motherly ministry of the Holy Spirit”. But when that comfort seems far from me, I can look to Jesus. Jesus, who weeps. Jesus, the one who was forsaken by the Father.

In fact, this is how Moltmann concludes the paragraph that I was pulling from earlier:

Then it is important to make it clear to ourselves that it is not experiences that create faith, but faith that creates experiences. The firm lodestone of faith is not provided by the inner experiences of the Spirit, good and important though these are, but by community with Christ, in the living and dying and rising again with him.

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4 comments

  1. Chris, how to put this, i had sensed you were troubled (corny??) and tried to send you and email to see if everyting was ok and if i could help in anyway, but it came back undeliveralbe =(. But thanks to the power of the interweb i bring you this message, Hi, i am here to listen if you would like to talk.


  2. I feel like I am coming out of a significant barrenness–and “I’m not saying” that I responded well in it. The only credit I give me is that my anger and my insolence and my whining were at least directed to God. And, yeah, that’s not much to be proud of, and I’m not; I’m just glad that I knew enough to know that I have no other hope and that He’s big enough for whatever my response. And I’m most glad that, whether I am weak or willful, wobbly or wascally (sorry, I couldn’t resist), He is relentless in His affections, in His nurturing care, in His provision. Sometimes it feels like life is mostly an exercise in waiting for myself to come to the realization that He is who He says He is and He will do what He has promised. And as much as I’ve accused Him of not taking account of my frailty, it turns out, after all, that He has–He is still holding me and I am still here to be held.


  3. […] Here’s her latest. […]


  4. Sigh. Thank you for your transparency in this. It is yet one more reminder from the Lord that in my own struggle with grief I am not a freak and He is there. I lost my wife, a true gift from God, in Oct of 2006. The first eight months were, similar to your experience, full of peace, hope, and nearness to God. Since that time it has been a terrible struggle. Hope has been hard to hang onto, despite my knowing that God has a future for me that is worth looking forward to (“The best is yet to come”). Peace has been buried in chaos and anxiousness. I do not feel forsaken by God, but the feeling of being incomplete, unbalanced, unsettled is almost constant. But still, somehow, I stumble on because of faith nevertheless.

    Thank you, again.



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