July 23, 2014

The Darkness Of Advent

Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God. (Isaiah 50:10, ESV)

Those who have been reading for a while know of my struggles with the feelings of darkness that, at times, seem to be crushing the life out of me. I have shared openly in these pages how I have been battling depression (and yes, I am under a doctor’s care and am taking anti-depressants as prescribed), but I feel there is a larger story to this darkness than just a physiological aspect. This is God-ordained darkness. Yes, God, who is himself Light, orders darkness for some who follow him. And yet we are to trust him and rely on him, even in the darkness.

Much of God’s mysterious work has been done in the dark. The earth started off in darkness. God met Abram in darkness to establish his covenant with man. God wrestled Jacob under the cover of darkness. Darkness shrouds God’s people in many, if not most, of their dealing with him. I wish it were not so. I wish the God who created the sun and moon and stars had not also created the blackness of space. I wish the God who made white (the presence of all colors) had not also made black (the absence of all colors).

And this has what to do with advent? you ask.

Advent is the time of waiting. And when one is in the dark, that is about all one can do. Wait. But even in the waiting there is action. Those who walk in darkness, says Isaiah, are to trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God. Trust in. Rely on. Action, even when one cannot see the path they are on.

This is the place in the program where your announcer is supposed to tell you that “it is darkest just before the dawn,” and that “weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Sorry, but I don’t have those positive words for you. Suppose your darkness—or mine—is how things will be from now on? What if God calls some to walk in darkness with no hope of seeing the sun again? Could that be?

Charles Spurgeon suffered greatly from depression. He knew darkness intimately. Spurgeon found Isaiah 50:10 to be a verse he could relate to. He wrote,

In the darkness of sin and ignorance we no longer walk; but with the darkness of trouble and perplexity we are sometimes surrounded. The Lord is our light and our salvation, and therefore we do not walk in that darkness wherein the prince of darkness rules supreme; but yet at times we are in the gloom of sadness, and we see no light of consolation. Be not, therefore, surprised as though some strange thing had happened to you, if you find yourself in darkness; for this text warns you of what you may expect. The darkness which is spoken of in the text includes providential trial of many sorts. Bereavement. Poverty. Slander and reproach. Sickness. Desertion by friends. The worst cloud of all, I think, is deep depression of spirit accompanied with the loss of the light of God’s countenance. Surely, at some time or other, all the children of God walk in darkness. Personally, I have often passed through this dark valley.

It is a fact that some of the best of God’s people frequently walk in darkness; ay, some of them are wrapt in a sevenfold gloom at times, and to them neither sun, nor moon, nor stars appear. As the pastor of a large church, I have to observe a great variety of experiences, and I note that some whom I greatly love and esteem, who are, in my judgment among the very choicest of God’s people, nevertheless, travel most of the way to Heaven by night.

This brings us to the darkness of advent, that dark night when the heavenly host appeared to shepherds to announce the birth of the Christ. It was out of the darkness that news of the Light was given. And now the people that went about in darkness has seen a great light; for men abiding in a land where death overshadowed them, light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:2, Knox) We are waiting, waiting, waiting for Emmanuel, God With Us, the Light. For those who have plenty of light, this Light probably means very little. But for those who dwell in darkness, we cannot wait to see the Light.

I am in a very dark place, anticipating the day when the Light will dispel the darkness and I will be free to bathe in sunshine again. Will it be this Christmas morning? I don’t know. Last year at our church’s Christmas Eve candlelight service, I stood holding my lit candle with a very heavy heart, for I knew as soon as I blew out the flame I would be walking out in darkness again. Will it be the same this year? I don’t know.

A word of warning: Don’t try to work up feelings of light just because it is Christmas. For some of us, Advent is a very long season.

 

Comments

  1. “some … travel most of the way to Heaven by night”

    I’m keeping that one safe for future use.

  2. Throughout my adult life I have had long seasons where I go into the dark. It hasn’t happened for 4 years now but I am keeping your words to hand in case I end up there again. Many thanks Jeff.

  3. Thank you Jeff for being so vulnerable and trusting us with your story. I too am being treated for depression and have gone full circle from being critical of “Christians who need such stuff” to being compassionate and having a permanently broken heart. I could write volumes about the blessings of brokenness in my own life. Thank the Lord I have a believing, praying Doctor who suffers with terrible battles with depression. It is what makes him such a good physician. When this dark journey first began for me we would have shouting battles as I refused to take the medication. He cared enough to our-shout me thank God. Now, I am the first one to ask, “Are you getting medical help for your depression.”

    But I wouldn’t go back. I am a changed person. I am on a new and better journey. Not easy, but better. Our pastor once preached a sermon about angels being ministers of help to believers. He asked us if it was wrong to think of medication for those of us in the congregation who live with depression as also being ministers of help given to us by the Lord. How I appreciated his viewpoint.

