It isn't even about exuding a mastery faith that never doubts God and always senses His presence. It's about learning to wrestle and see in the darkness, even when you'd really rather just stay in the light.
I got in a fight Saturday night.
It's an understatement that I lost.
But I suppose that's the case when most people try to fight a panic and anxiety attack. Tears and snotty-nosed tissues aren't great weapons when the enemy protrudes from within.
In between forced exhales and deep breaths, I cried out to the Lord. It had been a long day, and I was exhausted. All I desired was to hear His voice. Feel His presence. Know He was there. But instead, the darkness swallowed me whole. It enveloped me in its folds. And just when I thought I might break, it wrestled with me for the next hour.
What Does It Mean to "Fight with the Dark"?
If you're someone who struggles with anxiety or depression, you know that one of the most exhausting fights you will ever fight in your life is with the mind. There is a reason that Jesus tells us in Proverbs 4:23 to guard our hearts and our minds. And to walk in the light, as He's in the light (1 John 1:7). Yet when it comes to suffering, wading off the thoughts and voices inside and staying in the light isn't always that easy or prescriptive.
I think what many Christians need to know about mental health is that guarding our minds isn't as easy as praying and asking Jesus to restore our thoughts. Yes, those are absolutely necessary, but God has also given us resources, tools, and people to help aid our journey.
I think it also needs to be said that staying in the light, or remaining in the light as Christ is in the light, isn't as easy as it sounds. Every new day teaches us this when the sun sets or the moon rises. Night is a part of the day. But it doesn't preoccupy the entirety of that day.
Growing up, I used to hate when it would rain. Those cloudy, stuffy, humid, and dark days at school or work seemed to drag on and on. I would often think to myself, "Why won't the sun come out already?" But just as I can't control the weather or the rising of the sun or moon, I am learning that darkness, and specifically wrestling with the darkness, can show me God in a different light.
Seeing in a Different Light
People who struggle mentally often can't just "stop worrying," or "stop thinking." Mental health involves a holistic, full-body approach to physical, mental, social, emotional, and psychological well-being, to name a few.
Seeing in a different light requires two things most of you aren't going to like:
1. Sitting with the darkness.
2. Sitting in the darkness.
The difference between sitting with and sitting in the darkness is both physical and mental. Saturday night, as I sat alone in the third story of my home, I sat in physical darkness. The room was black, but in a matter of seconds, so was my mind.
What started as one negative thought quickly spiraled into a dozen others. And before I knew it, I was weeping and trembling before the Lord. Everywhere I looked, I saw my faults and sins. I was in a pit so low I didn't know how to climb out. All I knew was that I needed Jesus.
As I sunk deeper into remarks of critique, my eyes began to play tricks on me. My room grew darker, and I think we all know what it's like to see things that we know aren't really there but we believe to be anyways. Something in my mind told me to not be afraid. Something else told me to turn on the light. Instead, I remained stagnant. Like a deer frozen in the headlights of its predator.
Prayer after prayer, I cried to feel God. To sense His presence. Know He was with me. I felt like a hypocrite begging Jesus to be with me in the dark when I knew that I should know that already. When I knew that I'd just written a post encouraging others to know God was with them in the dark, I couldn't feel Him now. I started to wonder where He was. I started to doubt His presence there.
But the longer I sat and wept, the worse I felt.
My husband was downstairs cleaning up the kitchen. I knew I could cry out to him, but I was embarrassed. When he found me whimpering in the dark an hour later, he didn't need to ask what was wrong. He knew.
"How can I tell people that God is with them in the darkness when I can't feel Him myself?" I whispered.
I expected him to answer me. To turn on the light. To quote me a cliché phrase. But instead, he simply held me in his arms until I stopped shaking.
I began to see that telling others about fighting the darkness isn't all sunshine and rainbows. It isn't even about exuding a mastery faith that never doubts God and always senses His presence. It's about learning to wrestle and see in the darkness, even when you'd really rather just stay in the light.
