• Things to Say to Someone Who Is Suffering

    I’m so sorry you’re going through this.

    It makes me sad/angry to see what you’re going through. You deserve better.

    It won’t always be like this.

    It’s OK to be broken sometimes.

    Not everyone could handle this with as much grace/bravery/whatever as you.

    Sometimes all you can do is get through the day and that’s enough.

    I know it’s overwhelming right now, but I believe in you.

    Tell me how bad it really is.

    What do you wish someone would say to you right now?

    Can I pray for/over you?

    Obviously, use discretion, but these are all things that you can say to someone going through the worst life has to offer. When dealing with someone in that position, resist the urge to try to convince them things aren’t so bad, to look at them more positively or to practice gratitude. Sometimes life really is that bad and your efforts to convince them otherwise will only highlight how hopeless they feel and make them feel even more isolated by their pain. Pep talks and positive thinking have their place, but in a society where everyone’s supposed to be happy all the time, it’s a gift to demonstrate loving acceptance of someone’s pain.

    If you want to lift their spirits, distraction is your best bet. Crack jokes, tell a funny story, let them reminisce about better times or share a bit of harmless gossip.

    For more ideas on how to be there for someone going through a terrible time, check out my post What To Do When Someone Starts Crying In Front of You.

  • I See Rich People. They Talk to Me. . .

    The mouse on my computer broke. So now I’m back to writing on my kindle. Which is a marvelous bit of technology, but it has all sorts of quirks which can easily double the time it takes for me to do a post. And the spacebar for the keyboard is gimpy. But since I don’t even have money to replace the mouse, I’ll just have to limp along the best I can.

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately that when I finally break free of all these obstacles, I’ll astound everyone. It’s like I’ve been trying to play the game wearing weights. If I could just get free and have a fully functioning computer, a good internet connection and a few hours a day without children, well, you just won’t believe what I can do.

    As I was contemplating the rather unpleasant task of writing on my kindle (something I did exclusively for at least six months), it occurred to me that this is why we hear so much more from rich people than anyone else. If you’re rich, you can grab a few hours which you would otherwise have spent playing Sugar Crush and write something thoughtful on your nice computer without any real delays or impediments. Or maybe you’re more of a take my Macbook to Starbucks to write sort of writer.

    But when you’re not rich, you have to type out the word six because the six key doesn’t work any more. And putting in a hyperlink requires the sort of planning skills normally reserved for major military operations. It’s like driving one of those cars that you have to roll down the window to open the door. Everything’s just much more work when you don’t have access to resources.

    And having crappy, unreliable technology is a first world problem. Imagine what it took for those women in Nigeria to get the world’s attention when their girls were taken! It’s really no mystery as to why people who are powerful and influential are usually white American men. It’s not that every white American man has resources. It’s just that nearly everyone who has resources is a white American man. Having resources removes so many obstacles that what is impossible for other people is possible for them. And that is a big part of our problem.

    Having resources doesn’t necessarily make the path to sucess a clear and easy one. You still have to work harder and be smarter and overcome more than everyone else in order to acheive great things. I mean, Paris Hilton’s family says she works very hard and I believe them. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if she puts in sixty hour work weeks. The thing is that my husband has put in sixty hour work weeks pretty routinely for nearly 20 years. And we can’t even afford to buy a mouse.

    (The first person to ask why I don’t get a job wins the chance to find me a job with hours that work for our family, arrange the care of our kids by someone who is able to provide high caliber, on demand tutoring, counseling, and training in the ways of the world customized to each child’s needs, obtain transportation, clothing, housekeeping, cooking and taxi services to make that all happen. Good luck. Let me know when you get that all worked out.)

    Aside from being bullshit, the connection between who has the existing resources and who gets seen and heard and rewarded is more sinister than we realize. You know the proverbial “they” we always hear about? The ones who tell us what other people think of us and what’s normal and what’s a problem and what’s expected of us and what failure looks like? Sometimes people will joke and say, “who is this ‘they’ you keep talking about?” Well, the answer to that is simple. Continue reading

  • Churches Don’t Like You When You’re Suffering

    Now, I’m not sure if I agree with what this person thinks that the church should be doing for people. I’m actually kind of a fan of doctors, safety nets and mental health services. But this really does capture the way the church deals with the suffering.

