When I was a little girl, my dad used to take me on walks in the woods. We would traipse around our property, sometimes not even on trails, just walking and seeing. It wasn’t far, but to my little legs it seemed like miles and miles. I learned a lot on these walks, not because he taught me exactly, but because I watched him. I learned you can chew sourwood leaves in the fall, like gum. I found out if you put your watermelon in a mountain spring it would be ice cold in time for the picnic the next day. I realized to follow a stream provides water, as you walk through and underneath trees, which provide shade on hot summer days. He taught me to be aware of snakes when I stepped over rocks and logs, and that not all snakes are poisonous. He let me slide on a slick rock overhang into his arms over and over again. Those lessons were learned through time together and shared experiences.
On the way back up the mountain, however, I was less likely to be enamored by the stroll through nature, because it had become a climb. My little legs screamed to stop and my lungs agreed. Dad used to carry me, but once I got too big for carrying, I had to stop and rest along the way. I remember begging him to carry me, and I did not have the best of attitudes about it. I was tired and weary which translated into irritable, tearful, and cranky.
Fast forward to walks with my own children. Going down the trail to a waterfall was all skipping and laughter. Wading in the ice cold stream brought giggles. Bill taught them about skipping rocks, and we picked wildflowers along the way. Once we were at the bottom in the waterfall mist, their faces lit up at the magnificence and power of the water spilling down into the valley. Then it was time for the climb back up. The trail was a switchback so there was steep incline followed by some more gradual slope, giving the illusion that it wasn’t exactly straight up. However, little legs are not fooled by illusions.
Going into the second steep section the whining began, but there were four of them and only two of us. They had all outgrown the baby backpack we had when they were little. Carrying was not an option. We encouraged, held their hands, and tried distraction techniques to get their minds off of the pain, “Was that a woodpecker over there on that tree?” or “Look at that beautiful orange flower.” To no avail. By the next steep section, meltdown mode commenced for one of them. No amount of, “we’re almost there” helped. There was no consoling. It was a sit-down-in-the-trail-refuse-to-go-any-further moment. Tears rolled down the face like the waterfall ran down the mountain and the frustration spilled out like a thunderstorm in the summer.
Desperate to keep the other three moving forward without incident (these types of outbursts can be extremely contagious in a family with four little ones), I moved on with the other three, while Bill waited for the first to cry himself out. It was all that could be done. He could not see the end of the hike was near. He could not make his legs go any further. He was weary and angry we wouldn’t carry him. He was not climbing another inch. Bill sat down in the trail next to him, while he flailed around in a full blown tantrum. A father, just waiting, trying to soothe his child. In the midst of his tantrum, my son was not even aware that his father was sitting next to him in the dirt. Once he became aware of it, he wanted nothing to do with him. Every effort Bill made towards him was rejected out of anger. It wasn’t until the patience of the father, sitting next to him, was evident that he finally relented and allowed a gentle calming hug. Holding him, wiping the tears, quenching his thirst…not just for water, but for acceptance and understanding which only unconditional love can bring within the hard places.
Sometimes life is overwhelming. Just like a child on an uphill climb, sometimes it feels impossible to continue. It feels like God is not for me…and might even be against me…if he exists at all. These dark nights of the soul are places where nothing is for sure. All the neat and tidy spiritual explanations fall flat. The heavens are brass, and my prayers blow silently away on the wind. I am not the only one to ever experience this seemingly never ending dark place where brokenness is a companion. I know others who walk here, who wonder and wait, and shake their fists at God at the same time they cry out to him. I am a little girl who doesn’t want to walk one step further up this mountain I feel forced to climb. I want to yell and cry and kick and scream, “NO MORE!!” until I am carried, consoled, and soothed. I realize that in order for peace to come, I have to allow my feelings to work themselves out. The volcano, which has been dormant for years, has erupted and it will release the built up pressure…once the explosion is over.
The complexities of emotions layered one on top of the over make it tricky to get to the root, which is the feeling that God has abandoned me. What feels like a forever climb has left me in the dirt, wallowing around like a 2-year-old, unable to see my Father sitting next to me waiting. Brokenness is a messy, ugly, dark place…but it is a real place. People live here, not by their own choice, but by circumstances outside of their control. That’s the rub with this place…there is no control here. Death, abuse, disease, rape, injury, loss, divorce, heartache…no one is immune from the pain of life. Life=loss. When my legs will no longer hold me up, I fall and cry out to God for rescue.
I am double minded, believing I am abandoned by him, while still receiving provision from his hand. I feel alone, despite his presence right next to me. I try to block him out since I no longer believe in him, only to find myself praying with desperate cries that he really exists. I feel I cannot function, all while continuing to put one foot in front of the other. The dark night is a pretty mixed up place. It is not depression, nor is it despair. It is more like losing the core of who I am, and questioning everything I have ever known…all while still knowing it. Kinda. I am rambling, in search of words and talking in circles. Sorry about that. One thing I know (maybe) is that when I am in one of these dark broken places I find out things…truths, that I might never grasp had I not sat down in the first place. So while I am groping around now, there will come a time (I hope) when my tears will be dried and my thirst will be quenched by the Father who sits next to me…in the dirt.