    Thank you Jeff for this Advent “meditation”, I will treasure this one. ” I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.” Isaiah 45:31

  4. Jeff…..You may not realize how many people you have touched by sharing your heart. I, too, am on medication to treat the double-dipper “fun” of chronic pain and depression, although it is not as bad as it has been in the past. Perhaps some wisdom and perspective does come with age!

    There have been two times in my life when I was so depressed and also “pi$$ed off” at the world and God…..because as a Catholic Christian suicide was not an option! So I was miserable and “offing myself”, the route of many a depressed and hopeless human, was not a viable choice~Dammit! So I “had to” stick around and deal with it all, as do so many of us.

    The one thing I have learned from my own struggles and the pain and choices of others is the real truth…suicide is a permanent ‘solution’ to a temporary problem. Also, I believe that those of us who have walked through this valley have a special insight and story to share with others, especially our young Christians who are encountering this deep pain for the very first time, and feel alone.

    • And did I mention I also have chronic pain (fibromyalgia)???

      Yet through it all, our God reigns.

      • Yes Jeff ~ so do I have Fibromyalgia. You are aware I hope of the connection between Fibro and depression/anxiety. Many good websites available for info and support. It is a daily, sometimes hourly battle for me. It is not so much the pain as the unrelenting, mind numbing, limiting fatigue.

    • Once again I find myself so comforted and encouraged by listening to all of you on this site. I too am being medicated and under doctors care for chronic pain and depression that has gone on for years. Thanks Jeff.

  5. Josh in FW says:

    Pattie said, “Jeff…..You may not realize how many people you have touched by sharing your heart.”

    I want to let you know that I am one of those people. This blog was a help mostly because I was able to see that many other people serious about pursuing God were also dealing with very similar struggles. I don’t comment often because the other regular commenters usually say it better than I could, but I want to remind you that there are many quiet readers like myself.

    • Keep reading, my friend….and don’t be shy about posting. YOUR story and input is of great value, even if you do not “see” it. Pax!

  6. David Cornwell says:

    One of the effects of darkness is fear. This can be paralyzing, making one afraid to put one step in front of the other. In these situations even the slight glimmer of light cast on an object, even one far away can bring hope. Memory sometimes can serve one well, especially if been this way before. Related to memory is past practice, bringing to mind the path one has taken in the past, the way back to light. Habits of spiritual devotion, mind, and body might be grasped once again, taken hold of by faith.

    Sometimes these aren’t enough. But Advent does bring hope, the promise of light, and One who delivers. In desperation we cling to this hope.

    This is a season of expectation. And one to pray for each other, our fellow travelers.

  7. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Those who have been reading for a while know of my struggles with the feelings of darkness that, at times, seem to be crushing the life out of me. I have shared openly in these pages how I have been battling depression (and yes, I am under a doctor’s care and am taking anti-depressants as prescribed), but I feel there is a larger story to this darkness than just a physiological aspect.

    This is the place in the program where your announcer is supposed to tell you that “it is darkest just before the dawn,” and that “weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”

    And when you’re in that situation, Happy Clappy Joy Joy Christianese (from those who’ve obviously never been there) justifies punching them in the junk.

    • Nah, HUG. But I do have concern for those who are Happy Clappy. They don’t get to see the depths of our God. I just let them go their way, hoping some day they will know the Lord as he knows himself to be. And I pray they can know him in this way without having to walk the dark path.

      I used to get upset with them, but why?

  8. Hey Jeff…. is it possible to say that depression is just a part of the fall and leave it at that? And treat it as a mystery? The reason why I say this is becuase I get super weary of hearing someone say God ordains darkness. If you’re going to say God ordains darkness isn’t that coming close to what John Piper teaches?

    I’m not trying to be difficult….I’m trying to understand.

    • That is part of it for sure, Eagle. But I also see many incidents in Scripture where God does his mysterious workings under cover of darkness. I think there are elements of each, and each person’s mileage will vary…

  9. Hi Jeff, I am amazed by your willingness to be so vulnerable. I am sure that as you walk through your darkness you will be light to others.

    We love to quote the scriptures about the light but as believers we often have to walk through the dark. I am reminded of Paul in Acts 9:15-16 = But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

    I know if is easy for me to say, but be strong and courageous, for you are not alone.

  10. It’s another bilateral ambivalence! It’s so sad about happy people, they really don’t get it. Lucky for us we’re so miserable. We’re Suffering for Jesus, Yea!

    Praying here for Jeff and HUG and all others who struggle with depression. May Joy come in the Morning for you all, and me too. Peace, prosperity, and health in the New Year, in Jesus’ Name.

    • Not me. I rejoice with those who are rejoicing. I don’t wish the road of suffering on anyone. Ever. But if you are on that road, know that Jesus is walking it as well.

  11. This kind of raw, real writing is what keeps me coming back. I am learning to be deeply grateful for people who do not have all the answers.

  12. + 1. I’m with you 100% Jill.

