It's February, the darkest month of the year in the area where I live. It's also freezing cold and often overcast. I don't know about you, but for me it can be hard to remain cheerful in a climate where vitamin D is hard to come by and people buy special lamps to get the UV exposure we need. Am I the only one who feels the darkness trying to creep into my soul?
It's okay. You don't have to tell me about it. We don't all feel comfortable expressing our emotions, especially the negative ones. My husband grew up in a Mennonite church that prides itself on maintaining a stiff upper lip, stoic, and always in control. He will laugh and laugh when he reads that I feel like the darkness is trying to creep into my soul. Really? He'll ask, then give a little snort and tell me to take a walk in the snow and let that light cheer me up. (Opposites attract, you know...)
My parents were Mennonite when I was born, but my dad had an experience with the Holy Spirit when I was a young child. With a new sense of freedom to embrace the gifts of the Spirit, I grew up in a church that embraced experience and emotion. If we believe that God's gifts are for us today - healing, prophecy, and other supernatural phenomenon - we should be excited about it! We were taught that it wasn't really worship if it wasn't full of expressive emotion. You get excited and cheer at a football game. How much more excited and rambunctious should you be about God?
While my husband learned things like, "Let's not get overly emotional about this...", I learned language like, "I feel the Spirit move." When the grown ups prayed, it was often loud and bold and full of emotion. I spoke in tongues right along with salvation - at five years old. There were long praise and worship services where sang our hearts out for hours.
I learned to freely express the emotion stirred in me by God's awesome power. AND I LOVED IT. My husband learned to appreciate four-part harmony in robust hymns, holding a hymnal, eyes down at the words and notes. And he loved it.
When I went to a Pentecostal seminary, I experienced something that shocked and panicked me. In graduate school for theology, I suddenly couldn't feel anything. The hair on my arms stopped standing up to indicate that the Holy Spirit was present. When I prayed, I felt like my prayers bounced off the ceiling. God felt so far from me, I physically ached. What was going on?
I felt like I was stumbling around in the dark. Had I done the wrong thing in leaving my career to go to seminary? Was I harboring some unrepentant sin? Was God angry with me?
I told no one. I kept studying and praying, and I noticed that I was still learning tremendous things. My faith grew, despite the lack of emotion I felt. Then one day, a professor introduced us to "The Dark Night of the Soul" by John of the Cross. I learned that what I was going through wasn't unusual. God is present, whether we can feel our skin prickling or not.
I looked back on my months in darkness and saw how my seminary studies had continued to reveal spiritual truths to me, how I had grown as I considered my foundation and worked to strengthen weak spots. I could still pray, sing, and encourage others. I hadn't had any of those "thin veil" moments where the veil between this world and the next grows so thin that you catch a glimpse of the other side and it takes your breath away. I also didn't need them as I diligently studied and grew in understanding of God and His Word.
I want to encourage you today. In these dark days, deep in the heart of winter, God is still present with us. Even if we cannot feel His presence, He is with us. What God has called us to do is still what we need to do.
Press into Scripture and prayer. Maybe do a little fasting. Curl up on in a comfy chair with a fluffy blanket and read a book that points you to the love of Jesus.
Spring is coming. The flowers will soon start bursting out of the ground and the days will be brighter. Even my stoic husband might be caught with a little spring in his step. There's a reason for the seasons, so don't let this season get you down. He's right, you know. A walk outside when you can is a great way to combat the blues. God is still here.
Although the opportunities are much fewer in these days of bed time routines and stupid pandemics, I still love it when I get the chance to have a praise and worship service that allows me to fully express my love for God. I still pray in tongues when I feel my words failing me. I still long for those thin-veil moments and celebrate when they come. But my heart is at peace, knowing that those things aren't the measuring stick by which I can judge God's presence with me. Salvation took care of that once and for all. Although at times his lack of expression frustrates me, my husband already learned this truth in his upbringing. (Thank goodness he has me to spice things up a little though.)
If you believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior, if you have made Him the Lord of your life, then God's Spirit lives within you. It is a fact. You can be stoic about it, or you can dance in the aisles with your hands up in praise. Nothing changes who God is or the fact that He loves you. God IS here.
Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts. I hope it's been a blessing to you. If so, please consider sharing this message and pressing that little heart at the bottom of the post.
If you prefer having a chat with me about it over reading, here's a little video I made just for you. Let me know what you think in the comments.