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Allison Althoff
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April 27, 2010

Me . . . and Mother Teresa?

If spiritual discouragement is common among believers, why do we avoid talking about it?

I remember hearing a note of smug satisfaction in the voice of the secular radio reporter who was doing a piece on Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, the book that features some of Mother Teresa’s private letters to her spiritual advisors. In her letters, we see that for many years Mother Teresa experienced times of intense spiritual darkness. Though she prayed fervently, served mightily, and meditated intensely on Scripture, this darkness persisted. She longed to experience the joy and delight of her first intense encounters with God, but instead she often felt spiritual loneliness and a sense of God’s absence. The radio commentator implied that these honest expressions of intense struggle in some way proved that Christian spirituality was in fact empty and unsatisfying.

As I listened to the piece, at first I felt somewhat shocked and discouraged. Mother Teresa so obviously loved Jesus and dedicated her entire life to serving him, I thought. If she felt that way, then . . . is the radio commentator right?

But in time I’ve found great comfort in Mother Teresa’s period of darkness because in some ways it legitimizes the times of spiritual dryness and struggle that have peppered my own walk with Christ off and on throughout the years. Like Mother Teresa, many other devoted Jesus-followers throughout history have journeyed through painful periods of soul darkness, from John of the Cross to C. S. Lewis. In fact, for many mature believers, periods of doubt and dryness have served as inevitable byways along the pathway of spiritual maturity.

So if periods of spiritual discouragement or times of doubt are a common experience, why do we so often avoid talking about them? Is it because we see discouragement as a sign of weak faith? Do we fear that doubt is somehow contagious? Do we keep our own lips sealed when we’re struggling because we fear damaging our Christian image? How can we better help each other journey through spiritual darkness into a place of even greater intimacy with Christ?

What about you? Have you faced doubts and dark times recently in your walk with Jesus? If you’ve made it through a time of doubt, what got you through? What did you learn from the experience?

Related Tags: Discouragement, Doubt

Comments

It's not just a 'Christian problem'. For the most part, we're an image-driven society. So we don't admit when our marriages are in trouble or are kids are having problems. Honesty and open-ness is how we experience truly getting to know one another and begin helping each other heal in love, but it's difficult to do that first part and admit we don't have it all together.

Especially when it comes to faith, for all the reasons you mention.
Thanks for the great post!
deb

As Deb said, we are an image-driven society. But it's not just our society: our churches are image-driven. And we think that if people see that we "don't have our act all together" then they will think less of us as Christians. But it's not about people thinking highly of us...it's about them thinking highly of God. If we're open about our struggles, then we're admitting that we're sinners too, that we can identify with the unchurched's sinfulness, and then...we can show how God's grace has enabled us to change or be changing as the case may be. As CS Lewis noted, we're beggers telling other beggers about where to find bread.

In the many dark spots of my life, I've had to cling to God. One of the most desperate prayers I have ever prayed was during my 2nd pregnancy. I was horribly depressed and all over the place mentally. I remember just crying and begging God, "Please, if you only answer one prayer in my life, please let it be this: don't let my daughters suffer mentally the way I have." I have no idea how God will answer this prayer, honestly. I only know that He was there for me then...and always.

When I share those struggles with others #whether I feel that I'm "through" the storm or in the middle of it#, people have responded positively. "Thanks for sharing that. I'm glad I'm not the only one," is what I hear a lot.

Believing, if even very little during hard times, that He will deliver in HIS time, makes the pain more bearable. We must go through, to get to. I also believe that sometimes the pain and struggles and "darkness" that we go through do not always need to be shared or are sometimes better shared as a reflection and strength and encouragment to the still suffering that there WILL be light. What we suffer through silently, God will reward us for openly. Then there are times where we should share. Simply sharing our troubles seems to bring them back down to size.

Richard Foster (Celebration of Disciplines) writes about the times of spiritual dryness and disconnection, and he calls this condition the "Dark Night of the Soul." I have experienced a "dark night" following the sudden death of my father, almost 9 years ago now, that lasted for 6 months. During that time, I continued to make a conscious choice to press in to the person of Christ. We have a choice when we face a spiritually dry season: we can press in to Christ, or we can pull away from Him. The second option can be tempting, especially if the "dark night" lasts for a while. What is encouraging to me about Mother Theresa is that she continued to press in to her call and her Savior, and that has resulted in a truly beautiful life. Each of us has the same opportunity. Pressing in to Christ, actively praying, studying scripture, and continuing to seek Him, are the things that ultimately brought about the end of my own dark night.

