Sunday, May 20, 2012

Suffering and Darkness

I've heard it said that we must approach ministry to each other as "sinners, saints and sufferers." That is a pretty holistic view of our fellow brothers and sisters. We've been going through a rather protracted darkness (maybe a haze) more intensely for the last 15 months or so. There have been feelings of abandonment and darkness. In his book While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks, Tim Laniak's chapter on darkness is riveting.

Many of us have experienced the desperate isolation and cold darkness that Job describes in his memoir. These season of life with out the light of understanding or any sense of God's presence test our faith in an invisible Shepherd. My wife and I journeyed through such deadly shadows for several years when our children were young. Faced with disabilities and the resulting shift in our life's direction, we entered tsalmavet ['shadow of death' or 'deadly darkness']. the light we longed for did not dawn as we expected. Only slowly did we reemerge from this valley as sobered believers and humbled leaders. When a friend recently explained the devastating impact a family tragedy was wreaking on their spiritual life, I couldn't respond like Job's friends. I simply said, "Welcome to the darkness. There are more questions than answers in this place. But you'll find good company among those who understand how little we understand--but still hold on to God's hand. Saint John of the Cross describes a particular kind of spiritually arid experience as the 'dark night of the soul'. This journey through shadows purges the soul of its pride and earthly attachments. Our challenge in dry and dark times is to respond in simple faith--to believe that the unseen Divine Shepherd is with us in our unlit valley. we grope in hope until rays of light begin to push the night away. Eventually, as Job confessed, 'He reveals mysteries from the darkness, and brings the tsalmavet into the light.' These shadows come at unplanned awkward times in our ministries as leaders. Just when we need to show enthusiasm for a vision. Just when our families need us most. Just when we thought we could enjoy the status quo. When we least expect it, the lights go out. and our faith, the only fire in the soul's night, barely smolders. As we remember those segments of our journey that have been covered in deep shadows, can we now see some evidence of the Shepherd's presence? If not, will we continue to walk by faith and not by sight? How do we respond to others who feel destabilized in a dark spiritual wilderness? Do we try to fix their feelings with pat answers, or are we content to sit with them in tsalmavet? If the darkness has settled across our employees, have we looked for ways to replace them with happier or more productive individuals, or have we treasured them as uniquely vulnerable to the deep work of God? Having emerged from some dark valleys, do we now have a more balanced response to the 'mountain tops'? Are we ready for more valleys, should they come--even the 'valley of the shadow of death'? (172-73)

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