It’s not something I understand even now, but I am happy to say, I’m in good company. There have been many a saint and fellow traveler who have experienced God’s silence. When you cry out and the walls echo. Where there just seems to be no reply. When it feels like God has turned his back. Picture a cold, heartless father. A small helpless child crying and languishing at his feet. Abandonment. This is how I pictured myself. This is how I felt.
It’s referred to as the “Dark Night of the Soul”. The phrase comes from a Carmelite monk named John who lived in Spain in the sixteenth century. He devoted his life to reforming the church, but his attempts were heavily criticized, and he ended up in prison. It was there in confinement, that he wrote his most famous work: The Dark Night of the Soul. It is an account of how God works to change us not just through joy and light, but through confusion, through disappointment, through loss. I could relate to being in prison. To the confusion and disappointment. Where are you God? With the Psalmist I cried out, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” The words of Christ himself comforted me, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” Had he really forsaken his son? Had he really forsaken me? Was I forgotten? It sure appeared that way.
Verses that I knew by heart seemed to mock me. I remember reading “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble.” Very present? I was not rebelling against God. I was humbly crying out for help. It was a hard place to be, even for those around me. Answers didn’t come easy and simple pat ones fell flat. What I needed was to have the company. Those willing to walk beside me, sometimes with just their being and nothing more than consistency and love. I didn’t need to be told how I was off in my theology. Or be counseled about my doubts, (more on counseling later). I wasn’t scoffing God’s character I was trying desperately to understand what was happening. Trying to make sense of this absolute silence.
Rather than turn my back as well, I leaned in. I waited. I stayed in community. We went to church every week. Not out of obligation, out of desperation, out of desire. I wanted to be with fellow believers. I wanted to hear truth sung and spoken. I longed for the message. Longed for connection and for prayer. Every week we gathered with whomever was willing to pray, to ask God for healing. I knew he could heal. And if my faith was weak, I needed others to believe for me. God may have been silent, but others around me were speaking.
One night John and I sat in the dark of my room where he had found me sobbing. He was usually strong and stable, but this night as he held me, he cried out to God, “Do something. Where are you? Just show yourself to us somehow”. What we didn’t know at the time, but would find out later was a dear friend, and elder at our church had heard the Lord tell him, “Go to the Hoyes and just pray over them.” He hadn’t felt that he was supposed to even come to the door, so he had sat in his car outside our house and just prayed for us. Then he had sent a simple text relaying this story. When we asked him when he had felt this urge, we realized it was at the time that we had been crying out for God to show us his mercy.
Every day someone came. Friends showed up Monday through Friday and stayed until John came home from work. My mom put in the most hours. Some weeks coming 3 days a week. She put aside her plans, her life really, to care for me. Often just sitting on the couch next to me, holding my hand and really doing the most important thing she could do, just being there. It was a huge sacrifice that wasn’t lost on me even in my broken state. When I would pour out my gratitude she would say, “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.” One of my boys would remind me regularly: Mom, I’m here. God has not abandon you, he sent me. Every day he prayed over me and for me. Always giving words of truth. Once when I questioned where God was, I had a dear friend sit on the couch across from me, waving his arms and legs and lovingly shout, “Here I am. Can’t you see me?” I could not FEEL God but he was always showing up in his people. Something I would realize much later.