    I haven’t been involved in a church for a few years for a number of reasons. But probably the biggest obstacle for me was that I dread what happens once I can’t hide just how screwed up my life is. Just the thought of having to deal with the church’s reaction to suffering is exhausting.

    All of the “well why don’t you just go get help so you can get yourself fixed” questions that feel like accusations. The way that if I try to explain that I’m already doing what I can, I’ll just get bombarded with more suggestions and challenges and more questions about why I haven’t gotten myself fixed yet. Contrary to what people seem to think, I don’t really need an extra voice telling me that the reason my life is a mess because I’m screwing it up. If fixing my life were easy enough for you to find the solution off the top of your head, it would be fixed by now. Don’t you think?

    Churches tend to do pretty OK with an immediate, specific need or crisis. If you need meals made after the baby comes or while someone is hospitalized. If you need help moving. If you’re a single mom and your house needs paint. Things like that many churches do well. But if the problem is long term, perhaps permanent, churches tend to be bad places to be. There are only so many times you can call about your piece of crap car on the side of the road again. There are only so many times you can explain the details of your budget and why you don’t qualify for certain government programs.

    Usually what people really need is a $20,000 cash infusion. Or if that’s not possible, just a supportive shoulder to cry on now and again will do. But churches are really bad at that. If you are bold enough to make your need known, you may find a kind soul willing to listen. But the burden is on you to keep seeking out that kind shoulder when you need it. Which gets really wearing. And it just highlights the extent to which the relationship is not between equals. The person who is listening to you cry is not going to call you when they have a problem. They aren’t going to miss you if you don’t reach out to them. It’s like starvation rations for a relationship starved suffering person. It may be enough to keep you from dying outright, but it’s not nearly enough to help you recover. Continue reading

  • New Age Stuff Drives Me Nuts

    Since the 80s at least, brave Christians have been noticing that there is some syncronicity between the mystical practices and teachings of Christianity and New Age theories. Being a fairly adventurous sort of mystically inclined Christian, I understand the allure. But in the end, I would strongly warn people against delving in too deep.

    Many Christians warn against New Age teaching primarily because getting involved with New Age teachings is so frequently associated with leaving Christianity altogether or morphing it into some sort of strange hybrid. I very intentionally made a commitment to remaining an orthodox Christian (the historical version of orthodox, not any of these new fangled post-Constantine versions these kids these days are into) before delving into any New Age materials. Which I’m glad I did because some of it is just right there on the split edge of truth. It’s very easy to see why people who start down that path so often follow it. But I just kept coming back to the fact that at its core is a very shaming message. 

    At the core of New Age teaching are a lot of ideas which are really shaming to people who are struggling. No matter how gently they try to put it, the basic message is that there is something at the root of your suffering which must be addressed or corrected before you can reach enlightenment and end your suffering. I think even Christians like Richard Rohr get caught in this idea of the root of our suffering being about what we need to fix. 

    I know it’s meant to be empowering and hopeful, but when you’re six feet under and ready to die from pain, being told that your ego is at the root of all your suffering is not helpful. I mean, go tell that to the little girl who just got sold into slavery. Or the woman who did it. I call bullshit. 

    Then there’s the “name it and claim it” theology of The Secret. I also have a hard time with any practice which requires you to spend money on crystals and oils and classes. That chakra balancing Thai Yoga massage would probably do wonders for me, but not at $80 a pop.

    New Age teachings very consistently fail to serve the needs of those who are poor, oppressed and suffering. Which means that they are not and cannot be the road to humanity’s freedom and enlightenment.

    Among New Agers, what may need fixing is your ego or false self or energy balance or whatever. And none of it may be bad in and of itself. I’ve been thinking I have a blocked throat chakra for a while myself. But for a desperate person to be told “here are the answers” only to discover that the answer is “it’s all your fault for doing it wrong” is cruel. It’s no different than what Job’s friends did to him, except there’s a marketing arm involved. 

