23 August 2014

a letter to a friend in a dark place

It is wonderful you reached out to us, friend. The best thing in the world. You are not alone.

I loved the words you wrote, by the way. What a great prayer you prayed and a wonderful thing to desire!

Sometimes we go through places where God is only met in the desire for God. He himself will not show up, but he will give you the desire for him.

That is what you have: desire for God.

Somehow, God hides himself in that desire. I hope that is a comfort, however small. And, know this:

This entire prayer you’ve written was placed in you by God. It is a prayer that assures you of his hidden closeness. It is a guiding prayer.

But what to do with these feelings, then? It feels to you like God is far away...

Pretend with me that you are in the valley of the shadow of death. A comforting thought, right? J

While you are in this place, you have a memory, a vague recollection of times when you were assured of the good shepherd’s leading in green pastures and beside refreshing water. You remember those times of feeding, joy, brilliant sunlight. Happiness seemed to bubble over. You could not stop smiling, singing. Your heart was dancing, dancing in glorious freedom.

You could rest. Indeed, even when you were doing work, it felt like rest. Everything felt restful, peaceful, happy.

He led you to good water, refreshing water. Oh, that water tasted so good! Everywhere you turned there seemed to be water and you didn’t have to work for it. It was there, ready for the taking.

When you looked in a pool of still, good water you could see a reflection there. It was the face of the good shepherd standing right beside you. There he was, both over you and under you. You could also see your own face clearly, but that didn’t matter because you could not take your eyes off the shepherd’s beauty.

Now you are in the dark place. There is no light here. You seem surrounded by enemies. And, where is the shepherd? You cannot see him.

Wait. You see his staff. There is no shepherd, but that is his staff. You know it well because you remember it from before.

A good sign: his staff is not laying on the ground or leaning against some rock. If it were, you would know the shepherd left it there and walked away. No, someone is holding onto the staff.

You remember him telling you that this is his staff and no one else’s. He will not yield his authority to another, especially in this place. So, you know it is the shepherd holding onto his staff. Well, then, why is he just standing there, far away? You want to see him, not just his staff.

“Doesn’t he know I’m afraid?” you think. “Can’t he hear me bleating, crying out? WHY DOESN’T HE DO SOMETHING and come over here?”

When you were a baby, he would have been near. He was your mother and you suckled on her breast. But now you are grown up—still a child, but grown up.

The shepherd is making you stronger.

But you feel on your last legs. Tired. You can’t take anymore. You feel weaker, not stronger. After a while, the muscles of faith need a break. But he seems to keep pushing you. Why?  

He knows: no pain, no gain. Yes, it hurts, but…

“…we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” (2 Cor. 4:7-10)

With the pain, we have an assurance of gain. Again:

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us…For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” (Romans 8:18, 24-27)

While we wait for deliverance patiently, we are reminded:

“…neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38)

But in this dark place, the shepherd is far away. You believe he is there but you have no proof it is the shepherd holding onto the staff (other than his words that he yields his authority to no one). So, you are dependent on faith. That is all.

You lower your head in sadness. Oh, for those days of song and dance and food and light and laughter! The shepherd held me in love, he kissed me and we laughed together. But that is gone, so you just weep, head bowed low.

When you are all cried out, you look up and see you are sitting at a table, here in this place of enemies. The table has some food on it. So, why haven’t you seen this before?

You have not seen it because the dark place is a confusing place and you spent all your time looking for the shepherd himself (not his food) because the shepherd is all that matters to you. That is natural.

Now what seems strange to you is that you see the food there—you know it is good and given to you by the shepherd—but you have no desire to eat. “Why bother? If I can’t have the shepherd, the food does not matter. People do not live on bread alone.”

So, the food gives little comfort. But the shepherd put it there because he knows you might be here in this training ground awhile and you will need it from time to time.

Right now you don’t feel like eating it and he lets you refrain from eating it. He figures you will reach for it when you need it, but he also keeps an eye on you so that if you utterly forget yourself he will find a way to get some food into you so you don’t die of starvation.

So, you just keep an eye on that staff. Waiting for it to move closer to you or move further from you. You just want it to move somewhere. “Just stop standing still, for heaven’s sake!”

If you see the staff beginning to move away from you, I suppose you’ll follow it. Likely, it will move further away sooner than it will move closer. That’s because, here in the middle of this dark place, the light place is further from you than closer to you. Strangely, to move you into the light, the shepherd will, in his mercy, move further away from you in hopes of enticing you to follow him. If you fall, he will double-back, pick you up, carry you on his shoulders and kiss you well. But, he thinks you have it in you to follow. So, he won’t do that just yet.

So, with body weakened but faith strengthened, you resolve that when he moves you’ll move. Because there is no one else you’d rather be near than that good shepherd.

Yes, I know you’ll follow when he moves. But that time has not yet come. So, you wait, wait, wait at the table he’s made for you in the presence of enemies.

Friend, I will pray God delivers you and that through this you will be stronger, stronger than ever. I know you are tired, but when we exercise those muscles of faith it will be tiring. I pray he will give you strength. Strength to carry on, one day at a time. I pray that somehow in this dark place there will be music to suit the time.

Keep talking to us. You don’t need to hide anything. We’ve been in dark places, too. We love you and are with you in spirit.

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