Do you feel like you were born in the wrong body? Probably not, but we all know that there are people who do. What if the truth was that each one of us is trapped in our bodies? And that these bodies are not really right for any of us? What if I told you it has nothing to do with sex/gender, but everything to do with being human?
God doesn't make mistakes, but we do. In fact, we sin. And from the moment that the very first human beings turned away from our Creator, our bodies began to unnaturally decay. He had designed us as immortals, but that required staying in harmony with Him, which meant relying completely on him, trusting him, and obeying him. Once we turned to our own selves instead, our nature changed - spiritually and physically. Our fallen wills birthed death, and our bodies became enslaved to mortality.
What does that have to do with gender confusion? After the fall, though we were born with a sinful nature into flawed bodies, we were also born with a longing for our original sinless state and a yearning for our Creator. But those desires are not fully processed in our minds. The longing is unexpressed within us, and it can easily be misinterpreted. Our natural tendency is to apply it to our earthly existence, especially if we don't believe in a personal God who created each of us.
For some, faulty biology becomes the explanation for their feelings of unfulfillment. The grass becomes greener on the other side of the gender divide. Psychological factors and societal stereotypes cause some people to have negative associations with their own sex and to identify with the opposite sex. Add to that the powerful spiritual component of the longings I defined above, and you have a recipe for gender dysphoria.
Instead of realizing that no amount of biological alterations (all of which only add up to counterfeiting the opposite sex) will satisfy what are really the longings of the soul, these desperate, confused individuals believe that transforming their outward selves will bring peace to their inner selves. The argument can be made that this is also true of those who have eating disorders, obsess over hair/make-up/fashion, are exercise fanatics, get cosmetic surgery, or practice extreme sports. By making the body the focus of one's identity, that person grossly misplaces the longing meant to cause them to seek their true self in the One who made them and can save them from the identity crisis.
We will never be fulfilled this side of Heaven, but we can begin to become who we were made to be, even despite these faulty bodies, and even faultier minds. This can only happen if we stop listening to our inner voice of the almighty self and start seeking the still, small voice of our Creator, who made us in His image. Surrendering to our Creator begins with acknowledging our need for a savior. We find this One whom our hearts desire in a book - a very old book that is brimming with life and hope and the promise of eternity with new bodies...
"For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee." ~1 Corinthians 5:1-5
"So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body." 1 Corinithians 15:42-44
"But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself." ~Philippians 1:1-3
"Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is." ~1 John 3:2
I love words. I love the Word. I love Jesus and the Bible. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (John 1:1) We time-bound creatures like to mark beginnings, just as our Creator has done for us. One of the ways we do that is by choosing (getting?) a word for the new year. Some of mine have been rest, behold, breathe, praise, love. At first, I tend to be focused on the theme word, but as time passes, it fades. I noticed this increasing over years, so I gave up having a word.
In December, I began warming up to the idea of a word for 2021. With the roller coaster of the last nine months, it made sense that I wanted something that would be stabilizing over whatever the coming year holds. I often pray in the shower (I like them long and hot because it's my morning coffee - I drink decaf and tea, and not every day), so I started asking God for my word. Since I love words, my praying became playing. I almost didn't want to get a word, because I enjoyed the process so much (this is also very me - liking the research more than the finding). This helped keep me from choosing a word prematurely.
As 2020 came to a close, my shower prayers seemed to be leading me to a word - it was "release." I arrived there after rejecting more spiritual selections, because they were too vague and not the kind I could apply in the heat of the moment, which is when I need a word the most. I strongly considered "Jesus" because that is one of the few spiritual words which has power in every situation. I cannot think that name without it turning into a prayer, nor is it difficult to think of it. And yet, I sensed that was not my word for 2021. I thought it should be "release" because a recent, recurring message has been letting go. It's especially apropos as my children all become adults, with one officially that. I also felt drawn to it because I tend to want things a certain way and an enduring struggling is letting things go - not being a picky perfectionist control freak (just ask my husband).
