My first 2 failed spinal tap attempts certainly triggered it. But this dark night wasn’t just about spinal taps and it wasn’t just contained to that exam room. It wasn’t about frustration with medical appointments and a slow healing process. It extended into my everyday, my prayer life, my job, my marriage. I think it was just my time. My time to fall apart and fall to a spiritual depth that I have not known since becoming a Christian 12 years ago. If you talked to me at all this summer, you probably picked up on it. My typical “joyful in the Lord” personality had a quieter, withdrawn, reticent quality to it as I worked through my confusion, pain and internal wrestling.
Saint John of the Cross explicitly states that a dark night of the soul is all about union with God, not separation from Him, although it might not feel that way when you’re actually in it. The dark night ultimately prepares you for a deeper union and connection with God. You’re stripped of all you know in order to enter into a new level with God. It’s intentionally disorienting. Intentionally disintegrating.
I can’t say for sure that I’m fully out of it, I know it’s a process that doesn’t happen overnight. But I’m on my way. I have more clarity than I did back in July and my hope and understanding have begun to be restored. God’s tender care has begun to restore my heart again. I am so very thankful for that!
The restoration has come through the process of “soul care.”
It started as I was looking up Fall class schedules to audit at Denver Seminary. I wanted to get back in the classroom and keep learning, but knew I couldn’t keep up with an Old Testament or Exegesis of Revelation class haha! So I started looking at the Christian Formation program and one class stuck out to me. It was called “Scripture, Formation and Soul Care.” It immediately grabbed me. I could practically feel God saying “Hey Beck, your soul has taken a beating. You should probably learn how to care for your soul. Take this class!” Got it, God. And so I signed up.
The class has been nothing short of amazing. It is truly what my heart and soul needed in this season of life. I didn’t really know what to expect. I mean, how does one take care of their soul? Is soul care really a thing? Is that different than taking care of your heart, mind or body? And if so, what does it look like?
One aspect of Soul Care that we are learning in class is called Lectio Divina. I’d never heard of it before, but interestingly enough, just a few weeks before class started, one of my Bible study leaders game me a book called “Broken Body, Healing Spirit: Lectio Divina and Living with Illness.” I didn’t quite understand what it meant at the time, but since starting this class, the book has become invaluable to me.
Looking back on it, I can recognize that what I experienced this summer was probably a “dark night of the soul.” I didn’t see it at the time. At the time, I just felt spiritually burdened, alone, confused and pretty hopeless. For a while I wondered if it was depression, which I have struggled with in the past. It felt like a familiar feeling…and yet, different. Then I thought maybe it was an identity crisis of some sort. But even that didn’t explain the extent of things that I was feeling. I thought maybe it was spiritual warfare, but I’m really sensitive to spiritual attacks and can identify them pretty quickly. While this was certainly darkness, it wasn’t darkness from the evil realm.
In hindsight, I fit almost exactly what Saint John of the Cross described in his poem “Dark Night of the Soul”. He literally describes a dark night of the soul to be “a contemplative purgation or nakedness and poverty of spirit.” Yes. That.
Lectio Divina is a Benedictine practice that is all about experiencing (not studying or memorizing) God’s Word through meditation and praying the Scriptures. It’s about calming your mind and experiencing the Living Word through the written Word. It’s unlike any way I’ve ever approached the Bible before. There’s no “right way” necessarily, but there are some steps involved in the traditional form of Lectio Divina. They involve silence, slowly reading & meditating on God’s Word, praying through the Scripture and finally contemplating your experience.
I have to free myself of feeling like there is a “right” way to do this, lifting expectations and just allowing the time to be what God intends it to be. It’s a pretty open-ended process, which I struggle with sometimes. I like having solid expectations, knowing what’s going to come. And this goes against all of that, but it’s been very rewarding so far!
One thing I love about praying through the Psalms is that the Psalms are full of emotions…emotions we don’t necessarily feel permitted to really feel towards God. Like doubt, anger, fear, complaining, lamenting, hurt. But the Psalms give us full permission to identify those emotions and bring them to God. My friend Stacy told me a few weeks ago on the phone after my botched spinal tap attempts that my feelings of God abandoning me sounded downright Biblical. “Really?” I thought, “it doesn’t sound like a very godly way to talk.” Low and behold, those very words are found in Psalm 22. In fact, Jesus quoted Psalm 22 while he was on the cross. The Psalms give us permission to feel all the feelings. To pray about them, dwell on them, let them rise to the surface, cry them out and let God care for your heart in the process. There are few few emotions that aren’t found in the Psalms. Murderous rage? Check. Abandonment? Check. Despair, anger, joy, fear, hope, encouragement, sadness and discouragement? Check check check.
A few other aspects this class touches on are spiritual retreats, meeting with a spiritual director, guided meditation and reflective writing. Honestly, they are things I don’t have much experience with (aside from reflective writing) but I’m coming to realize how impactful they can be as I begin to integrate them into my spiritual walk with God. Sometimes my time with God can be so cerebral…it’s all about knowledge, Bible studies, memorizing, learning, learning, learning. Of course there’s nothing wrong with learning, but sometimes I miss experiencing God because I’m too focused on learning. It’s nice to introduce experiential dynamics back into my walk with God.
There’s a lot of ins and outs to soul care and I have only been exposed to the tip of the iceberg. I can see how soul care can lead a strong Christ follower into new seasons of self-reflection, growth and spiritual maturity. And I’ve certainly seen how it can lead a hurting, limping, wounded soul into a season of healing and restoration. My soul has already received an abundance of care, who knows how awesome I’ll feel by the time the class is over in December! 🙂