Part 22: Dark Nights: How To Tell You Are On Your Way Out


Dark Nights: How To Tell You Are On Your Way Out

This is article is part of a series of letters on spiritual growth and maturity. To read the previous letter in the series, click here.


“For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, Now I will arise,” says the Lord ; “I will set him in the safety for which he yearns.” Psalm 12:5

“God enlightens the soul, making it see not only its own misery and meanness, as I have said, but also His grandeur and majesty.” John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul, 16th century

“And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13

"God leaves us to fall into arrogance and other passions so that we might acknowledge our infirmity and acknowledge where we are. In His goodness He leaves us, for our benefit, so that we might lay our trust and hope in Him, and not in our-selves.” Barsanuphius of Gaza, Letters, 6th century

Dichotomy of Dark nights

There exists a perceived dichotomy between the purity required to walk in the deep things of God and the brokenness it takes to come to God. It seems illogical to the human mind to state that there is a requirement of holiness and perfection, yet the path to that ideal is through coming to grips with the depth of your need.

The difficulty arises when we think the requirement is one that we can fulfill. God comes to us in our brokenness to work perfection in us. He does not require us to find perfection, he requires us to realize just how little of it we have grasped. So he says, as in Psalm 12:5, that he will come to those with the most need and those that are the most oppressed. A significant clue to coming out of dark night seasons is found in the first beatitude,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)”

Notice that Jesus does not say “Blessed are the poor in material possessions,” but rather, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”  It is not about coming to a place of physical poverty but recognizing just how much you lack.

David clued into this when he wrote Psalm 23. 

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.” 

How do we come to the place where we have no wants? We must recognize that God alone is our source of life. The backside of the dark nights of your life is the realization that you are utterly helpless apart form him. Dark nights do not leave you feeling particularly strong, rather, they make you incredibly aware of your own weakness. We assume that God comes to those who are good, pure, and holy. But scripture continues to state that God comes to the poorest, humblest, and neediest ones.

As you come out of these dark seasons of struggle there is a heightened awareness of your own brokenness. Some mistakenly assume that dark nights perfect them and thus, remove their faults. Yes, dark nights perfect you, but not in the sense that you no longer have any faults.  They perfect you in the sense that you become increasingly aware of your own brokenness.  Paul, after crying out to the Lord on three separate occasions, is told in 2 Corinthians 12:9,

“My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”  

He had just gone through a significant period of revelation (he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words), and was baptized into a dark night of spiritual struggle (a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan visited him). In the midst of this spiritual struggle, he has a deeply profound realization. It is in the recognition of total weakness that God’s strength and grace is on full display.

As the presence of the Lord begins to visit in increasing ways; there is an intimacy shared that has been the ache in the heart of the individual. There is a longing that is being fulfilled. This increased sense of brokenness means that there is almost an incredulous response to the presence of God. The overwhelming thought being, “God, I am so broken, yet you still love me and accept me.” One of the significant indications that you are coming out of these seasons is the longing that has been deep within for spiritual intimacy is finally sated.

“My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You, In a dry and thirsty land where there is no water. (Psalm 63:1b)”

In the midst of the deep hunger driven by the dryness of dark seasons, the Lord begins to visit you once again.

I recall a moment when the grace of God’s kindness dawned on me regarding dark nights. I was teaching a small group about walking through the dark night of the soul.  Unbeknownst to the group, I had been going through a two year drought, and had been struggling with God. At one point, I had not felt the touch of God’s heart for a six month period. I was desperate for God, yet felt so distant from him. As the Lord began visiting me again, drawing me out of the season I had been in, his voice resounded more clearly, my heart was moved and I wept before him far more often. I was stunned that he would visit me, and that he loved me. How could he? I was so consciously aware of my faults: my pride, defensiveness, anger, etc… How could he love one such as I?

At such times a person will consider with humble heart that of himself he has nothing and will say with patience and self-resignation these words of holy Job: ‘God gave and God has taken away. As the Lord judged best, so has it come to pass. Blessed by the name of the Lord.’
— John of Ruusbroec, Spiritual Espousals, 14th century

The revelation of his care in the midst of my inability to walk in the way of holiness completely undid me. As I was in this gathering, teaching these students, the revelation of that care hit me.  He baptized me in these seasons not to perfect me (in the way I assumed perfection looked), but to show me that he loves me in the midst of all my faults. And by making me more aware of my inner world, I was better prepared to hear his voice, because I could recognize all the competing voices within my own heart.  In recognizing them, I could now tune them out. I was able to turn down the dial of my own heart, and turn up the dial of his.

This revelation made the journey worth the reward. In the midst of dark night seasons it seems like nothing will ever change and there is little hope, but I assure you, on the flip side, it is worth it.

The Fruit of the Struggle

Perseverance in Prayer
One of the initial benefits of moving through arid seasons is that it develops deep within the heart that steadfastness necessary to continue to pursue God in the midst of any trial. These seasons prepare the heart to be the “good soil” for the word of God.  Dark seasons work softness in the heart towards his presence, and consistency in the spiritual life.