Pondering "release" set me reviewing the myriad of "re" words that I find spiritually significant (see if you can find them in the rest of this post). That led me to "retreat" which has special significance to me because the women's reflective retreats I usually attend twice a year were cancelled, and I really missed them. I realized that I needed to be intentional to take time away (even just on a walk) to get solitude and silence, especially in creation. I also thought that "retreat" could be good for letting go, in that I could just withdraw instead of insisting on my own way. So then I was torn between "release" and "retreat," as well as attracted to "refresh" and "renew." I considered having a prefix instead of a word. I was already losing my focus, and I was only one day into the new year.
So I released "release," and was surprised to get a new "re" word that I knew was the one: "receive." Rather than letting go, I need to receive what comes. It's not about relinquishing and surrendering as much as it is about allowing and accepting. This made sense to me because of my Myers-Briggs knowledge. Being an INFJ, I have a judging preference as opposed to a perceiving preference, which means that I prefer to control what happens rather than receive it. I like to plan, order, and settle things rather than let come what may. I am more rigid than flexible (physically, too). While I am open to change and even initiate it (thanks to my intuiting preference), stability and routine characterize me more.
So I received "receive." I am hesitant to say it's already working, what with only a couple days of it, but it has made a difference so far. Instead of moving my husband's cap from the coat rack hook to the shelf above it, I said to myself, "receive it in that space," and I left it there. I felt a tinge of unexpected peace. I am looking forward to learning to receive what I would normally reverse or reject. A few times I refused "receiving," so it will definitely be a process, but I believe growth will come.
“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” ~John 1:12
Just Keep Stirring
My husband is known to come into the kitchen and say, "Keep stirring," but he actually means "you don't need to stir that so much." He calls me a "stirrer," which I guess sounds somewhat better than what he called me on our third date. We were having Chinese food (for the second time) and he suddenly said, "You're an eater." I was taken aback and indignant, but as I got to know him, I realized it was a compliment, because it turned out that we were both foodies...which brings me back to stirring. I developed that habit as a child when I started helping my mom cook dinner. Since there was not a lot to do, she had me stir things, which I enjoyed, so I rarely put down the spoon or spatula - stirring sauces, turning bacon, flipping grilled cheese...multiple times.
My husband's nickname for me fits me in many ways - literally and figuratively. For the first decade or more of our marriage, I frequently rearranged rooms and furniture, which was not always a lot of fun for him (when he was home for me to enlist his help), but he graciously assisted in lifting and sliding and moving furnishings into their new positions...which immediately afterwards (or some months later) would sometimes end up back upstairs or downstairs, in the same place it had been before. It was great when we finally bought furniture sliders to go underneath heavy items. Eventually I settled down and rearranging became less frequent, but it still happens from time to time.
Why all the domestic stirring? Part of it had to do with three growing children with toys, books, and their creations, as well as their need for spaces conducive to learning, creativity, and play, all in relatively close quarters (1600 sq. foot condo) with no garage or yard (just a porch and patio). Being the visionary type, I would get new ideas for how to use things to be more functional or aesthetically pleasing. My perfectionistic tendencies drove me to look for the best placement, and I would determine that from a variety of angles. But theory often didn't match reality, so trial and error led to all the switching around. Changing circumstances were also a factor - deciding to homeschool, my mom moving in with us for a few months, kids not sharing rooms anymore, wanting all screens in one space, and the shifts in all of the above as time went on. Getting rid of and acquiring stuff also sparked stirring.
On a deeper, more personal level, altering our environment made it feel fresh - newness without making major life changes. Yet it was also a form of procrastination. Instead of dealing with the details - piles of papers in file boxes accumulated over many years of not keeping up with the fast moving conveyor belt of family/homeschooling life. I would continually say that I could only do that once my surroundings were in perfect order, which never happened because I procrastinated on the day-to-day as well. I also put off my creativity by thinking that once I got our entire house in order, it would be conducive to all the catching up (sorting, purging, putting everything in its place), then I could finally create (write, do art, weed and print digital photos, make memory books, etc.).
