What do we do when the light goes dark?
When happiness turns to despair?
Laughter turns to tears?
Mountains turn into valleys?
Prayers become empty burdens?
God is silent and absent?
If you’re there, you’re not alone. David (yes, the David that Scripture calls “a man after God’s own heart”) experienced all of this and more. Just look at his prayer in Psalm 88.
1 O Lord, God of my salvation, I cry out to you by day. I come to you at night. 2 Now hear my prayer; listen to my cry. 3 For my life is full of troubles, and death draws near. 4 I am as good as dead, like a strong man with no strength left. 5 They have left me among the dead, and I lie like a corpse in a grave. I am forgotten, cut off from your care. 6 You have thrown me into the lowest pit, into the darkest depths. 7 Your anger weighs me down; with wave after wave you have engulfed me. 8 You have driven my friends away by making me repulsive to them. I am in a trap with no way of escape. 9 My eyes are blinded by my tears. Each day I beg for your help, O Lord; I lift my hands to you for mercy. 10 Are your wonderful deeds of any use to the dead? Do the dead rise up and praise you? 11 Can those in the grave declare your unfailing love? Can they proclaim your faithfulness in the place of destruction? 12 Can the darkness speak of your wonderful deeds? Can anyone in the land of forgetfulness talk about your righteousness? 13 O Lord, I cry out to you. I will keep on pleading day by day. 14 O Lord, why do you reject me? Why do you turn your face from me? 15 I have been sick and close to death since my youth. I stand helpless and desperate before your terrors. 16 Your fierce anger has overwhelmed me. Your terrors have paralyzed me. 17 They swirl around me like floodwaters all day long. They have engulfed me completely. 18 You have taken away my companions and loved ones. Darkness is my closest friend.Psalm 88
Is that how you feel? Abandoned by God at the time you need Him the most?
Like David, we will go through times when it seems God is silent, absent, and even against us. The Christian journey isn’t all unicorns, lollipops, and rainbows. Sometimes it’s just hard. Sometimes it downright sucks!
We need a way of holding on to God when it seems as though God has let go of us.
Fortunately, David gives us four helpful and hopeful ways through the darkness.
Cry out for God
O Lord, God of my salvation, I cry out to you by day. I come to you at night. Now hear my prayer; listen to my cry.Psalm 88:1-2
For many of us, this is about all we can do – cry out. In desperation. Pain. Fear.
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?Psalm 13:1-2
David did not shy away from asking God the tough questions.
Where are you, God?
Why are you letting this happen to me?
How long must I suffer?
The prophet Habakkuk felt this same absence.
How long, O Lord, must I call for help?
But you do not listen!
“Violence is everywhere!” I cry,
but you do not come to save.Habbakuk 1:2
Depending on the translations, there are 60-80 different instances of God’s people crying out –
Your cries do not make you weak or “unspiritual,” but rather include you in a great faith tradition of “whiners.” Keep crying out to God to –
Until He answers.
Complain to God
Modern western Christianity has an aversion to complaining. Everything always has to be so positive, or it’s not really “Christian.” But lamenting (i.e. the spiritual gift of complaining) makes up a large portion of the Scripture story. There’s an entire book in the Bible dedicated to it – Lamentations. Ecclesiastes, Jeremiah, and Job are mostly laments. And Psalms of lament are the most common kind of psalm (more than Psalms of wisdom, thanksgiving, and praise).
For my life is full of troubles, and death draws near. I am as good as dead, like a strong man with no strength left. They have left me among the dead, and I lie like a corpse in a grave. I am forgotten, cut off from your care. You have thrown me into the lowest pit, into the darkest depths. Your anger weighs me down; with wave after wave you have engulfed me.Psalm 88:3-7
No other religion has prayers so real, raw, and rude as Judaism/Christianity. Whatever you’re thinking and feeling – let it out! Don’t hold it back. Don’t sanitize with “Christianese.” God knows your heart. He knows your every thought. You won’t benefit yourself by guarding your words or offend God with your unfiltered criticism. He’s big enough to take our complaints and loving enough not to strike us down for protesting Him. We believe in a great God who controls the heavens, yet still cares for His people.
Communicate with God
O Lord, I cry out to you. I will keep on pleading day by day.Psalm 88:13
The tendency when God seems absent and silent is to withdraw like a pouty kid: “Fine, if you’re going to be absent and silent, so am I. There! See how you like it.” We stew in the corner with our arms crossed, cutting off all communication.
Our feelings are seldom reality. We can feel like God is ignoring us when the reality is, He’s hanging on every word. We can feel like God is distant, even when the reality is, He’s right by our side. We can feel like our prayers are bouncing off the ceiling when the reality is, every prayer is being ushered into the Throne Room of God.
So, even though it may seem that God doesn’t hear, and He doesn’t care, keep on pleading. Talking it out is helpful and healthy for our own souls. And we never know when one of those prayers is going to squeeze through a crack in the ceiling.
Continue through the darkness
God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.James 1:12
You don’t suddenly “snap out of” the dark night. You endure it. You can’t go around it. You have to go through it. Deep Christian spirituality that endures is not found in quick fixes, emotional highs, and consolation, but in perseverance, patience, and humility. The joy, strength, and maturity we find when we have come out of the “dark night” are only possible because we have endured it. The mountain-top is only possible because of the valley. It is in the valley, the winter, and the darkness that God does His greatest work in us.
“If you’re going through hell… keep going.”Winston Churchill
Don’t give up! Don’t give in! Blessing awaits you on the other side.