    I think Christianity is the only faith which offers a real answer to people who are suffering. It basically tells the suffering person that  Continue reading

  • When the Cost is Too High

    I knew a Christian man who had an employee who did something dumb and illegal without his knowledge. She was caught and arrested at his place of business. The woman had small children at home, a drug addicted ex and her kids would end up in foster care if she went to jail. He had seen what can happen to kids in foster care up close and was sick at the thought of them going through that because of something foolish their mother did. So he prayed over it and decided to take the fall for her. He told the police that the crime was his doing. He plead guilty to an offense he did not commit for the sake of her and her children.

    Guess what happened next? Well, I met the woman involved and she had stayed out of legal trouble and was grateful for what this man had done for her. So that was good. And he got involved in a ministry helping people coming out of prison put themselves on the straight an narrow. Which was good. But really, the decision to do something heroic for someone else destroyed this man’s life.

    He lost his business, of course. His reputation was trash. Twice he was run out of towns where he tried to restart his business after people found out about his criminal record. He had a hard time even getting employees because all it took was a google search to turn up his past. People would leave reviews for his business online warning others to stay away from this sick criminal, complete with links to the state’s database of criminal records. A couple of individuals took it upon themselves to stalk and harass him to the point of having to get the police involved.

    He told me privately that if he had it to do all over again, he wouldn’t have protected his employee. The price had been unbearably high and had negatively affected many other people he cared about. He took some comfort in helping others, but the truth was that all the good which had come out of his action benefited others at his expense. Perhaps there was a great reward for him in the afterlife, but he had to get through the rest of this life first.

    This man’s story is pretty extreme, but it illustrates an uncomfortable fact about following Jesus and/or going above and beyond to do the right thing. You see, we all want to think that when we stick our necks out to do something good, the heavens should break open for us and blessings, rewards and praise should shower down upon us. But the truth is that it’s more likely that the world will crush you instead. Continue reading

  • All About Pain: The Toughness Fallacy

    I don’t know what the weather is like where you are, but it’s cold, rainy and windy here by me so I’ll use that as my excuse for being a Debbie Downer here. Cuz we’re going to talk about pain today. Then again, if you are the sort of person who only wants to read about unicorns making skittles droppings, you probably aren’t reading my blog. So just another day here in The Upside Down World.

    It seems to me that when Christians talk about pain they talk about it either very existentially, “why does God allow suffering?”, or we talk about it very personally, “let me tell you my story about being in pain”. We start from the assumption that pain is a valid, important topic, but even our most sincere efforts to address pain from either an existential or personal perspective tend to fall short. When they do, we almost always turn to attempting to minimize or dismiss other people’s pain. And let’s not even talk about the nonsense that comes out of our mouths when we try to moralize about pain or the behavior of people in pain!

    In order to do better, we need a better understanding of what pain is, how it works, why it matters. Which includes getting rid of several dangerous misconceptions about pain. Even people who are personally familiar with suffering tend to believe a lot of false, unhelpful things about pain. Nearly all of us internalize our culture’s prejudices, erroneous assumption and ignorance about suffering and when life goes south, these internalized ideas just make things worse.

    Obviously, this is a subject which could be a book, but you’ll just have to make do with a few blog posts. And I’m not even going to put them in the right order, so nya!

    Anyhow, I wanted to start today by addressing probably the most common misconception about pain. That is once you’ve been in serious pain, additional pain will not affect you as much. You will have gotten used to it. Continue reading

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    When Complaining Is Ministry

    OMGeeee guys! This is going to sound crazy, but I think it would take me the rest of my life to explain what I’ve learned in the last week. None of you would still be reading by the time I got done explaining it all, of course. I get really geeked over weird things.

    I’m having one of those times where all of a sudden, everything starts to make sense and a path forward is becoming clear. And I’m super excited about it. You’d have to know me personally to understand this, but I never get super excited about anything.