I say all this in the past tense, but truthfully, it continues to this day, though I feel like I'm so close to turning a corner now that I've just graduated our oldest and will be wrapping up our homeschool chapter in four years. Summer is slipping away, as it always does, despite a much clearer calendar due to all the social distancing restrictions in my state, but I've got about six weeks before we start our new school year, so I'm feeling hopeful that all my stirring will be productive rather than procrastination techniques, such as sorting candy into different categories (this happened more when the kids were younger - now they are in charge of their own candy categorization) and testing all the colored markers and organizing them by kind (just last week). Because I hate handling details, it is a stress response to immerse myself in meaningless minutiae to escape tackling more important drudgery.
At the same time, there is a natural part of me that likes analyzing and compartmentalizing. I generally prefer to do that with abstractions - philosophy, psychology, theology - but doing it tangibly can relax my brain and invigorate my senses - at least at first. By the time I finish, I can barely see straight and need a nap. All the stirring is eventually exhausting and unfulfilling. The tedium and the futility go against my genuine self that seeks meaning and transcendence. I end up with a guilty hangover for procrastinating purposeful priorities and passions of the imagination or intellect.
In addition to all that stirring, I'm a pot stirrer. Violations of morality fire me up. I have a habit of entering the fray to be the voice of one crying in the wilderness or to aid another who is in that place and under attack. I've been this way adolescence, growing up in a culture that opposes my worldview and rejects absolute truth. As a Christian in one of the most liberal areas of the USA (Marin County, San Francisco Bay Area), I've always gone against the flow - I even had the t-shirt in high school. "Just keep swimming [upstream]" was a theme of my youth before leaving the rapids of the river to settle in the pond of domesticity fed by the waterfall that is family life. Instead of fighting the current, I have been swimming in circles, thus stirring the waters.
However, I have never completely stayed away from the river - social media has made it far too easy to go back and forth between my actual life and engaging "the world." That has intensified with the extreme polarization of the country in our current crisis state. The last few months on social media have created a near constant state of jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire - it's gone beyond pot stirring and into virtual ideological warfare on several fronts. I won't go into the details of all that now, but I'm sensing I need to stir the pot a lot less and go back to stirring what's in my house and my soul.
That brings me to soul stirrings - I honestly did not know where I was going with this when I started writing it. Writing stirs my soul like nothing else. Moving my thoughts from my mind on to the page (I write in a notebook before I transcribe to my blog) stirs up what's below the surface, so I can look at it, and see it all together, rather than fragments floating in the murky depths of my consciousness. My soul is stirred to grow - to leave off stirring that just goes in circles in exchange for stilling the waters to practice reflection. Stir and then stop. Don't just keep moving stuff around to strive for perfection that actually is paralyzing. Don't wait for the waters to stir. Dive into creating and attack the piles instead of stirring the room or the paperclips. More importantly, keep breathing throughout, and break for deep breaths. Tune into my soul stirrings - commune with my Creator and listen to that still, small voice; be attentive to the voices of those around me, and pour into my loved ones from the living waters that is the Holy Spirit dwelling in me.
My Word for 2016
For the past couple years, I have had a word to focus on pertaining to my spiritual life (which is really all of life). 2014 was "breathe." 2015 was "praise." 2016 is "pray."
I was kind of scared by that when I finally acknowledged (after hemming and hawing about) that was indeed my word for the new year. That might surprise you, because I often refer to the subject, and I even created a prayer closet.
The truth is that I love to read about prayer, to study it, to create spaces for it, but actually praying is another thing. In all of life, I tend to theorize, envision, research, analyze, much more than Do Actual Things (unless you count moving piles of books and papers around).
It's who I am (insert infomercial for The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) - I'm a very part-time consultant). But it's not all that I am. It's like being right handed - I prefer to use that hand, but it's not like my left hand just hangs at my side. The Christian life - spiritual formation, as we reflective types are fond of calling it - is about becoming ambidextrous.
