Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You,
But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You. Psalm 139:12
There are some caves in Colorado called Marble Caves that I have explored several times. If you turn off your headlamps it is blacker than the darkest midnight. You can’t see your hand in front of your face. You can’t tell directions. You can’t see forward, so you don’t know where you are going. You have no direction. You can’t even see yourself; you don’t know what you look like. You may as well have no identity. And you can’t tell whether there is anyone around you, friend or foe.
There is a place in the life of everyone who follows the Man from Galilee that is dark and desolate. A place of confusion. A place of unanswered prayers. A place of sorrow and despair. It goes by many names: a crisis of belief, spiritual depression, desolation, wilderness wanderings, the wall, and dark night of the soul.
It can be a place of catastrophic destruction due to a self-inflicted wound like a moral failure. Or you are the victim of someone else’s selfish and sinful choice. It can be a health scare. It can be a hidden addiction that has wormed its way to the surface of your life and no longer stays hidden. It can be a professional or relational failure. It can be a growing disillusionment that the life you have built is not fulfilling the deepest longings of your soul.
Sometimes, however, through no fault of your own, life just kicks you in the teeth and darkness becomes your boon companion.
There was a time in my life when I was so bereft of hope that I lived in constant despair. It was during that midnight at high noon that I found a couple of rays of hope that I want to tell you about.
In my late thirties and early forties, I ran marathons. That meant that I spent a lot of time on long runs— double-digit runs. This was before smartphones, iPods, and other audio devices so I ran with a Sony Walkman. It played cassette tapes. (remember those?)
When my heart was burdened with sorrow, which was a lot in those days, I would put a ninety-minute mixed tape in my Walkman, clip it to my waist and run for miles. You would think that I would have on that tape songs like, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” or other positive and upbeat pop songs. Something that would pull my spirits up to a more joyful place. But that is not what I put on my mixed tape. I filled the tape up with sad songs. Songs of lament. Songs of woe. Songs written in a minor key.
There was one song that was on the tape twice—once on each side. It was a song by a Christian band that was popular in the nineties named Delirious. The song was called “Find Me In the River.” Here is the portion that wrecked me:
Find me in the river
Find me there
Find me on my knees with my soul laid bare
Even though You’re gone and I’m cracked and dry
Find me in the river, I’m waiting here for you
Come find me
When that song came through my earbuds, every footfall was like a hammer driving a nail deeper in my heart. I was lost. I couldn’t see. I felt abandoned. And yet that song, and the others on that tape, made me feel seen and heard. It felt like the person who wrote that song, knew how I felt. There was someone in the darkness with me.
Another time music played a part in the lifting of the dark shadow was when Lynette and I were in counseling and our therapist took me by surprise one day by saying, “Joe, when I was a church yesterday, I was praying for you and in our worship, while we were singing a George Herbert hymn, there was a couple of lines in that old song that I believe was meant for you.”
My therapist was highly intellectual, so this was a rare sighting from the Holy Spirit. I couldn’t believe he was thinking and praying for me in church. Dare I believe God spoke to him about me?
I swallowed and asked, “What did you hear?”
He read from notes he had taken on his church bulletin:
Teach me, my God and King,
in all things Thee to see,
and what I do in anything,
to do it as for Thee.
I must have had a blank look on my face because the words didn’t seem to say anything about my condition and my heartache. Then he said something that gave a shaft of hope, ever so thin, that kept me moving forward in my walk with Jesus.
He said, “God is not finished with you in ministry, Joe. He has much for you to do. I am not certain what that ministry will look like, but God isn’t finished using you.”
You could have knocked me over with a feather. I looked at Lynette and she didn’t know what to make of what he was saying either. We talked about them on the drive home. And the more talked the more we began to dream of a day that God would use our sorrow for his glory. That maybe, just maybe, God would allow us to be guides for others who have found themselves in the dark night of the soul.
That is the power of song. Even those written in the minor key, can keep you moving towards the light. And while I felt alone in my sorrow and darkness, and it was years before we had any meaningful impact on the lives of others, God was whispering to me at every turn, “I see you, son. I see you.”
When I got home, I went for a long run and wept some more.
Weeping may endure for a night,
But joy comes in the morning. Psalm 30:5