A Friend Called Wilderness: How My Dark Night of the Soul Turned Out

By July 10, 2008 faith No Comments

Have you experienced one of those dark nights of the soul that so many contemplatives refer to? I think of them as phases of life in which all is shaken and broken, like a perpetual emotional earthquake. Mine was ushered in as I could no longer ignore or deny my own brokenness and need for God’s rescue and healing.

In his book Abandoned to God, Oswald Chambers states:

“The mystics used to speak of ‘the dark night of the soul’ (or ‘night season’) as a time of spiritual darkness and dryness, not the direct result of sins committed, but rather a deep conviction of sin itself within the heart and mind. It’s a time the person ‘is being brought to an end of himself,’ and made aware of the utter worthlessness of his own nature when stripped of all religious pretensions. Moreover, there was the willingness to abandon all for Christ’s sake, to deny—not only his evil self but also his good self.”

These stretches are bound by God’s sovereignty; once in the middle, there is no way out but through. And along the way, there are plenty of places to stop to steady yourself and catch your breath.

At one such way-station during a dark night, I had the blessing of an oceanside retreat. I remember spending hours staring out across the waters, letting my eyes drink in the beauty in the hope that it would trickle down to my dry, weary soul. These words emerged, promising me that deep down inside my heart was still beating. I titled this piece Shores of Hope:

ocean breeze, come—drift on in, take me from the place i’ve been, places long inhabited and dry

the wilderness, it’s not been kind, at least not to the naked eye, and i’m hoping for a chance to get away

the breeze it comes, and carries me, off we go to open seas, looking back, the view is better than before

a whole new take on the wilderness; it’s not so mean, not so meaningless, when viewed from waves far from suffering’s shore

i’ve learned so much along the way, how could i just turn away from the path He’s set my feet upon

so ocean breeze, come, carry me, back to my shore, even back to suffering, to the wilderness i’ve come to call a friend

This poem is framed and remains on my desk in my office. (Here’s a snapshot to give you a visual.) One side of the frame holds the poem; the other frame holds a photo of the ocean I looked upon as these words took shape. It serves as a reminder of where I’ve been, which gives me hope for where God is leading me next. And the ocean blues make my soul say ahhhh.

Dark nights are excruciating. Now that I’m out the other side, however, I wouldn’t trade it. I can’t say that the next time through will be any easier—I may one day find myself on that same shore needing another dose of relief.

Ultimately, I want to remember how my Redeemer once turned a brute called wilderness into friend.

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