    I’m one of those people who you should only bring your ideas, plans and dreams to if you’re looking for a solid critique of them. Otherwise I’ll probably give you a seemingly unenthusiastic word of support. Not that I won’t support you, just that I’ll be using all of my self-control biting my tongue because I know you need my support and not my advice. It’s hard to show how enthusiastic you are while biting your tongue.

    Strangely enough, this is a trait my husband doesn’t always find endearing in me. He’s told me that he wants to be rich enough to create his own echo chamber so he’ll never have to hear anyone disagree with or criticize his ideas again. I keep trying to tell him what a bad idea that is, but some people just have to learn things the hard way, I guess. So I’m not saying anything about it anymore.

    Personally, I dislike learning things the hard way. I’d much rather have other people learn things the hard way for me. Of course, there are those things you just have to learn for yourself. Once you get past wisdom like, “don’t take your duelie* out on the ice when it’s only been below freezing for a week” and “rich people spend all their time working so their children and grandchildren can grow up to be stunted, damaged people”, most people have no idea what they are talking about. So often, you have no choice but to make your own mistakes and figure out your own lessons for yourself.

    I certainly looked for a way out of having to learn things the hard way. And I’ve learned a great deal in the process. But I finally had to accept that there is no one out ahead of me who could give me some answer, some word of wisdom or practices or set of rules to follow that would make everything alright. It’s not just that I’m so wise and out ahead of everyone else, spiritually speaking. (Although that does play its part, of course. I should be catching up to the kids with Down’s Syndrome in another 20 years or so.) It’s also that in the end, some things are like death. Or labor. They have to be experienced to be understood.

    I’m hardly the first person to figure out that there’s  no answer anyone can give that will end my suffering, of course. But I think I might be more willing to shamelessly complain on the way than most. If you’re a jerk, that makes me a complainer. If you’re a kind, wonderful human being such as my readers are, that makes me brave and vulnerable. Which I’m always a bit amused to hear people say about me. I only share things that don’t make me feel vulnerable and don’t make other people look bad. If what I share sounds brave and vulnerable, that’s just a sign that not enough people are being honest. Because, trust me, it gets much worse than what I’ve shared here.

    We’re always told not to complain, but I think it can be helpful to keep a few complainers around. Have you read the bible at all? Complaining is biblical, people**! The complaining is one of the reasons I keep returning to the bible. Often the promises and praises sound like taunts and betrayals, but the complaining? That’s real life, peeps.

    One of the unique and valuable characteristics about the bible is the lack of sugar coating. The writers were honest about how much pain they were in. They were melodramatic and intense and blunt. And because they were so open about their pain, I knew that my pain wasn’t a sign that I had unwittingly gone astray. Being in that much pain didn’t mean God had abandoned me or wasn’t real. Sometimes people who follow God walk through terrible suffering. I know it because my bible tells me so.

    Hell, I know it because of the cross. When Jesus suffered, there was no buffer between him and the rest of the world. He didn’t get to retreat to his bedroom or into loving arms as he suffered. He suffered in front of us. He lost all control over his story. He fell in real time in front of crowds. He felt pain beyond what he could be stoic enough to bear in front of his mother and brother. Every cry, every yelp, every inch of skin and bodily function was there for the crowds to see.

    Me? I do my suffering in private and then sift through the details and decide what I’m comfortable sharing. I might look brave, but that’s only because we’re all really scared. Jesus was vulnerable. I’m just less beholden to shame than most of y’all. But no matter what the world would have you believe, there’s no shame in suffering. Jesus did it after all.

    Maybe one day we’ll know how to become wise and live in union with God without walking through all the pain and suffering. After all, there are videos on YouTube of women having orgasms while giving birth. Mr. Rodgers was so happy when he was told he was going to die that his family requested that he at least pretend to be upset that he was dying. Jesus is now worshipped  as King. There’s hope for us yet. We are teachable, after all.