...So while I do pray daily and throughout the day (sometimes in just two word sentences), I spend much more time (even in my prayer closet) reading (the Bible as well as books on Christian living / spiritual formation) and thinking than I do in conversation with God.
There are many ways to pray, and I even believe that what I do (immersing myself in learning about it) is a form of prayer, but I want to mute the volume in my brain, so to speak, to listen for that still, small voice, which is another way God talks to those who call on Him, in addition to through his Word, the Bible. I also want to intercede more for others, as well as pray through more of my own stuff, and offer praise/thanksgiving.
There are lots of prayer "formulas" - I'm familiar with most of them - and I may start trying out some of them, because they can be useful tools for staying focused...but most of all, I want to make room for God to draw me closer to him through more dialogue. That's the goal of the Christian life (and life in general) - to be intimate with our Creator.
When I finally realized my new word was "pray," it was like putting together the pieces of a puzzle. My previous words - breathe and praise - are both forms of prayer. Wait...you say...breathing is praying? Well, yes, in a couple ways.
First of all, if I stop and take a deep breath, or even just a normal one, I am waiting. I am quiet as I concentrate on breathing...not in a new age-y way, just in a this is how humans relax kind of way. Secondly, there are actually breath prayers, i.e. talking to God while you inhale and/or exhale. I haven't explored that too much (and yes, it can get all mystical, but it can also be more physiological), but, and this leads into my word for the past year, I love the worship song that says "breathing in your grace, breathing out your praise." Breathe in: Lord, I need your grace. Breathe out: Lord, praise you for being with me. And so on…
Another way it fit is that recently, I have had the recurring word, "path." It came up a lot in my reading of Psalms and Proverbs. I especially like "ponder the path of wisdom." The path is often referred to as leading a righteous life, following God's design for human flourishing. One of my favorite books is Pilgrim's Progress, which I am going to be rereading this year.
I'll come back to the word path, but the other word is another analogy, which is house. I have always been captivated by the little booklet My Heart Christ's Home, and I'm actually going to be using a study guide with that in our church's women's Sunday School starting up in a few weeks.
I had an epiphany when the word "pray" came to me, because I realized that it encompassed both metaphors - the path is practicing the presence of God (praying constantly as the Bible tells us to do, so being mindful of Jesus while we are doing life) and the house is quiet time, the portion of the day we set aside to be alone with the Lord - reading his Word, meditating on it, and praying. I think the path can tend to come a little more naturally to extraverts, whereas introverts attract to the house. But we both need both.
Into the Light - Part Four
We rolled out of bed and into the breakfast room (well, not really, but at the rate I'm telling this story, I figured I better speed things up) where we enjoyed two kinds of quiche - ham & cheese and vegetarian - also, fresh berries, which my husband had mixed with granola and yogurt. I normally don't eat until lunch, but I can't resist free food (well, included with our stay) and I needed to fuel up for our hike at Point Lobos, "the crown jewel" of the California State Parks, "the greatest meeting of land and sea in the world", just south of Carmel and north of Big Sur.
As we were driving along the coast, my husband (eagle eye), from behind the wheel, spotted a whale! He pulled over and we raced out on the rocks to see it. Sure enough, there was a sightseeing boat (definitely getting an eyeful) not far from where we could see the spouting blowhole and then a quick glimpse of it breaching. In all our years of coming to this area, we had never seen a whale, so this was quite a treat, even though (as usual) we had forgotten to bring binoculars.
A little farther on (keep in mind, the total distance from the hotel to our destination was only a few miles), he spotted the whale again! So once again, we pulled over, and ran to the beach (sandy this time, thankfully). It was Carmel River Beach and there were others there, but farther south, and none seemed to notice, despite us jumping up and down and pointing...so it felt like a special whale showing just for us. Thinking back on it, I am reminded of how it's like following Jesus. He shows up unexpectedly, but the more we seek him, the more He reveals himself to us. Meanwhile, we're beside ourselves trying to get others to discover and enjoy this wonderful treasure with us, but they are caught up in the cares of this world, and our enthusiasm comes across as lunacy to them.
