As I sit here wondering how to participate well in this excellent series on God and our struggles I find myself wishing my struggles in this life were more glamorous, more obvious, more dramatic. I wish they were more tangible and easily defined. My struggles in life are an ongoing slog, a battle that doesn’t always look understandable to me, let alone anyone else.
For as long as I can remember I’ve struggled with despair, with cynicism, with doubt and with the big question of ‘what on earth are we doing here’? For as long as I can remember I’ve lived on the darker side of life. As a teenager I went through the classic angst, the dark poems, the despair, the wondering what the point of all this is and those thoughts have never left me. I’ve wished that them leaving was a matter of growing up but it’s been 20 years now and I still taste melancholy, darkness and despair on a regular basis.
The black dog, curtain or whatever term you put to it still visits. Sometimes announced, mostly unannounced and paralysing for my soul. I’ve recently discovered a new term for it through reading Kathleen Norris’ book on acedia. The noonday demon. It seems Monks have known about it for years. That sense of apathy, sloth, lethargy that quickly can spin into deeper melancholy, self-pity, self loathing and despair. It’s an inward self-orientated battle. I can’t tell what is sin and what is just my natural state in this condition. It’s confusing and entrapping.
God in these times feels a million miles away, a laughable concept, a cosmic joke, inaccessible. I’m trapped behind a glass screen unable to communicate with anyone well, everything is distorted and if only I could just get on with it, just find the key to the door I’d be out in the sunshine again and all would be well.
This is what it feels like:
It’s cold out here and the wind blows against my face as it fixes it’s eyes on the horizon. There is no comfort in this desolate landscape, there is nothing to see for miles and miles around here. Just endless marshland, boggy and treacherous to the soul. I am lost from you again, trapped here and longing to relate. The more I rage and the more I struggle the tighter the knots seem to become and the more I hurt in this wrestle. Spilling out, hitting out and kicking all around in the frustration.
I push the numbers on the combination lock, trying different ways, seeking the right code that will get me home, that will enable me to live with hope again, that will free me to love you well again, seeking the code that will take away these ropes, kicking against the indifferent skies. How can I get out of this land, wake from this nightmare, unlock the deadness in my heart and mind? Which key is it, I have a box, an ocean of keys and none of them fit this lock.
Over the years I’ve learnt to live with this state of my soul, I’ve learnt that some basic things help. Eating, sleeping, exercise and seeing people are all good things that can keep it at bay. But sometimes there is no cure, no hope for the thoughts that tear away at my insides, the feelings of worthlessness, of being useless, the condemnation of not being able to sort these things out for myself, the self pity that craves attention all the time, the feeling that those closest to me would be better off without me.
So where is God in these times? Not in the easy answers, not in the pull yourself together thoughts, not in the logical arguments for me to carry on believing in him, not in the best wills of friends who want to tell me to keep on trusting in him, not in the solutions to fix this problem. The more I try to address the issues swirling around in my mind the larger they seem to become and the deeper the darkness.
But I think God really is right here in the midst of it all.
I think he’s right here, at the bottom of all the despair. I think he’s in the friends who hold onto the truth for me and believe it for me when I can do so no longer. I think he’s in the friends who help me laugh at the despair so extreme it can’t possibly be true. I think he’s fighting on for me as I sink to the ground defeated by my enemies, trapped in my mind. I have no other way of explaining why I’m still here.
I’m learning over these years that these times of despair are not reality, that the light of the morning sun will rise again in each period of darkness. I’m learning to keep walking through the slough, to keep getting up each morning and acting in ways that love those around me however fake and unreal those acts feel. I’m learning to keep on choosing to do the small routine things until the light returns and I can feel again. I’m learning that the everlasting arms are there. I’m learning that my views about God in these times are distorted mirrors, that however elusive it feels or seems his love is as unfailing as the sun rising each morning.
But the darkness does not go. And I don’t think it will whilst I am here on this version of the earth. The darkness will not shift. We live in a broken aching world, my personality reflects and enlarges that, my head sees the pain more readily than the joy, the darkness, doubt and despair more readily than the hope and happiness. As the Indigo Girls put it so well, ‘darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable and lightness has a call that’s hard to hear’. I don’t understand those who hear the light more than the dark.
The darkness does not go for me and mostly I’m ok with that. I think there is a place for me in God’s family still, I’m an important part of his body, I have a place here. Not because I can sing I’m H.A.P.P.Y with the best of them but because I’ve been near the bottom of the darkest places in the recesses of my mind and found that underneath it all, through the cynicism and despair, the doubt and pain that there is a crazy hope deeper than it all.
We have one who has been through the darkest of places and conquered them. We have one who patiently holds our hands through all this life can throw at us and who doesn’t require us to be optimistic positive people to be in his kingdom. We have one who will not snuff out a flickering flame. We have one who puts me in a body of people who can believe for me and I for them when needed.
I have a feeling I will always battle with the darkness but I have one who has won and who fights with me, I have one who will hold me when all else has gone. I have a deeper richer hope because I know it goes deeper than even the deepest darkness that there is in this world. I know wonder and joy because this is crazy true truth.
I hold onto this reality as I carry on walking through this world:
One day we who stumble over mountains, who get lost in the thickets of our minds, who fail to believe and be who we are made to be will dance and be free, we will have no more darkness, no more emptiness, no more shame, no more inability to believe. We will be home.
Kath Cunningham lives in the wonderful city of Brighton and is married to the exceptionally lovely husbandface. Together they are awaiting the imminent arrival of Mcsquirmy to turn their world upside down. She’s slowly coming to terms with life beyond a ‘normal’ job and delighting in the thought of living a life beyond any kind of label attached to it. She loves writing, drumming, reading, Jesus, drinking tea, sunsets, music, friends, family, good food, deep swimming to the depths conversation, wine, big crashing waves, Brighton and the lovely church family she is part of here. She can be found pontificating on God, life, struggling and more over at www.thelongwalkhome.co.uk Follow Kath on Twitter.
Over to you:
- “Where is God in these times? Not in the easy answers…” Can you relate to Kath’s experience?
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