    This is probably one of those things you have to experience to really understand, but I do have one little thing to share with others who are in the process of learning things the hard way. It helped me to hear it when all hope was gone, so even if it’s a bit premature, I’d like to add my voice to the great cloud of witnesses who have said it before: trust God. Even when he seems utterly untrustworthy or like a figment of your imagination. Faith is believing what you cannot yet see, after all. Just a teeny, tiny bit of faith will get you through the darkest night. And if you can complain a little on the way, call it a ministry. ;)

    *For those of you who don’t live someplace where people drive on ice, a duelie is a truck with four back tires. Also called a big bootie or fat ass truck. You’re not allowed to take them through automatic car washes. Every year up here in the Northern Tundra, some dude with a duelie drives out on the ice before it’s thick enough and puts his truck through the ice. And every year, that year’s genius is interviewed on the local news. Inevitably he informs the rest of us that the local officials warning everyone to stay off the ice might be on to something. Because who knew, right?

    **Complaining can be a problem. If you complain about something every day, you are complaining too much. Save complaining for important things like intense suffering and itching, not petty stuff like broken bones and bad traffic, k?

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    People Are People

    This week we’ve been looking at common reasons that God doesn’t answer our prayers. Today we’ll look at the problem of people. As in other people. When people refuse to cooperate, refuse to change or follow God’s leading, prayers tend to go unanswered.

    Sometimes it can be a matter of people who God would have serve as answers to your prayers not taking up the call. Other times it may well be people who are behaving in ways which are harmful and hurtful and you’re praying for God to change them. Yet they just keep doing what they are doing.

    At this point, I could get into a long discussion about free will. But for the moment I’m going to leave that for another day. Instead, for the sake of this discussion, I’m going to work from the assumption that we each make our own choices. Further, let’s posit that God’s interference with each person’s free choices is generally limited to allowing the negative consequences of them to become so unbearable that they may eventually change their ways.

    So, when the answers to our prayers require another person to do something or change something and they don’t do it, our prayers will go unanswered. Even when providing an answer to our prayers would be God’s desire.

    This begs a question. When it would be God’s desire for our prayers to be answered, why would God allow people’s exercise of free will to interfere with that desire? Why doesn’t God just temporarily short-circuit people’s free will to obtain the desired end? Or why doesn’t he do like he did with the apostle Paul and basically hold them hostage while he gets them all straightened out?

    The issue, it seems to me, is that it is God’s intention that we take care of each other. That we be looking out for each other’s needs. And that we be seeking each other’s best interests. But that requires us to have a certain level of maturity. And in order to gain that maturity, we need to grow up and decide on our own to do right by each other. It’s not something that can be done for us.

    If God is always stepping in and pulling Jedi mind tricks to use people to answer prayers, humanity will never grow up. He’d be no different than the parent who picks up their kid’s messes, does their homework and otherwise enables them to remain immature and irresponsible. Yes, it creates an easier and more pleasant experience for the kids. But it’s stunting.

    There is so much unneeded suffering in the world. It can be a hard pill to swallow to that God isn’t going to step in and fix it or force other people to fix it. instead, like all parents sometimes have to, he’s going to let us fall and fail until we’re finally willing to take responsibility for the mess we have made. Look at the pain we’ve caused. And get to work, with his support, in fixing the wreck we’ve created. And until we human beings get to the point of being willing to do that, there’s going to be a lot of unanswered prayers.

    Which is all well and fine on a theoretical, big-picture scale. But maybe not much help when faced with our own unanswered prayers. Or someone who is causing us to suffer and refuses to change. When we’re in this position, there are two truths to hold onto.

    The first is that God will not allow anything to happen which cannot be redeemed. This is quite different than saying he won’t give us more than we can handle. I’ve certainly had more than I can handle come my way in life! Rather it’s saying that if it’s happening, I can trust that eventually it will be redeemed. God will bring good out of it, even if it’s awful and not his will for you. And the good will be greater than the evil and suffering you’ve had to endure.

    The second is that if we want to live in a world with fewer unanswered prayers, then we must be the sort of people who are answers to prayers ourselves. We must be more aware of and attuned to the needs of people around us. We must be more willing to make some sacrifices for other’s sake. We must be more determined to live and act out of love instead of indulging our anger, self-righteousness, selfishness and fear. The world cannot change if we do not change first.