  13. Thank you so much for this, I have already lived for many years feeling as though I am in darkness; perhaps depressed, I am not entirely sure. Although things are better than they have been, I still wrestle daily with sadness and questions, and I am young and feel very alone in this. I spent so long trying to pretend that I was ok, but that has turned out not to be the case, and that was a realisation that hurt deeply. However, I am slowly learning that it is ok to not be ok, that God is with me in this darkness, and what you wrote above reminded me of all these things, so thank you.

  14. Jeff, Thank-You for sharing your heart and for not knowing, and not trying to explain the why of your depression… I was so blown off course by the teaching that God was going to heal my wounds, depression along with giving me a peace that passes all understanding. When God didn’t and I went farther down into depressive darkness, I figured it was personal sin, or that I just wasn’t giving, praying, serving reading my bible enough… I spun my wheels being a church lady, not that was a bad thing, it just didn’t work, I was still a struggling sinner. I finally stopped fighting my Dr. and went on anti-depressants and I suppose they took the edge off a little… My ex pastor was mentored by John Macarthur ( just to give you an idea of the teaching) and he did a sermon on anti-depressants and sexual abuse a few weeks after I had started taking them. I know this is going to sound unbelievable but in his sermon he said that he thought it was a sin that so many Christians were on anti-depressants, that they weren’t trusting in Christ and the sufficiency of the scriptures, that if we were sexually abused we needed to give God thanks and then he spit across the pulpit and said: unfortunately many Christians will not trust Him and give Him thanks so they are spitting on the authority of the Word. I think that was when and where I grew a tiny back bone and took him on… I was told that I needed to submit to those in authority over me… whew. I know… what does my experience have to do with your story… Just this: IM has been a healing place for me to come and rest and learn of grace, and the way you tell your story is like a bridge into my confusion & not knowing also affirming that I don’t have to know the why of my struggle, and to be reminded over and over that Jesus is walking with me in the dark night.

    • PLEASE don’t listen to this crappy theology ( and bad medical advise, as well. I am an RN of 20 + years.)

      Try this on for size…”It is a sin that so many Christians are on insulin, that they are not trusting in Christ and the sufficiency of the scriptures…..these diabetics are spitting on the word of the Lord. If they were stronger in their faith they wouldn’t need the crutch of insulin and would wait for God’s healing in perfect faith!”

      Malfunctioning hormones cause diabetes, and since the 1930′s there has been a treatment for that. Prior to then, diabetes was a death sentence.

      Malfunctioning chemical production causes depression, and in the last 20 years there have been some excellent medications developed for that illness. Prior to that, depression could progress to a death sentence.

      I am Catholic, and respect all of my Christian brothers and sisters….and I have NEVER said this before, but you need to find a different church and/or pastor!

      • Pattie,

        I think you might have missed this: My ex pastor was mentored by John Macarthur

        I left 10 years ago… Love that fire in your belly for medical truth! I am on board with all you wrote.
        I have had a crazy journey a far as church’s go… From Baptist to AOG to a fundamental evangelical church.
        I have been attending St. Thomas catholic church for four years, I do not participate in Eucharist of course… Taking it very slow, not in a hurry to convert… Anyway, I always love reading your comments…

        • OOPss…..yes, I missed the “ex” part and jumped right to being terribly concerned about you!!! Thank you for your kind words, even if I missed the mark on the time frame!!

          (PS…I am in the middle of my thesis and my brainpower is more than a wee bit scattered and tangled! due to those pressures.)

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        There have been fatalities — some of them dependent children — from diabetics (or parents of juvenile diabetics) from “trusting in Christ and the sufficiency of the scriptures” throwing out their “crutch of insulin….and waiting for God’s healing in perfect Faith!”

        And these fatalities — and their reason — are publicized over the media.

    • Gail…your card meant a lot to me after what I endured in the hospital. reading what you wrote brings deep comfort in knowing I wasn’t the only one who bought into the madness. I am also wondering if there are exceptions ot the rule becauae as I’ve ranted and rage, in the midst of all this pain I’ve had a couple of evangelcials really share about pain in their life. It was refreshing and raw. So as I try and sort everything out I know that I am not the only one on this journey. I love this blog so much. But Gail can I call you Mom?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        Eagle, there’s a reason I post a lot of links to Blue Oyster Cult’s “Veterans of the Psychic Wars”…

      • Eagle, you know I really think you are the best! Yes, you may son. O would love to have a beer with you and swap stories, I ranted & raved for several years, couldn’t even pick up a bible… I don’t how, but the rage over true spiritual abuse has subsided, and I now I am just sad… So much damage is done in His name. I love this blog too, it has been a part of finding some quiet on the inside, along with discovering rest & grace, and knowing that I am not alone…(even though much of the theological posts are way over my head) Love, Mom

  15. Bill Metzger says:

    The Dark Night of the Soul is real—and very beneficial. Don’t fight it; rather, embrace it. God’s best work is done at/under the darkness of the Cross.

  16. “When darkness seems to hide His face,
    I rest on His unchanging grace.
    In every high and stormy gale,
    My anchor holds within the veil.

    On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
    All other ground is sinking sand;
    All other ground is sinking sand.”

    :)