A few minutes later, we entered Point Lobos (I almost said the wardrobe), parked at the farthest lot, and began our adventure on foot. As if the crystal blue water at China Cove wasn't enough beauty, we were treated the sight of harbor seals mothers and pups sunbathing and frolicking. We lingered there, gazing over the cliffs into the sheltered cove and out into the endless ocean. Continuing our hike, we found a set of stairs and climbed down to a gorgeous white beach, watching the waves and admiring the seascape.
Up at the top and out on the trail again, a man and his wife pointed out a sea otter to us and let us use their binoculars for a closer view. That brought back memories to an earlier anniversary, our first time at Point Lobos, when I had been pining to see a sea otter (my favorite ocean animal), and sure enough, God brought us several to enjoy (and again, my husband was the one to spot them first). As we walked on, we encountered a family from the Bay Area - it turned out that the man had just got a job in our county (in San Rafael, where I grew up, one town south of our town) and was about to start work. We encouraged them about the possibility of moving to Marin (from the east Bay) and all that it could offer their family.
We made our way back to the car (saying goodbye to the seals one last time) and tried to drive out to Cypress point, but there was no room in the lot, so we drove to Whaler's Cove (where we had seen the sea otters that other time), and hiked out there. We found seals again, but the dads this time - we could tell because each of the big lugs was on his own rock...except when one would go for a swim and another would steal his "recliner."
I had told my husband about reading 1 Peter, so we had decided to read it aloud to each other, which we did in a private little spot we found overlooking a secluded cove. We only got through the first chapter, but it was just right. Then my husband convinced me to steal away under the roped off area and climb down to look into the beautiful water in the cove, which we did for a few minutes, but I couldn't full enjoy it since I felt like an outlaw!
As we hiked back, we saw a group of Japanese tourists pointing out to sea - a whale sighting! We kept vigil, me with my camera/phone ready, but of course it didn't resurface, so we walked on, and then there it was again, with no one else to see it but us. This was the clearest view yet and I even got some semi-decent pictures, albeit from a distance. My husband was convinced it was the same whale all three times. I wasn't so sure, but either way, it was an amazing blessing for the first full morning of our trip to be graced with glimpses of such a magnificent creature, and that just we two would be privy to that unique beauty of God's creation.
That was our second divine appointment and in less than 12 hours. There would be two more to come that afternoon and evening, and another the following morning, which I hope I can relate in the fifth and (Lord willing) final post...but it might take sixth or seventh installment...
Into the Light - Part Three
Continuing on with our 48 hour 14th anniversary adventure...we left off in dreamland on Sunday night, but let me back up a little bit. I wanted to read God's Word before going to sleep, so because we were on vacation, it felt right to play "Bible Roulette," you know where you randomly open the good book and see what you find. That can be pretty hit or miss, but with the way things were going, I wasn't surprised when I hit the jackpot. I turned to 1 Peter and read the whole book, because it's short (a mere five chapters) and amazing and I had already underlined a bunch of stuff in my little travel Bible, such as:
Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense for anyone who asks you for the reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if it should be God's will, than for doing evil. ~1 Pe 3:13-17
That passage was especially reassuring because the week leading up to our trip, I had (and still have) a Christian hating atheist trolling my Facebook page. He hasn't liked my page or commented, and he uses his page rather than his profile, so banning him is not an option. What he does is to "like" all of my posts (many of which he disagrees with) using his vile, blasphemous profanity-laden Facebook page name. From his page, I know that he was part of the Mormon church and that his son is homosexual and just got "married." Reading those verses reminded me that instead of being angry with this man for bullying me, I need to pray for him (which, in fact, I had asked my readers to do) and receive his insults as confirmation that I am doing good, and so to continue to fight the good fight by speaking the truth in love.
The book of first Peter also says two times to be "sober minded." That seemed appropriate also, what with this being our first alcohol- free anniversary getaway.