    I could probably keep this series on reasons for unanswered prayers going for several more weeks. But for now, I’m going to end it tomorrow with a post on what I think is the most important and unrecognized reason for answered prayers. It’s a good one that you may never have heard before, so be sure to check back tomorrow!

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    How the Dark Night of the Soul Is Like a Juice Cleanse

    Recently one of my friends on facebook did a 10 day juice cleanse. Now, I’m always a bit sceptical about this whole concept of a cleanse because I want to believe that I can eat all the chemical food I want, in moderation and be just fine. Plus I’m really, really bad at fasting so it  must be unnecessary and probably bad for you, right? But I know a lot of people swear by them.

    Anyways, while doing the cleanse my friend felt pretty crappy for a while. First she was achy and tired like she had the flu. Then she had such awful sinus congestion that she thought she might have developed a sinus infection. And she lost her voice. By the end of the 10 ten days though she said she felt fit as a fiddle and was glad that she had persevered through the whole thing.

    The reason she felt so awful during the first week of her cleanse, the theory goes, was because during this time her body was releasing all of the toxins which had accumulated over the decades. While the whole cleanse concept seems a bit dubious to me, this rang true. Because it’s exactly what I and many others who have or are walking through the dark night of the soul have experienced – spiritually anyways. In fact, following along with her cleanse induced suffering and redemption made me think this was a pretty darn good way of understanding the dark night of the soul experience.

    The dark night of the soul is a phrase coined by John of the Cross who wrote a poem by that name and a book explaining it back in the 16th century in Spain after experiencing it himself. Today the phrase gets tossed around a lot to describe almost any particularly difficult spiritual phase – particularly one which involves spiritual dryness or a sense of separation from God. According to John, there are actually two dark night experiences which some Christians may experience.

    The first is the dark night of the senses. During this experience, any sensual experience of God is removed from the person. That “Spirit raining down/God moved/presence” experience which many of us have during worship, prayer or particularly profound moments just disappears. And it takes comfort, peace and security with it. (I wrote about this experience here.) This is very confusing for many people because no matter what you try – more prayer, worship, fasting, service, confession, spending time in nature, meditation, fellowship, etc – it doesn’t help the person going through it to re-connect with any sense of God’s presence or Spirit moving.

    The dark night of the senses is a weaning process which prevents a person from being dependent on and greedy for spiritual experiences which bring pleasure and comfort. This happens so that we can learn to receive and experience God more directly. When a person comes out of the dark night of the senses, they are left with an ability to sense God’s movements in a more subtle, refined and interior way, even in the absence of any sensual experience of God.

    The second, far less common experience is the dark night of the soul is best understood as a process of purification and purgation of the soul. John of the Cross says, “The dark night is a certain inflowing of God into the soul which cleanses it of its ignorances and imperfections; habitual, natural and spiritual.” It’s like a juice cleanse for the soul. And it will make you just as sick.

    In his explanation of the dark night of the soul, John goes into great detail about the process of this inflowing of God and the cleansing of the soul. The end result is that the soul is perfected and purified to such an extent that it is able to be united completely with God. Being united with God is the ultimate goal of any serious spiritual seeker. Yet the dark night of the soul, properly understood, is granted to relatively few people. Most likely because there are relatively few people who are willing and able to endure it.

    By all accounts it is one of the most horrible, desolate, hopeless experiences any human can walk through. In fact, when John explains how to discern if someone is having a dark night of the soul experience, the checklist of symptoms can basically be summed up as “are you seeking God desperately yet weak in spirit, faith and body, completely crushed, desolate, without hope, unable to be comforted and so miserable that you would rather that God allowed you to die than to continue going through this . . . and do you still want God desperately despite all of it?” Spiritually speaking, it is as close to experiencing the journey of the cross as any human can have.

