The Dark Night of the Soul

It has been a beautiful day here in WV, and I have had difficulty settling down into the evening. The night is crisp outside, the moon is a lazy wide smile, and I feel good.

We’ve spent a large portion of the day outside and I am now enjoying that good kind of tired that comes with sunshine and physical activity. We even took our tweens outside for Wed. night church. They played Bible tag and “Christian” football. It was a scream.

When I went for my run this afternoon, this was what the sky looked like. Not a cloud to be seen. Just that gorgeous sky blue sky. The brightness of the atmosphere around me seemed to illuminate my gaze, and I began to see so many things that gave me pause and wonder. I was filled with the goodness of God, so I decided to take him along with me for that little five mile jaunt. I love it when He breathes down my neck that way, demanding attention and pulling me into the reverie that is Him. He is always with me, of course, but some days He just will not be ignored. Today was one of those days.

There is nothing more beautiful to me than a naked tree. And this time of year the earth is filled with them. My eyes hungrily drank them in as the Lord and I traversed my familiar route. He knows my heart and He drew my attention to their bare, outstretched arms. When I look upon the starkness of the branches, I often feel that the gangly limbs tell my story; reaching up, up…seeking that which gives life. This austerity seems magnified to me against the palette of a clear blue sky. Every detail exposed, shamelessly put on display. I can see straight through her into her heart. A tree in this state of undress can hide nothing. No secrets can be hidden in her bosom. She is transparent and unassuming, waiting for her season of finery to arrive. Yet, she is wrapped in a cloak of mystery. In the absence of her trinkets and baubles, she reveals little of who she is, preferring the disguise of anonymity.

But perhaps she is most beautiful to me when silhouetted against the approaching night…colors melting into one giant shadow of branching arms, beckoning me, calling me into the dusky colors of the sunset. She makes my heart ache with the way she stands so sure and proud.

Yes, I often feel so naked and vulnerable as this unadorned masterpiece. I long to stretch my arms up and root myself to the earth, drinking in my nourishment from these tiny tentacles; nursing my dormant splendor, tending it until the time arrives for it to burst forth in glory.

But unlike the tree, my seasons are not so predictable. And I am content to wait. For I know that when the tree appears to lie dormant, beneath the surface the roots are far from quiescent. This is the time of strengthening, the time of preparation. This is the silent labor.

St. John of the Cross calls this “the dark night of the soul”.

This seeming depression is an empty time. We search frantically for some feeling, some sense of connection with our God; but we seek in vain, for such has abandoned us in this season. But we must not despair; we must not give up hope. To remain true to the tree…we must wait.

Richard J. Foster, in his book Celebration of Discipline, says this about this root strengthening season: “The dark night is one of the ways God brings us into a hush, a stillness so that he may work an inner transformation upon the soul.” He elaborates further, “When God lovingly draws us into a dark night of the soul, there is often a temptation to seek release from it and to blame everyone and everything for our inner dullness. The preacher is such a bore. The hymn singing is too weak. The worship service is so dull. We may begin to look around for another church or a new experience to give us ‘spiritual goose bumps.’ This is a serious mistake. Recognize the dark night for what it is. Be grateful that God is lovingly drawing you away from every distraction so that you can see him clearly. Rather than chafing and fighting, become still and wait.”

Let your roots be nourished. Wait for the season of glory to burst forth. It may not be the time, but it will come. The blooms will burst forth in feathery grandeur. The dark shadow of night will be overtaken by the fruits of this labor of love. And oh, how beautiful the transformation!


  1. says

    Oh Laura, This is just SO beautiful! I have soaked in every word. I have experienced exactly what you wrote. I remember one winter looking at a shrub that my husband David had cut back. It was basically a stub. I would drive by it every day as I backed out of the driveway. I remember looking at it and saying, “God I feel like that hedge”. “Is it dead?” “I feel like everything has been cut off of me.” I would look close at it for some sign of life. One day I walked past and there stood one tiny green shoot. LIFE.

    Shoot after shoot would emerge showing the beginnings of the bounty of the pruning. Before you knew it it was covered in new life springing forth.

    The pruning and the winters are the still times of the soul. But what I discovered in those times is that God became a “verb” in my life. It became about Him and what He did, instead of me and what I could do FOR Him.

    The winters of the soul bring the bounty of the Spring of new life.

    I love the way you write…I see your heart so plainly.
    It is a beauty! You are a beauty!

    Much love,
    PS. Thanks for stopping by my blog and rejoicing with my 25th anniversary celebration. God has truly made all things new in my marriage. I never dreamed it could be like this!

  2. says

    Laura, thanks for the well wishes for our trip. I am really looking forward to it. I will be anxious to share all about it when I get back.
    I want to tell you how much your posts always bless me. You are so gifted in you writings. I am praying that I’ll become more creative.
    I am glad you are enjoying nice weather. We have been too.
    Just today….seemed like it was over night, our bradford pear tree is blooming. I’m so ready for spring.
    I’ll talk to you soon.

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