It’s not always easy to have faith. Sometimes we get a taste of what St. John of the Cross called “the dark night of the soul.” No matter how hard we pray, it all feels pointless, and we don’t feel God’s love or mercy at all. I’m not writing about this to be disparaging, I’m writing about it because I feel like I’m finally coming out of such a place, but knowing that it likely won’t be the last time I go through it.
There are times when I feel very close to God, through my prayer life and through my interactions with other people and with nature. And haven’t we all had those experiences when it feels like someone must be looking out for us. Something or someone comes into our lives at the right time and place, just when we need it or them. I’m looking for a story idea and one falls into my lap. It’s a couple of days before payday and I need to put gas in the car. That’s when I find a 20-dollar bill in the pocket of my jeans. I have the good fortune of almost always finding what I need when I need it most. And I know better than to think that it’s my own dumb luck. It’s this light or goodness that helps get me through the dark times.
But dark times they are. I float along without giving much thought to where all good things come from and I barely think to pray at all, even giving thanks seems like a chore. This can happen when everything else in my life is going smoothly; it doesn’t only happen when things are rough and I cry out to God and it feels like he’s not there. Sometimes when I sit down in the quiet to pray, it feels false and empty. That’s the worst, when I feel nothing. I’ve been going along like that for months now, barely remembering or thinking about prayer, indifferent because I feel nothing when I try to pray. Then there’s my constant argument about “listening to God.” Why should I listen when he’s not talking to me? How do you listen anyway? You see how this can keep spiraling downward and downward.
Yesterday was my birthday and I’m beyond the years when you get excited about it, but it still felt like a special day. I woke up early and set myself up to work on my part of the Minute newsletter, and after that was done, it was still early and I had no reason to jump up and get busy — and it was my birthday after all. I decided it would be a good time to try to pray, to express gratitude that I had another birthday. My mindset wasn’t negative and I wasn’t worried about God not hearing me; I was focused on the simplicity of giving thanks. I started by looking at the day’s readings on an app I have on my cell phone. They certainly weren’t positive … something about “I am not worthy to be under Your roof.” But I kept going, I didn’t give up. There was a reflection about being mindful and truly connecting with God and the people in your life as well.
After reading on the app, I just closed my eyes and started to pray — nothing formal, no memorized prayers. I thought about having a birthday and that led to all the other countless things I am grateful for — my kids are all in a good place (and God knows there were a million prayers said along the way before that came to pass), I love my work and my work family, I live in a beautiful place surrounded by woods and kind neighbors, I have housing. Once I started thinking of all the blessings, it really ramped up the gratitude.
Next I tackled that “listening” process. I figured I was on a good roll, why not try listening too? For some reason completely unknown to me, I began to understand responses to the prayer I was sending up. I thought about all the help I’ve had over the years and the thought came to me that I have overcome many things with God’s help and with the help of other people in my life. I would single out a negative or difficult experience and then the thought came to me that I’m covered like a waterfall with gifts from God. I visualized a waterfall…not Niagara Falls, but a smaller one like you might find on a walk in the woods. And I thought about the love and goodness that flows right over me pretty much nonstop.
Maybe this is the listening I long for all the time, I thought. What if it was as easy as that? I think of something I’m grateful for and what comes to me is that waterfall, reminding me that I am loved and that I’ve always been loved. When I finished praying yesterday morning, I felt light, not darkness. My prayer clouds lifted and again I knew that God is there because I felt it deep inside my being, my bones. My dark night is over, for now.