That night I actually heard a verse in my dream and I woke up with it in my head (the only good thing about having to pee in the wee hours): "Be at peace with everyone as far as it depends on you." (Romans 12:18) That seemed to apply to all things - the troll, friends (and strangers) whose values are postmodern rather than Biblical, and more importantly, my family, especially my husband. After the dark night of the soul, I had researched marriage books (despite the fact that we have a whole shelf of them, mostly unread) and ordered one called The Couple's Survival Workbook. I chose it because it's not a book that you use with your spouse. It's something you do on your own to help bring change in your own character and communication, the theory being that if you approach your marriage differently, it will change, even if your spouse doesn't. I have been crawling through the book, but it's really good stuff, and if I had to encapsulate what I've been learning into one sentence, it would be that verse from my dream.
I was really hoping I'd get this story wrapped up in three parts, but as I write, more things are coming to me, so at this rate, it may be a five parter...or more (eek!)...but I'd prefer that God lead my pen (so to speak) in His good time than to tell it my way and miss something He wants me to say. Continue to part four...
Into the Light - Part Two
Into the Light - Part One
Yesterday my husband and I celebrated 14 years of marriage. We actually started the party two days before that. Every year we get one or two nights away to be by ourselves, something very foreign to us, what with children ages 13, 10, and 8. Usually I start planning about four or five months before 8/11. This year, though, was different. We had come through the dark night of the soul, culminating in the worst Mother's Day on record (if I kept records, that is). We were bruised and battered, our marriage tattered, but not shattered. We were still totally capable of rhyming, though. That goes back to our first date, when he took me to the children's section of a bookstore and read me "Oh, the Places You'll Go." I really had no chance after that. A man who fed me Chinese food and serenaded me with Dr. Seuss was clearly a keeper.
There was another hitch with this romantic getaway I had to plan. No alcohol. We had not had a drop since that no good terrible very bad night, and the plan (at least in my mind) was to never have it again. Or at least not for years and years. It wasn't that either of us was an alcoholic - it was just that it had become a problem (his tendency to overindulge and my hypersensitivity toward that because of an alcoholic stepdad). It complicated and escalated arguments. It brought our marriage to a state of crisis. And it had become a crutch for our relaxing "couch dates," which meant both that we weren't fully relying on God and that it was masking trouble between us. In other words, alcohol had become a wedge and an idol. It was very subtle, and we had gone through periods of no drinking (sort of recalibration), but always with the intention to return to moderation (i.e. sticking to the rules we had agreed on in terms of quantity, frequency, and type of beverages). And yet, I could look back at all our most memorable fights and point to one thing - alcohol. It was either the cause of conflict or it had turned a disagreement into something much more ugly.
We had spent the last four anniversaries in the wine country. Clearly that was not meant to be for this first ever sober celebration. My initial thinking was to isolate. As an introvert, that thought comes pretty naturally to me. My husband, on the other hand, is an extravert, so I did have him to consider. But really, he would be happy anywhere there were two things - me and fish ("have rod, will cast anywhere"). I very nearly booked us a cabin on the lost coast where I figured I could hole up reading and writing while he fished, with walks and meals together in between. My motherly self vetoed that, because there was no cell service and wifi was spotty. I cannot relax, let alone retreat, if I am not assured of communication with my kids - not just for emergencies but for their good night check-in and chat. Perhaps when they are all teenagers, I'll get over that.
I thought back to our earlier anniversaries when we had enjoyed going to the Monterey peninsula. We had stayed in Pacific Grove, but in recent times, we had gone to that area with the children (homeschool days at the Monterey Bay Aquarium), so now it was hard for me to think of going there without them. There was one place that I didn't associate with our kids, but it had always seemed too ritzy: Carmel-by-the-Sea. Also known as Carmel. But not caramel, though that's good, too. If there is one thing I enjoy as much as (and sometimes more) than a vacation, it's researching a vacation. So I got to work and found a bed and breakfast right by the beach, in our price range, without a wine and cheese hour (cookies & tea instead) - am I good or what? No, I can't take credit. God led us to The Sandpiper. The proof of that will be in the next post...
