I‘m mad at you. Over the past year you’ve given me more than my fair share of struggles, sadness, loss, and pain. And I’m not happy about it. In fact, if one more person tells me that you won’t give me more than I can handle, I’m going to lose it. If that’s actually the case, though, then you must think I’m a lot stronger than I am, and it’s not fair. Why not somebody else? Why so much? Why me? What good does praying do when bad things keep happening? Obviously you’re not listening. I go to Mass and I feel nothing. I pray. . . nothing. No comfort, no solace, no peace. Where are you?
There, I finally got that off my chest. I think for far too long I’ve been afraid to say that. I think a lot of people would be. Questioning God? Being angry at God? You just don’t do that. And I thought that, too. I have been well versed for years in the idea that we must always be completely in step with God. But recently I realized that it’s OK not to be sometimes. It’s completely normal, and God can handle it.
In Good Company
But if I feel alone in my frustration with God, I’ve got some good company. A few years ago everyone was floored when it was revealed in the book Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta that Mother Teresa had experienced what is known as Dark Night, or “a dark night of the soul” as it is often called. The book contained Mother Teresa’s letters and writings, and in those writings, she spoke of feeling abandoned by God and struggling to maintain her prayer life. Mother Teresa was beatified on October 19, 2003, so maybe there’s still some hope for me to be redeemed.
But what exactly does it mean to experience “a dark night of the soul”? Does it mean that one has completely turned his or her back on God? The answer is no. It is most well-known as a feeling of abandonment by God. It often goes much deeper than just that, though. In the 16th century, St. John of the Cross, friend to St. Teresa of Avila, first developed the concept and explained it as not being able to pray anymore. Those in the midst of such an experience lose the joy of the spiritual journey. But they hang on tightly to their commitment to Christ. The experience is often associated with mystics, which I certainly am not. But I can connect with the
underlying message of this struggle.
The August 2011 issue of Catholic Update, “Mother Teresa’s Dark Night,” by Phyllis Magana and C. Kevin Gillespie, says: “The most disorienting part of Dark Night is the painful loss of God. While the experience of the loss is real, echoing other losses, the soul is also invited to give up all ‘knowledge’ of God— all analogy, all experience, all understanding, in order to be freed to meet God. “Letting go of ideas of God means letting go of ideas of self, and that combined loss brings crisis.”
I totally get that feeling: the feeling that, no matter how hard or how much I pray, my pleas are ignored. But I also still have that commitment to God. After all, if I weren’t still on board with my faith, why would I even bother being mad at God? And the example of Mother Teresa, that she was able to go through this experience yet still maintain a loving and close relationship with God, gives me hope that God and I will be able to work things out.
Until then, the words of Mother Teresa resonate with me: “I do not know how much deeper will this trial go—how much pain and suffering it will bring to me. This does not worry me any more. I leave this to Him as I leave everything else.” I’m not there yet, but God and I are working on it.
By Susan Hines-Bragger, St. Anthony Messenger, November 2013, Pages 58-59.