A dangerous prayer
At the beginning of this Christian journey, a blossoming new-life ethic was not overwhelming, but it was hard. It was a light struggle, looking back, though I may not have said so at the time. The truth is that in the early days I could not have guessed what was on the horizon. I count it likely that my descent into the most intense and profound period of spiritual desolation started with a prayer – an every-day prayer that, while quite innocent, turned out to be very dangerous. “Lord, heal me. Give me peace. Make me holy. Make me like you.”
Life was relatively good even if I felt a little unbalanced at times. I could still feel the sting of past wounds, but I was always optimistic about tomorrow. “Tomorrow God will heal me. He must, he has promised.” I was not easily given to despair. I was optimistic about my new journey and finally finding something like a homeland. Scripture was my solace and new found Christian community was a revolution of sorts – one that brought a lot of context to broken relationships and wounds from the past; episodes that needed the healing balm of forgiveness and the grace of letting go.
But as those first few years went by and the healing did not come as quickly as I wanted, doubts about God that were swept aside and areas where I gave him the benefit of the doubt before began to wear on me.
The descent into darkness
When the line came and went, I do not know. But I found myself in a place where addictions, bad habits, and overall destructive behaviors became a scourge on my life. Not only was I beginning to doubt that God might come through for me, but my problems began to take a real and tangible toll on my relationships. My emotional turbulence would entangle even the ones who loved me most. I became inconsolable as my burdens mounted and I saw myself enter into a valley of sustained desolation. I woke up nearly every day for the next three years with a heaviness about me that I did not understand and could not shake. My soul could find no rest.
My struggles rocked me to the core and seemed to affect everything. It was hard to wake in the morning, hard to go to sleep, hard to go to work and hard to be with friends. I spurned the would-be happy moments as something “not for me.” The counsel of friends fell on deaf ears. I am not loved, I convinced myself, because I am unlovable. Whatever they said could not change that. I counseled myself this way every day. And I wondered how a “God of love” could dislike me so much.
I believed in him and yet I railed against him. He crowned others with peace and joy and emotional stability but he seemed to pass me over. When I pictured the Savior come, calling the little children, I saw myself as the straggler at the back – no love left for me. I believed so much about myself then that called into question my value as a human person. The world had no use for me. And it must always be so.
Searching for an answer
This profound desolation found me wanting for a better life, a calmer existence and, for goodness sakes, just a little peace of mind. But as dissatisfied as I was, I remarkably never stopped praying. And maybe I never stopped wanting peace or to “just be happy” but those prayers did change over time. Another subtle line seemed to cross over and I went from asking God to help me shuck the burdens on a daily basis to asking God to please help me carry them instead.
Somehow, miraculously, I began to slog myself into doing things I really did not feel like doing. I had no idea at first, but with time I tuned into a new and unexpected rhythm. I had started a new rebellion. The old rebellion was a burden that was so long turned inward. The new rebellion was a burden that I tried to turn on its head. I settled into the new war. And I was finally letting God help me fight it.
An unexpected response
It took well over seven years for me to come to terms with myself. At first I looked to my peers. I thought the path to healing would be in finding the acceptance from others that I had always longed for. When that did not work out, I thought the solution was looking inward at the overwhelming needs of my soul and beating them into submission. That did not go over so well either. Though I eventually cast a long gaze to my Maker, I thought I could beat it out of him, too.
I never expected that the path to peace was not over or around suffering, but through it. I never expected that my quest for healing was not just an admiration of Christ and his cross, but a participation in it. The way to abundant life was a crucifixion, it seemed, and that is something that I did not expect.
Recompense to make me whole
I would be lying if I said I “get all this” now. I know better. I have not yet arrived but I am certainly on the way. But for all the broken bones of my soul I have learned gladness, most days, instead of the opposite and I have learned that the path to inner peace and self-acceptance is not and was never meant to be the path of least resistance.
Desolation taught me that the way God loves me and heals me and makes me holy can so often be a violent assault against all those subtle poisons in the soul. Maybe they have been steeping for a life time. Maybe they are hurt and confused feelings and untruths and bad beliefs. They are meant to sift me, to ruin me. And it may also be true that the remedy to these poisons comes as a violent assault, on the wings of desolation. But in the end this violent assault may be the very vessel of peace that ushers in that final and long-looked for, sigh of relief.