Richard Exley Ministries


A Moment of Grace
Posted on March 22, 2007

The truth of Christianity is not that it immunes us from the vicissitudes and sufferings so common to this life, but that it empowers us to live with meaning in the midst of unspeakable loss.

Leaving the RCA Dome I turned toward the hotel, depression dogging my steps. I should have felt exhilarated, or at least deeply satisfied, but I didn’t. Being one of the speakers at the annual Bill Gaither Praise Gathering was a high honor; one I never expected to have, still, all I felt in the aftermath of my second session was an aching emptiness. The sessions had gone well enough, with lots of positive affirmation, but I couldn’t seem to wring any joy out of the experience.

For the better part of two years I had been living in a fog. Somehow I managed to minister with surprising effectiveness, but nothing I did touched the sadness that was slowing sucking life out of me. Day after day I forced myself to go through the motions, desperately hoping this would be the day some light returned to my gray existence, but it never happened. Instead the gloom seemed to deepen, causing me to doubt if I would ever again know the joy that once characterized my life.

In Dante’s Inferno, the writer takes a walk and suddenly finds himself disoriented, and so begins his journey into the various levels of hell with these words:

 In the middle of the journey of our life
 I found myself in a dark wood.

That best describes what happened to me – in the middle of my own journey I unexpectedly found myself in a dark wood. I was blindsided by a devastating loss, people I loved were hurting badly and I couldn’t seem to help them or myself. Week after week the darkness deepened and I found myself fearing it would never end.

Reminding myself that I was not the first person to walk this path helped some. I took what courage I could from the knowledge that this dark place, though unfamiliar to me, was not unfamiliar to those who had gone before me. Many who walked this way will remain anonymous but others are well known figures. For instance, Elijah the prophet found himself in a wood so dark he despaired of life and prayed to die. Even Jesus was tempted to despair and at least on one occasion He confessed that his soul was “exceeding sorrowful unto death.” In the classic devotional literature these experiences came to be known as the dark night of the soul and were considered a nearly universal experience. Sometimes, as in my case, the darkness descended as a result of a grievous loss but at other times it seemed to come for no apparent reason. Whatever the cause it can be debilitating, especially if it continues for any length of time.

The fact that I tried to mask my pain, carefully concealing it beneath a veneer of normalcy, probably complicated my situation. Still, I didn’t know what else to do, not wanting to burden anyone else with my troubles. Thus I found myself walking the streets of Indianapolis in the deepening dusk, a sharp wind tugging at the collar of my jacket, while sorrow gnawed a hole in my heart.

City noise filled my ears – the blaring of car horns, the rumble of a dump truck leaving a nearby construction site, raucous laughter spilling out of a bar as the after work crowd unwound – but I was mostly oblivious to it. I had ears only for the mournful voices within. Self blame and bitter regret mingled, tempting me to despair. If only I had been a better friend.  If only I had been a more faithful intercessor. If only I....

Nearing the hotel I paused, not yet ready to don my game face. Brenda and friends were waiting to go to dinner but I couldn’t face them, not yet. Staring, with unseeing eyes, at my reflection in the plate glass window I felt a stirring deep within; a sense, too subtle to be described, yet too real to be denied. My throat got tight and I teared up. The sidewalk around me was nearly deserted, yet for the first time in months I didn’t feel totally alone. Instead I sensed God’s nearness, something I hadn’t felt since this whole thing started.

Not caring what anyone might think, I found myself praying, telling God that I could endure anything as long as He was with me. What I couldn’t bear was the thought that He had abandoned me. Yielding myself to His presence, I clung to His nearness as if my life depended upon.

The whole experience didn’t last more than a minute or two then the darkness closed around me again. Yet, in that unexpected moment of grace, a tiny hope was born. Like the first hint of spring it promised better things to come. In the dark days ahead I returned to it again and again. I knew the tragic things that had rent my life couldn’t be undone but my well being was no longer dependant upon that. God was my hope, the source of my life. He would restore my joy, of that I was sure. Like Elijah I had heard the “still small voice” and it spoke life to me.

My depression didn’t miraculously disappear, nor did the things that had caused me so much pain suddenly resolve themselves, but I found my strength somehow renewed. Day after day I put one foot in front of the other, pushing my way through the darkness, always drawing strength from that moment of grace. The promise of His presence sustained me. Like Paul, a man familiar with this dark wood, I learned that the strength of Christ is made perfect in my weakness. 

Thank God I am no longer wandering in the “dark wood” but I have to admit that there are times when I long to relive that moment of grace, that moment when God suddenly felt nearer to me than the breath I breathed and more real than life itself. I pray I never return to that dark place but I also realize it may be impossible to experience the comfort of God expect in times of deepest grief. As I look back over my life it is the hard times I remember most clearly and it is there that God revealed Himself in life changing ways, howbeit His presence was seldom easy to discern. 

 

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Category: Dealing with Crisis