    The reason for this, it seems to me, is much the same as the reason my friend’s juice cleanse made her sick; while being fed only what is good and pure, the soul releases its toxins and makes you miserable and sick. John puts it this way: “the divine fire of contemplative love . . . expells [the soul's] impurities, blackens it and obscures it, and thus its condition is apparently worse than it was before, more impure and offensive. For while the divine purgation is removing all the evil and vicious humours, which because so deeply rooted and settled in the soul, were neither seen nor felt, but now. . . are rendered clearly visible . . . the soul – though not worse in itself, nor in the sight of God – seeing at last what it never saw before, looks upon itself as not only unworthy of His regard, but even as a loathsome object and that God does loathe it.” In other words, the person going through the dark night experience becomes extremely spiritually sick.

    Like the toxins being purged from my friend’s body when she did her cleanse, every dark and ugly thing in the soul is exposed and pushed to the surface during the dark night of the soul. The common experience of thinking that we are suffering because God is angry with us or disapproves of us is intensified. A soul going through the dark night experience is already suffering and now, seeing so clearly their faults, limitations and sin nature, they can hardly imagine that God wouldn’t and hasn’t utterly rejected them.

    When my friend did her juice cleanse, the release of toxins which made her feel so sick happened when her body was deprived of anything except nourishment which was completely natural, healthy and pure. If she had cheated and snuck in a snickers bar, her body would have absorbed the refined sugars, chemicals and hydrogenated fats to replenish their stores and re-establish a more comfortable equilibrium. She would have felt better in the short run. But her body would not actually be able to rid itself of its toxins completely enough to no longer be dependant on them. It is very much the same thing with the dark night of the soul.

    One of the characteristic traits of a dark night of the soul experience is that nothing brings comfort or life to the person having it. It’s as if the person going through it is deprived of any spiritual sustinence except for that unsatisfying, dull manna that I wrote about last week. Often this happens because every creature and worldly comfort is withheld from the person due to circumstances – ie life just goes all to hell. (John of the Cross was locked in a tiny room with a small window, too high up to look through, with no change of clothing or light and fed a starvation diet for 9 months when he had his dark night of the soul experience.) When things which would normally bring comfort and a sense of life to the person do appear, they are unable to take any comfort or joy in them.*

    It’s a perfectly miserable experience. And generally not one which we can get through without some “cheating”. As John explains, people going through a dark night of the soul will sometimes experience a reprieve from the suffering. It feels like being able to breathe fresh air after being locked in a stuffy, humid room or feeling sunlight on the face after years in the dark. In their excitement at their release from the dark night, the person usually thinks (and hopes) that they have reached the end of their suffering. That God has completed his work in them. But really, this reprieve is a lot like being allowed a Snickers bar and a ham sandwich with an extra serving of manna.

    Some people who have suffered through all the purgation they are capable of enduring and consenting to will not go back into the dark night. They will be much improved by their experience, but the work will remain incomplete. Their union with God will be partial and still subject to the vagaries and frustrations of life. Other people who are able and willing and who God has determined to purify completely will be put back on their manna diet and plunged back into the suffering of purgation.

    My friend was apparently able to de-toxify her body in 10 days, without cheating. But it seems that our souls carry a lot more toxins than even the average American’s body does. The dark night of the soul experience can take decades to complete, although it’s often measured in mere years. Most people who enter into the dark night never do complete it in this life time. But for those who are able to endure to the end, the promise is the soul’s most ardent desire: complete union with God, complete peace and joy and our full restoration to our true identity.

    *A dark night of the soul experience should not be confused with clinical depression. Nor should clinical depression ever be explained away as a dark night of the soul experience. An inability to enjoy good things in life can be a sign of both depression and the dark night of the soul. In fact, sometimes they can happen at the same time. In my experience, on of the main ways to tell the difference is that clinical depression is almost always accompanied by distorted thinking and obtrusive, unwanted thoughts. In a dark night of the soul, the thinking is so clear that every blemish is seen and every excuse is wiped away. There is an absence of obtrusive, unwanted thoughts and instead one’s ability to think things through or reach conclusions is often quite diminished. Clinical depression can and should be treated. The dark night of the soul can only be endured.