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A Cry In the Desert: Out of the Dark Night and Into the Light

December 17, AD 2012 9 Comments

I am a woman under siege.  Lately, for reasons not entirely known to me, I’ve constantly fallen into despair about my worth, my talents, and my virtues.  Several times a week I inexplicably find myself in tears, hopelessly unable to believe that I’m beautiful and dignified simply because I am made in His image, that I’m not too lazy at home and at my job, and most significantly, that I’m worthy of my husband’s love and forgiveness.

Is it that these spiritual onslaughts are because of my loving marriage?  Is it my efforts working with the youth of my parish?  Is it that my husband and I are on the cusp of major changes, involving more school, moving, and starting a family soon?

darkness, light, Avett Brothers lyrics, Head Full of Doubt

This is not to say that I think I’m completely awesome when I’m not feeling burdened this way, bursting with talent and perfect in virtue; far from it, in fact.  What I’ve become so aware of in recent years, though, is that anytime you’re doing God’s will, in discernment and in action, the evil one will pursue you in any way he can.  I felt it during the year I spent as a pro-life and chastity speaker, during my engagement as I tried, and often failed, to be pure of heart, and during a period of unemployment.

Have you felt this way, too?  Have you felt the same sorts of spiritual attacks as you feel like the least valuable, least perfect among your friends and family, asking the Lord again and again to show you your worth?  It’s that constant question of “What do I possibly have to offer the people in my life, when they all seem so much better than me?”

As young adults, we’re faced with so many unknowns and can easily have the sense that our lives haven’t really “started” yet: there are questions of what will unfold when school is over, where we’ll live and work, what our vocation is, and ultimately, how to be holy.  Sometimes, in seeking these answers, the pursuit of holiness can feel like nothing less than a battle.  That’s because it is.  Spiritual warfare is real.

I’m not revealing my struggles out of martyrdom, not to garner praise or invite pity, though I’d certainly welcome prayers.  I share them so I can share something else with you, too: hope.

A few months ago, on Halloween night, I attended a talk on this exact subject, spiritual warfare.  There was talk of temptation, talk of clinging to Our Lady, and talk of the incredibly real existence of evil.  What I absorbed surprised me.

St. John of the Cross, explained the monk who spoke, wrote about periods of spiritual dryness so intense that it feels impossible to believe God is present.  Though this notion is discussed in St. John’s Dark Night of the Soul, it’s ultimately all about the light.  When you feel like the Lord is so absent, said  the monk, He is actually more present than ever.  Think, he said, of when you’re looking into the sun.  Its light is shining so intensely that you can’t even sense it; all you are is blind.

It’s brought me such consolation and fortitude to meditate on the fact that the Lord loves in this way; He is always present, and most present, when we can’t even sense Him.  We’re conformed to Christ through our baptism, so doesn’t it make sense that we experience, to an extent, everything He did, for good or for bad?  This includes His temptations in the desert–temptations to weakness, temptations to self-doubt.

Even as weak as I’ve felt lately, and among my frequent awareness of spiritual attack, this season of Advent has me looking at things through a lens of anticipation and waiting in hope.  Jesus’ birth restores our hope, and here in these last days of Advent, we’re out in the desert in a different way.  We’re crying out; preparing the way.

My husband is such a living sanctuary of the Father’s love as I struggle.  He reminds me, as we heard in the talk, that planting myself firmly between the pillars of the Eucharist and Our Lady is spiritual armor and a wellspring of hope.  Constantly, he implores me to be gentle with myself, and as hard as it often is, I know that doing so is one of the greatest ways of rejecting evil.

We need to give ourselves permission, I think, to feel the aches of purification and to be vulnerable.  It’s okay, and it’s redeemed by the one who comes to us as a baby, ever so humbly.


About the Author:

Born a hop, skip, and jump from the Chesapeake Bay, Stephanie now resides in Appalachia, thanks to love. Her sweet husband Andrew teaches English there. She delights in bike rides, good books, puddle jumping, The Avett Brothers, hammocks, avocados, and the notes Andrew sneaks under her pillow. She is thirsty. Knowing so many others are, too, she spent a missionary year with Generation Life speaking to students about human dignity and authentic love. Her passion is telling young women they possess immense worth and that pure, sacrificial love is real; she thinks a truthful understanding of sex and love is medicine for an aching culture. Upon noticing there were few resources for Catholic brides-to-be, Stephanie decided to make a humble attempt at filling the void. Her blog,Captive the Heart, is a collection of wedding ideas, spiritual reflections, inspired dates, and general ways to plan a sacred, stylish celebration and a holy marriage.

  • Leslie

    Oh my goodness — thank you for this. You have no idea how very much your words have helped me.

  • I LOVE this, thank you so much for sharing and shining the light of hope =)

  • Maureen

    Thank you for sharing. It is nice to know I am not alone in experiencing these struggles.

  • Sister

    I have been having feelings similar to this lately. Questioning the good I am actually doing in my vocation, or rather “What good am I doing in this vocation?”, etc. You ask, “Do you ever ask the Lord to show you your worth?” But I ask, Do you ever feel as if you are violating humility in asking the Lord this question? I know I do. I don’t know why I have been feelings so far from the Lord lately, but I can relate to everything you wrote, so I thank you for that. It almost seems as if my constant strenuous effort to focus on the Advent season took some of the simplicity away from it, resulting in the opposite of what I wanted to happen. :/ Let us keep one another in prayer. I had been struggling with something similar to this a few years ago and
    I read a quote of St. Francis DeSales that helped me a lot.

    “…those interior troubles you have suffered have been caused by an intense eagerness to attain some imaginary perfection. Those who aspire to the pure love of God have not so much need of patience with others as with themselves.” We make these preparations for perfection that cannot be attained here on earth, and then we get upset when we don’t reach our goals. The desire to reach this perfection in a day would “torment us for nothing.” “Our imperfection must accompany us to the grave. For we are chicks and have not yet our wings. … Let us practice certain little virtues proper to our littleness. Let us have a firm and general intention of serving God with all our life and all our heart.”

    Let us keep one another in prayer these last days of advent, that Christ may find our hearts a worthy dwelling place for his love.

    • Thanks so much for reading, Sister! You raise an interesting point about humility. I suppose what I mean when I say I beg the Lord to show me my worth is that I have lost not an elevated, entitled, prideful sense of self, but a most basic sense of not feeling at all good, prayerful, or virtuous. I do think that knowing who we are before God, as a man or woman created in His image and likeness, is the sole sense of our dignity and worth and can make all the difference in one feeling at peace. You’re absolutely right, though, that it’s important to stay humble. Be assured of my prayers, and have a wonderful Christmas =)

  • mary e.

    Once again, so beautiful! I have a strong devotion to Saint Therese and she too went through an intense period of spiritual darkness. She couldn’t even pray at a certain point, but she too looked to Our Lady as someone who was faithful to the end and that was a great consolation. Like you said, God loves intensely despite the fact that we can’t feel it sometimes. You and your husband are in my prayers, for sure!

    • I love Therese, too, but have never heard about this particular way she loved Our Lady–beautiful! Thanks for reading, Mary!