09 September 2010

Dispatches From a Dark Night

I know I write about this a lot. This is how I process through it, really. And I’m processing it again. But here it is: I really don’t know what faith looks like in this place.

It’s a sad reality that when I discuss our situation (and I’m sorry if you’ve heard about “our situation” from me a hundred times, but here’s the rundown: expecting a baby with a severe heart defect that will require surgery almost immediately after his birth, my husband’s lack of employment, not knowing how to pay our already-mounting medical bills or other basic expenses while I’m on unpaid maternity leave), some adopt what we’ve come to call a “Pollyanna” attitude about it. God will take care of you. Things are going to be okay. It will all work out. Let go and let God. If you have to go back to work two weeks after he’s born and still in the NICU, you should view it as a blessing in disguise. You can handle this.

While I appreciate the good intentions of those who offer these words, more often than not, all these attempts at simplicity and comfort manage to achieve is a minimization of our situation that infuriates me. Any one of these dilemmas would be bad enough, but the union of them all together makes for a thorny reality that none of us can brush aside. These words are band-aids on bullet holes, and it is in those moments I want to invite the people who say these things to inhabit my reality deeply for a time, to take upon themselves my thoughts and emotions and questions, to follow me into the closet when I close the door, fall on the floor, and fall apart completely, weeping from a depth that is bottomless. I wonder if they would be able to say those same things. I wonder if they heard those same words from someone else, if they would find them a warm blanket or a blast of cold.

We have faith. We have believed: in God’s provision, in His wisdom, in His timing. And we are still in a place where we don’t know how any of this is going to work out or in many instances, how we should act: we have no clear sense of whether or not we will even be one of the fortunate sets of parents who will come home with the baby they birthed, the baby whose movements they have felt and experienced for months on end, whose life they have witnessed squirming and stretching through his mother’s skin. This is a reality that we don’t dwell on, but must acknowledge. We cannot presume upon anything.

We are working, thinking, and praying with every last fiber and blood cell we have, wondering what God wants us to do. There are no promises about the outcome. There are no clear directives on what decisions to make. And it’s not because we haven’t been listening. We have been asking God and listening, interjecting our pleas and waiting. We are in a season where, like the mountain I sometimes see on my drive to work, God looms large in the distance, but is ultimately still and silent. I know, rather than feel, Him there. He is under a cover of clouds and veiled with an impenetrable an inky night. Job experienced this, mystic spiritual masters like St. John of the Cross wrote extensively about it, and recent saints like Mother Teresa lived it: the dark night of the soul.

I used to be afraid to say that that’s what this is. That’s for spiritual giants and I’m just a normal person. But now I don’t need to ask or question it or be afraid to call it what it is now, because I know. Dark nights are for normal people, too. Dark nights are those places where our ability to sense God in any way is gone, and where we are continually brought to the end of ourselves and asked to go still further. Where we feel like we have been stripped of everything we possess, and asked to give still more. God is deeply present in these dark nights, but in a way that is imperceptible to one in the thick of it.

It would be a mistake to say that there are not shafts of light that pierce the dark night – many moments of laughter, of profound joy as we prepare to embrace the mystery that is this child, that is parenthood. But it is joy that lives in the hollow of a crucible, in a place where layers of dross rise to the surface in the boiling heat and are skimmed off, in a place where we find the ends of ourselves again, and again, and again. And we know: we have deeper yet to go.

Perhaps these ends, these peelings away will increase our capacity for joy. Perhaps in coming to these ends we will learn to lean more fully into our invisible God, and come to know what it means to draw on His strength instead of defaulting to our own. Perhaps we will taste the faith the ancients did when they reasoned God could raise the dead and so held knives over their only children, when they stood in the blast of heat from a fire meant to incinerate their flesh and said, God can save us. But even if He does not, we will not bend the knee.


  1. this took my breath away.

    and I just borrowed Dark NIght of the Soul, Thomas Moore , from the library yesterday. Because I don't have answers. I won't pretend to have them for you .
    but if we give each other our dark and light, give each other our whole , is that something? Is that a whisper of hope? That we don't know ... but can be quieted and lamenting and joyous together.

  2. I just wanted to let you know that in a sense, I'm here. I'm not in Seattle, granted, but I'm praying for you, that God will give you courage and strength and mercy and grace, that you will know his love and the love of the body of Christ.

    Thank you for sharing this.

  3. No words, not even for my prayers for you. Just your names - Kirsten, James, Ewan - repeated toward the mountain where He dwells.

  4. Thank you for sharing your heart. I have nothing to offer you but my prayers, and those you have. My husband and I are sitting in a similar place of knowing God in the distance but unable to hear his voice as we come to terms with another miscarriage. Our desire to be parents, and our joy at two lines on a test becomes just a big ball of fear as cramping becomes overwhelming and our dream is, for this moment ended. This fear is not from him but there seems to be cruelty in his silence and I fight to find his peace and I struggle to find his light there.
    Trusting in His goodness is not easy but I would fall apart totally without the hope that above all I am loved and known completely. I pray that truth is heavy on your hearts today.

  5. I always cry reading these posts from you.

    I am not where you are. I cannot begin to imagine being where you are. But I know that you are deeply known, and that God is holding you in a way that I have not known myself.

    I hold you too, and Ewan, and James - close to my heart. And oddly, I am watching for good news here, because I believe it is coming. I wish I knew the shape of it, but I know the shape of His heart who holds you.

    ♥ k

  6. I think that sometimes, when we Christians hear about someone else's struggles, we fall into this trap of thinking, "I should give a reply that advertises God's goodness and give a positive, cheerful Christian response." As if God needs us to be his PR department or something. But then I remember that simple verse, "Jesus wept." What he wept about was something he knew he would fix in the end, but I think he was weeping in compassion for others. I hope that you have friends there who can just hug you and have tears of compassion in their eyes.

  7. These truths you are living make my heart weep and ache for you. I want so badly to be powerful as God in these times: to take it away and make all things well.

    I can't do that.

    And right now, God's not doing it either.

    And I don't know why.

    I hate this for you.

    As you know, the little granddaughter of my pastor died this week. She was a feisty, beautiful angel. Her dad, Josh, blogged daily about what their family was going through each and every day after the brain cancer diagnosis that came 10 weeks ago.

    Through his blog, people all over the world who didn't know his little girl came to know her. Came to know their famly. Came to know their pain, their joy, their ache, their faith. Came to pray. Came to weep.

    Today was her funeral, and it was a testimony to holding onto faith in the dark places, worshiping and trusting God even when it hurts like hell.

    I pray this faith for you, too, in this dark night.

    I love you.

  8. I try to find words, but I have none. I have a broken heart, a tear streaked face, and big hugs filled with lots of love for you, James, and Ewan. My prayers continue for you...

  9. Kirsten, this post reminded me of a song written by a Canadian singer/songwriter named Steve Bell, also titled, "Dark Night of the Soul". The lyrics are here http://stevebell.com/2007/06/dark-night-of-the-soul/

    I pray that as the song lyrics say, you will meet in the cold and barren night the one your heart knows so well, and that in that place, you will be able to rest peacefully.

    hugs and many prayers.


  10. Hi Kirsten,
    I have stood where you are. On a different journey but also experienced that dark night of the soul. Where it feels so dark and silent and empty.
    The only thing I have to offer you is that when you can't hold onto God, others around you will hold on for you.
    When you have reached the end of faith, others will have faith for you.
    And when you can't even find the thoughts let alone the words to pray other than "please God, please God" others will pray for you.
    I will hold on for you and pray for you and have faith for your breakthrough, here from a little island across the sea