Bree makes a good point. The secular psychological model emphasizes self-expression ... stresses that healthiness comes from opening up and getting things off your chest.
But even secular thought nods to the value of discretion -- for yourself and others. Scripture calls it self-control.
And likewise Ecclesiastes tells us there is a time for everything. So it is with expressing or dwelling on our times of doubt.
Some of my crises were brief and some lasted years. In each, doubt was part of the attempted spiritual attack. After those times, came the seasons in which I can now share my experiences, made complete by the testimony of God's sovereignty. Sometimes that testimony to God's faithfulness spares the details, to better honor those I came in conflict with -- those due respect best outlined in Ephesians. But the real glory of the story is how God brought me through the doubts that I confess now.
With the amazing guidance of the Holy Spirit day by day, we learn there is a time to speak, and a time to remain silent.

I love this verse: "...for He Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up, nor leave you without support. I will not, I will not in any degree leave you helpless, nor forsake you, nor let you down, relax my hold on you--ASSUREDLY NOT! (Hebrews 13:5 Amplified.
Having read some of John the Cross, C.S. Lewis (Grief Observed), and Oswald Chambers...I have taken thoughts from all of them and wrote the following: "Sometimes, the path of spiritual growth may lead one through "The Dark Night Of The Soul." This is not punishment, though it may appear to be. It is a DIVINE APPOINTMENT WITH THE GRACE OF GOD. It is a time of waiting on God. It may be characterized by depression, spiritual dryness, a sense of lostness, or even follow a spiritual victory. DO NOT DESPAIR. HANG ON: There are bigger issues at stake. God is lovingly taking you by the hand, as though you are blind, to a place you could never reach on your own--so you can see him more clearly. His words are "Fear not for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand." (Isaiah 41:10. This darkness comes TO SET YOU FREE! This darkness is TINGED WITH GOLD."
God has taken me on an amazing journey! And He-or one of His precious people--have been at every juncture. There were years of feeling deep dispair--even of my life. Because of many deaths. I've shared intimately with other Christians, who have also despaired. I have found women seeking such openness. Authenticity. I'm now more likely to talk of disappointment, and the choices we make that lead us: (1)to a road of despair, or, (2)back to relationship
with God and others. Both roads start with a SUFFERING. a blow, stumble, death, that cause us to flounder, come UNDONE. But, there is that fork in the road. Which way will I take? I save despair for losses such as a childhood loss of a parent, a young adult loss of another parent, sibling et al. Regardless GOD IS INVOLVED WITH ME. HE IS MY ROCK ETERNAL.

Yes, I agree with the comments above and in times of darkness I have clung to God as my only hope...nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Immerse yourself in the Word of God even if you don't feel like it because eventually the word of God will penetrate...pray, cry out to God...He feels our pain and understands even if we "feel" like he is distant...I've had to deal with a painful and unwanted divorce, estranged kids, rebellious adopted kids on drugs, drink, etc. One son went crazy and is now in jail because of drugs...teenage pregnancies due to rebellious behavour. Many times I have been on my knees and God has embraced me and comforted my heart. He NEVER abandons us even if we feel like He has forgotten...

Recently, I've been in this spiritual darkness where I was confused, in doubt. I felt alone, scared, and anxious. I had all these voices in my head telling me my faith is weak and I won't ever pull through. What I realized is that these thoughts or voices was the devil. He is the enemy of our soul. He doesn't want us to trust God. He whispers lies to us and attacks us in our weakness so we would get wounded and give up. But we have to resist the devil and he will flee from us. Sometimes we have to resist him for a long while. But God is faithful and he is by our side. We will get through if we continue to hold his hand. I started to believe the lies the devil was whispering and that's when I started to give up. I became so weak spiritually. But once I opened up my struggle with my close friends and they prayed for me, it was amazing. I felt strength returning to me. I wasn't alone. I had support. Hope once again lit up in my heart. God is faithful. He will get us through these spiritual moments in our walk of faith, he said so. So we need to trust him. And that's where I am at now. Learning to trust him completely.

Blessings.

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