The Truth About Dark Nights
I wish I could tell you that nights like this don't happen to me anymore. I also wish I could tell that in them I felt the physical presence of God the entire time. But that wouldn't be the whole truth.
I may not always physically feel God when I am suffering or sitting in the dark. But I know He's there. Sure, my confidence might waiver from time to time. I'm human. However, God is more than just a physical God.
Although I didn't recognize it at the moment, I know now that God was with me in one of my darkest moments in two ways:
1. Reminding me of His faithfulness through a song.
2. Reminding me of His presence through a person.
Hindsight is always 20-20. We aren't always capable of understanding an event as it occurs because we're too caught up in the moment. We're too close to the dark. But after sitting in it and wrestling with it, I've learned that God can reveal Himself in different ways than our human minds think.
As my mind flashes back to that night, I recall that the entire time I was having an attack, I was also humming a tune. I could faintly remember it. It wasn't until after the moment had passed that I realized it was Brandon Lakes' song, "Don't You Give Up On Me."
The opening lines read this way:
"I see you, child
Though you can't see me
And I know your thoughts
Before you even think
I heard every last prayer you prayed
Though I answered all the time
You just didn't hear my reply
And I know it's not easy, oh
Don't you give up on me
Don't you give up on me
'Cause the darker the night gets
The brighter the light hits
Don't you give up on me
Don't you give up on me
You ain't seen what I promised
Child, we're just getting started"
I think God was speaking something to me, I just didn't realize it in the moment. Because sometimes, He reveals Himself through His faithfulness. And this song touches on what the Bible speaks of His track record. One simple example of a million unknowns to my mind.
The second way God revealed Himself to me as I sat in the dark was by providing the presence of my husband.
I want to be clear here that many of you may face dark nights where you're truly and physically alone. Your family might be asleep, maybe you're single, or maybe you just live alone. I've been in each of those situations before, and I see you. I know and acknowledge that one's physical presence isn't always or immediately available. But I also want to acknowledge the power of God's providence through people. And for me, this happened to be my husband.
While Ben didn't have the words to comfort my weary soul, He knew how to sit with me in my suffering. For some of you, that's all you need. No advice. No critiques, comments, or criticisms, but simply their presence. I want you to know that wherever you are in the world, God is with and within His people, but He's also in those around you.
Someone once told me that they, too, wondered where God was in their darkest moments. In their wrestling, agony, and pain. They said that their teacher at school reminded them of this: "When you are going through difficulty and wonder where God is, remember that the teacher is always quiet during the test" (Karen Luellen).
Keep Fighting the Dark
Today, I know that you might be fighting in the dark. You feel weary, ashamed, and certainly not strong enough to stand or turn on the light. I see you, and I care about your pain. But I want you to know that Jesus is with you even when you don't see or feel Him. He's with you whether you get up and turn on the light or whether you continue to sit in darkness.
I want to encourage you in these times of pain and anguish to continue to cry out to Him. To make your life a continual wavelength of prayer. But I also want you to know that it's not a sin to talk to someone, too. To see a counselor, too. To acknowledge that you're wrestling with the dark, and sitting it in more often than you're not. Not because it's deep and dark and dangerous and scary. But because in acknowledging that dark place, and bringing it to Christ, you're banning its power over you.
Having a panic or anxiety attack doesn't mean you've lost.
Sitting in darkness doesn't mean you're weak.
Not sensing God in the absence of light doesn't mean you're a bad Christian.
It means you're still breathing. You're still a beating heart living. You're still placing one foot in front of the other, trying to make it through another day. And by God's grace and strength, you will. Perhaps not in the way you think. Perhaps sitting and wrestling with the darkest nights teach us that.
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Trifonenko
Amber Ginter is a teacher, author, blogger, and mental health activist who resides in the beautiful mountains and cornfields of Ohio. She loves Jesus, granola, singing, reading, dancing, running, her husband Ben, and participating in all things active. She’s currently enrolled in the Author Conservatory Program and plans to pitch her book: Mental Health and the Modern Day Church for Young Adults, soon. Visit her website at amberginter.com.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
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