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And then one day, He was back.
It wasn't all glory and trumpets and flashes of light. It was one of those mornings where I was awake well before I wanted to be. Unable to slip back to sleep, I rubbed my eyes and rolled out of bed, wandering into the living room. I had just finished reading through the book of Luke and decided maybe this would be a good day to start the book of John. So I opened my Bible and started reading. And I didn't stop reading until I finished.
By then I was sleepy enough to try closing my eyes again to see if sleep would return. I reclined on my left side on the couch, Bible wrapped up in my right arm. I woke up about an hour later, and there He was.
Oh. There you are, I said out loud.
He was back -- just as if He had never left.
Having a sensed experience of His presence again infused my prayer and study life with new vitality. My prayers no longer boomeranged off the wall and fell at my feet. My frustration and anger had dissipated. After a couple of weeks like this, I dared to ask Him about the past year. Why the silence and darkness? What was the purpose and good of leaving me in the dark when I needed Him? Every time I asked, I got the sense it wasn't time for me to know. It was easy for me to be thankful for what we had together again. Though my curiosity continued to seek satisfaction, I let it go when I saw the answer I sought could not be forced.
It was just a couple weeks later that I was practicing lectio divina in a passage of John 10 -- the one where Jesus identifies Himself as the good shepherd. I had spent time focusing on various aspects of the passage and the one I found myself drawn to initially had to do with Jesus seeking out others who weren't there, but that He still counted as part of the fold.
But in spite of my efforts to focus there, I kept getting tugged back to a few verses before that:
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.Sensing that Jesus had something for me here, I followed Him, directing my attention to the words on the page. I read these words slowly over and over again and in the middle of one of my readings, He interjected all of the sudden: I know you, Kirsten. I KNOW YOU. If I could have seen His face, I imagine it would have been just inches from mine. I would have been able to feel the warmth of His breath. I imagine His hands would have clasped mine to keep me from turning the page, to make sure I heard what He was saying to me. I'm sure I could have felt the nail marks in His palms myself.
I know you.
I stopped. And I burst into tears. For a whole year or more, I felt like He had forgotten me. Like He had really, really forgotten me. And here He was telling me -- not just every one of His sheep, but me -- that He knows me. He knows me. It was as personal as it could be. There was no mistaking He saw me, that He heard me -- and not just now, not just in this present moment, but the whole time.
A week later, I was practicing lectio divina again, but this time in Mark 10 when Jesus rebukes the disciples for speaking harshly to those who would keep the little children from coming to Him. I found myself drawn to the last verse of the passage:
And he took [the children] up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.When it came to the oratio portion of the exercise, I knew I had nothing to lose. So I told Him: This is what I wanted from You this last year. This is what I needed from You. I was hurting so deeply and I felt so alone -- I just wanted You to wrap Your arms around me and love me. I ...
It wasn't long before a very clear picture formed in my mind. I was still in my rocking chair in the sunroom, but this time He was holding me. In this picture, He had taken me up in His arms and held me, my head resting against the warmth of His chest, hearing His heartbeat, letting the tears come. He didn't say anything, but simply held me there.
I fell into tears again. After a year of feeling not only invisible to Him, but untouched and untouchable, I saw Him holding me -- not only in that moment, but for the whole year before. He held me. And that's all it was. That is exactly what I needed and what I had been asking for. And finally, there it was. There He was.
Those two experiences with Jesus brought a healing to my heart that I don't know how to describe. Though I still don't have many clear answers as to the why of it all, I do know that my year of darkness brought a hard-won and much needed purification. In that year, my sin was always before me in a way it had not been before. I saw my own ugliness all the time. The act of taking it to confession helped me to experience healing in those dark things inside me that whether I knew it or not, were damaging my soul.
|A visual prayer exercise I completed after my two very personal experiences with Jesus.|
And it was a trial of my faith. In that year, it became so very much more than words and doctrines and giving my agreement to a list of things I believed to be factual or true. My spiritual life had been a life of the heart before this year of darkness, but now it was fuller. It was more. My heart had stretched and expanded, and the muscle had grown stronger through repeated testing. It was an act of the will and it was an act of the heart.
I realized very early on that it was not anything I had done or didn't do that caused the darkness and similarly, that it wasn't anything I had said or done or didn't say or didn't do that brought Him back again. He came back when He knew it was time, and when it was time, He communicated those things to me that my heart most needed to know. Even so, there are still so many questions. I still am not certain if this was a true dark night of the soul, or of it was something else. Though I can see plenty of the good fruit that came out of it, my curiosity regarding the question of why is still somewhat unsatisfied. But I can let that go. Not only is He back, but He was here the whole time. He showed me that.
And now I know with unshakable certainty two very important things:
He knows me.
And He picks me up in His arms like a small child, never to let me go.