We had moved to Illinois for my husband to attend graduate school. The Mid-West was in the midst of a drought and the landscape was a uniform brown as the summer sun scorched the earth. It was a hard time of change. While Bill went to school, I supported our family by holding down two jobs.
THE LESSONS I LEARNED IN THE DARK
Bill was the one officially attending classes, but God enrolled me in His own school. I think my curriculum was harder than Bill’s. The lessons I learned weren’t from the church we attended – that congregation was going through internal struggles. Spiritual and emotional wounds bloodied the aisles of the sanctuary. The lessons weren’t from the school where I taught – they were going through a time of turmoil. The lessons I learned were in the dark, before dawn. I could not sleep, so I took long walks around town.
LIFE WAS HARD
I was desperately homesick, lonely, and longing for some continuity of life. My heart was broken. Life was rough. The support system and affirmations I had previously known were in the dust. Friendly faces just weren’t popping up on our radar. Life was hard.
SHAKEN TO THE CORE
After the first year, things turned especially brutal at the school where I taught. The administrator had made some awful life choices and they surrounded him like a black cloud. He took his troubles out on the staff. I remember one “coaching session” in which he berated me for 45 minutes straight. The teaching skills I had previously had confidence in were ridiculed. I was shaken to the core.
WHAT I FOUND IN THE SILENCE
It was during that dark night of my soul when I learned to pray. No more formula prayers for me. No quick and easy fixes. My prayer life took place during very long walks in which I would pour out my heart to God. Finally, finally I began to quiet down and listen to God. The part of me which previously had life pretty much under control ceased to exist. There was only God in the silence.
THE JEALOUS LOVE OF GOD
Ruth Haley Barton refers to “the jealous love of God.” She writes in Sacred Rhythms, “As long as we continue to reduce prayer to occasional piety we keep running away from the mystery of God’s jealous love.” When I didn’t feel like anyone else wanted me, God jealously loved me and desired my companionship. That was unfathomable. I felt worthless, yet the God of the Universe wanted to talk to me in the dark at 5 AM?
MY STUBBORN HEART
God had His work more than cut out. My cold stubborn heart had to (as I personalize Barton’s writing) “let God’s creative love touch the most hidden places of my being and …to listen with attentive, undivided heart to the inner movement of the Spirit of Jesus, even when that Spirit was leading me to places I would rather not go.” I was not in control of our finances, my work, our family, or my church. I was locked out and didn’t know the way back in.
GOD WANTED TO BUILD
I began to let God pry my fingers off those things I had previously treasured. I begged God for what He alone wanted to transpire in my life, as hard and painful as it was. He had leveled all my previous comforts. God wanted to build my life in a new and closer way.
THE SIDEWALK PRAYER
It was in Illinois I learned what I call my “Sidewalk Prayer”: “Lord, I choose to trust You.” I repeated this over every crack in the sidewalk, every step in the dark. I had no answers and couldn’t find words to express my distress. As Barton says, “We come to Him with empty hands and empty heart, having no agenda. Half the time we don’t even know what we need; we just come with a sense of our own spiritual poverty.” I dumped all of it, every awful shaming moment of it all, and came to the cross as an impoverished sinner. “Lord, I choose to trust You.” It was in the gloom of the hours before dawn when I learned to listen to the God Who sees in the dark.