As these seasons reveal the depth of depravity within the heart, they also confer upon the individual the grace to resist the emotional rush of fulfilled lust, pride, anger, or the carnal attraction of sexuality and greed. Previous to these seasons our ability to resist hinges upon our own strength, and we make more excuses than effort. The dark night works within the individual a delight and fondness for the sweet things of God. Those who come out of these seasons find themselves less willing to engage the sinful habits of previous years.

Awareness of Your Shortcomings
Prior to these seasons you may think that you can accomplish great things in and of yourself. After walking through a dark night of struggle you will find yourself more aware of your shortcomings and inabilities. Additionally, you find yourself oddly comforted by the knowledge that you cannot accomplish great things on your own.

Aversion to Sin
The things that previously attracted you will begin to revolt you. A plumb line of righteousness is established within these seasons that allows you to weigh actions against what it will sow in the heart. Every decision is considered before acted upon.  The ability to make righteous choices increases.

Quick Repentance
Repentance becomes a sweet salve to the soul. If habitual sin is acted upon there is quick repentance. There is a fear and trepidation about losing the now nearness of the presence of the Lord. Careful consideration is taken regarding what will welcome the holiness of God, and what will negate his presence. Those actions that would negate his presence become less and less desirable as time goes on.

Willingness to Suffer
You begin to recognize that suffering is not what it once seemed. In suffering there is a sharing with the suffering of Christ. There comes a revelation of the heart of God that helps unite our heart with his heart. Suffering loses its aversion. Sure, there may still be a hesitancy to suffering, but a new found respect for what suffering can work within is discovered.

Passion for Righteousness
The things of God and the heavenly life are more and more attractive. While there is an aversion to those things that are not in agreement with the presence of God, there is a greater attraction to the virtues of the spiritual life. A greater fondness for humility, mercy, giving, etc… Suddenly the insults of others for practicing the life of Christ seem to matter less and less.

Knowledge of Self
A more thorough knowledge of the source of your wounds, trauma, passions, and desires permeates your inner life. God has taught you about you. And in teaching you about you, you come to know about God. Without some semblance of knowledge of self it will be very difficult to know God. Simply put, without knowing yourself, you confuse who God is with who you are. Your anger and indignation, are not his anger and indignation. Where you are quick to anger, you see his mercy and compassion and recognize that his heart is very different than your own.

Peace of Heart
There is a greater resting in the inner life, an interior leaning upon God. Much like the Shulamite bride: “Who is this coming up from the wilderness, Leaning upon her beloved?” (Song of Solomon 8:5) The inner life has been trained upon God. Over the course of your time in this dryness, you have been constantly forced to commit your thought life to him.  As the presence of God floods back into the wells of your life, there is a greater sense of his peace and the knowledge that in his care for you, he will continue to mold you in his image.

The Character of the Heart

As you come out of these seasons there is an increased fondness and love for those around you. The backside of the dark night is what Jesus referred to when he said,

“First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:5)"

All of a sudden, when you are more intimately aware of your own faults, the faults of others matter much less.

The humility that these nights work in your heart teach you to care for others. You are shown the principle that “Love covers a multitude of sins.” This could not be more real to you, as God has just consistently practiced this right before your eyes. He has loved you in the midst of your sin, and you are fully aware of it. There is born within the desire not to harm the loving heart of your Heavenly Father. After all, how could you hurt one who has loved you so tenderly?

Story after story abounds throughout Christian history of men and women who loved people out of sin. They chose not to expose, but rather to love and cover. These two actions are so profoundly different than what we are taught culturally, and what exists within the heart of man intrinsically. Our default is to judge others as less than ourselves. And it takes seasons of our lives such as these arid ones in order to break that tendency within us. Humans are far better at destroying relationships than creating them. Humility works within you the knowledge that the pain inflicted upon you by another is merely a wound reflected in their heart. Those that have hurt you become those that you are inspired to love and care for in an even greater way, because you know the source of the pain they have caused you is merely a pain they were subject to earlier in life.

Arid seasons teach you perfection not in that you will be perfect, but that God is perfect, and he is enough for you. The final outworking of the dark nights you walk through is an increased trust in God. Without trust in God it is impossible to please him. As we see the entire process play out, his hand guiding us, upholding us, molding us, our faith, trust, and confidence in him increases. Previous seasons saw our faith, trust, and confidence in ourselves, but God has wrestled control away from us. He has the remote control of your heart. He alone can tug the strings. And when he plays your music, there is a fragrant romance that fills the rooms of your heart. The dark night of your personal struggle will change everything about you. It will try you, it will test you, it will break you. But oh, is it oh so worth it.

"And so, brother, hate perfectly so as to love perfectly. Depart completely, so as to draw near completely. Disdain one kind of adoption, in order to receive another adoption. Cease to fulfill desires, and you will fulfill desire. Wound yourself, and treat yourself. Mortify yourself, and bring yourself to life. Forget yourself, and know yourself. And you will have the works of a monk." Barsanuphius of Gaza, Letters, 6th century

Continue Reading Part 23…