Dark Night of the Soul
Death begins at birth. From the moment of conception, we are on a journey to the grave. None of us knows the span of of our lives - some don't make it past the womb; others experience well over a century of history in the making. We are all dying, but do we say it would be better never to have existed? Few believe that (though sometimes others make that "choice" for them) and fewer still intentionally end their own lives. Why do we cling to life when know death will eventually overtake us? Why do we embrace life all the more as we deteriorate?
The cycle of birth, life, and death in our natural bodies parallels with our spiritual existence. When we are born again, what follows? Death, death to sin and death to self. And yet unlike our new birth, which happens instantaneously, death to self is a process. A series of deaths, if you will. On our way to eternal life, we die a thousand spiritual deaths. Though our sins are forgiven, our sinful nature continues to tempt us to live for ourselves rather than dying to ourselves and being conformed to the image of Christ, in whom we were created and have been redeemed.
These thousand deaths to self are usually little deaths. They are uncomfortable but bearable. Sometimes, though, after following Jesus for a long time, we slip into complacency, and we quench the Spirit rather than put to death certain persistent sins. And then it happens. The Dark Night of the Soul. When God, in his love and mercy, disciplines us so severely that we may even wish we were dead. He shows us the destructiveness of our sin and how it is killing His spirit in us. We have to die an excruciating death to self or else be enslaved by it and lose our lives.
Sometimes it is not our own sin. When we are married, we are one with our spouse, and when God is dealing with their sin, it feels like we are dying as well. It could literally be a dark night, the darkest we've ever experienced, brought on by the worst fight we've ever had with our spouse, in which the sin was being killed, but it went out kicking and screaming. The battle was not with flesh and blood, but in the spiritual realm. It felt like the end of everything had come and there was no hope, but actually it was just the opposite - it was a new beginning.
You rose from the ashes, scarred and weary, humbly clinging to the One you felt - for that dark night - had abandoned you. You were badly shaken, fearful, and desperate. Then you became empty and numb. The damage seemed irreparable, your house utterly ruined, your garden desolate...but something caught your eye - a tiny, green shoot that sprung up overnight. You had a glimmer of hope. That God had extinguished the old life, so that you could start a new and better life together. It would take lots of time and more struggle to heal from the fatal wounds, but this body, this one flesh made of husband and wife bound together in Christ, would eventually be stronger than the previous union, and the new house God was building would far surpass the old.
Your Dark Night of the Soul would give way to a bright and glorious morning. But you would need to be patient. And keep dying. Dying to self. Weeding out sin. Basking in the light of the Father. Drinking in the water of life of the Holy Spirit. Abiding in the vine that is the Son. Growing (with all the pain that entails) in the body of Christ, beginning with your own family.
The Dark Night of the Soul had another purpose, too. It brought you back to your first love. It woke you up to the truth that God is the only one who will not let you down. You may have felt abandoned, but He was with you. He wants you to depend on Him alone. To put all your hope in Him, not another human being. Only His love is perfect and His love is all you need. This is also why you must forgive.
We are unworthy, selfish recipients of His grace. He gives it unconditionally and so we must freely extend His grace. Receiving and giving grace is the most direct path to healing. This is assuming repentance and change are underway (be it ourselves or our spouse or both). That the death really happened on the Dark Night of the Soul and the new life together began - whether it be a literal night in which it all culminated or a more gradual coming into the light over time. If morning has broken, then the work of rebuilding trust must begin right now.
It may feel like there is a void where the sin used to be. You have to discover who you are as a couple without that thing. So it's not just the person "with the problem" (really, just that particular problem) who will feel loss and pain. It was enmeshed in your marriage and now there's a hole where it used to be. It feels kind of drafty and weird. We may thirst and hunger like we never have before. It won't always be this way - over time, love will fill it - but for now it is a way of keeping the death real (when we are tempted to forget or minimize it) and a vivid reminder to turn to Jesus to fill us. His love poured into each of us will trickle into the hole, eventually transforming it into a well, deepening our marriage as our souls are rejuvenated. Where sin once poisoned us, life giving water will flow.