How should Christians handle the deepest darkness and trials that come in their lives? When it seems there is no hope for the future, what is the best way to fight the darkness?
John Calvin writes about the Psalms, “I have been accustomed to call this book, I think not inappropriately, An Anatomy of the Soul; for there is not an emotion of which anyone can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror. Or rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn to the life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated.”[i] As Calvin states, in the Church’s inspired song and prayer book we find Psalms expressing the deepest of sorrows that end in despair (Psalm 88) while in the very next Psalm, we find the greatest of joy and rejoicing in the goodness of God (Psalm 89).
While the breadth of emotions is expressed through the inspired word, it is telling that some fifty-eight Psalms may be recorded as Psalms of Lament. R.W.L. Moberly notes that “the predominance of laments at the very heart of Israel’s prayers means that the problems that give rise to lament are not something marginal or unusual but rather are central to the life of faith. . . . Moreover they show that the experience of anguish and puzzlement in the life of faith is not a sign of deficient faith, something to be outgrown or put behind one, but rather is intrinsic to the very nature of faith.”[ii] Sorrow, the faith-filled expression of despair is the very means the Holy Spirit uses to sustain and even bolster faith. Thus, as a benevolent Father, God has given us prayers that both delight His ears and are the Spirit-wrought means to edify our hearts.
My life seemed perfect last Fall. I was in the midst of my first semester of law school. I loved where I lived, I loved the classes, the professors, and I loved the friendships that I was developing. Even better, my long-distance boyfriend proposed to me in October. We made plans to get married in December. Two and a half weeks later, he got into a motorcycle accident that should have been fatal. I spent a month at his side in the hospital, giving up law school and my life in Virginia Beach to sit at his side nearly 24/7. After a month in the hospital at his side, just as he was being discharged to a rehab facility, he told me that he didn’t want to marry me in December and he told me not to come back to see him, that he wanted time alone. And then he completely refused to talk to me at all. Two days before our original wedding date, he called me to tell me that he didn’t want to marry me anymore. I was left with a broken heart, an apartment that I had given up, and an entire semester of law school lost.
Psalm 27:13-14 says, “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”
Fighting the darkness has been a continual battle. It is not something that happens overnight. Rather, it is a continual working of God in me and a constant prayer to find joy in each day. God gives abundant grace to keep going and often provides far more abundantly than we could imagine.
There have been many things that I have learned in the midst of fighting against the darkness:
1) Surround yourself with family and faithful friends who will speak the truth.
I could recount numerous ways that I have been blessed by my friends and family. I have had friends who have sat with me in the darkest of times. A dear friend flew in to be with me on my wedding date. Another dear friend sat with me during a particularly difficult evening when I was struggling to fight off the darkness and needed someone to be there, cry with me, and point me to Christ. I have had friends and even professors continually check in on me when I returned to school. When I am tempted to spiral into unhappiness or discontent with the life that God has called me to when I desired to be married, my family has been there to remind me of God’s truth: that He never leaves or forsakes His people, even when those we trust on earth shatter our trust.
2) Read the Bible every single day.
Psalms, Ruth, James, and Job have been the greatest encouragement. God speaks truth to our weary hearts through Scripture and it is key to be in His Word continually. I began memorizing Scripture for the first time in years again. On sleepless nights, reciting Scripture is the best cure to keep the mind from wandering in directions that are unhelpful and wrong. His Word helps us to win the battle, to keep from giving in to the temptations around us.
3) Never cease praying.
Pray for yourself and more importantly, pray for others. Some mornings, I was praying Romans 8:26 through my tears, asking the Spirit of God to intercede for me when I did not know what to pray for. Every day, God has given me the strength to get out of bed and put one step in front of the other, even when it feels impossible. Praying for others has reminded me that I am not the only one suffering in this broken world.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
4) Comparison robs your joy.
It was so easy for me to look at other people who are married or engaged and assume that their life is perfect. It only destroyed my view on the blessings in my life that God has given me. It is a constant struggle not to compare my life to the seemingly perfect and joyful lives of others. But God hasn’t called me to live their life, He has called me to live my life. And even if He afflicts me, “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in Him” (Lamentations 3:24).
It is not wrong to mourn the life you’ve lost, the loved one you’ve lost, or any other trial that God has placed in front of you. Job cried out to God in the depths of his sorrow. God should be the first One to whom we turn with our grief and pain.
In the midst of it all: don’t forget about hope. God promises to bring beauty from ashes, and resurrection from death. If we wait upon the Lord, we will indeed look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
[i] John Calvin, Preface of Commentary on the Psalms.
[ii] Waltke, B. K., Houston, J. M., & Moore, E. (2014). The Psalms as Christian Lament: A Historical Commentary (p. 1). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Moriah Lawrence is a JD candidate at Regent University School of Law, living in Virginia Beach, VA. She holds a BA in Political Science from John Brown University, and has worked with several public policy think tanks since graduation. She was blessed to grow up in the church as a pastor’s daughter and continues to be grateful for the strong, faithful witness of her family and friends.