May 8, 2020 | By Jay Ashbaucher
During this Covid-19 pandemic, have you been experiencing anxieties and depressing feelings? Richard Foster, in his book, Celebration of Discipline, discusses disciplines practiced by Christians that lead to spiritual growth. In one chapter, he discusses something called “the dark night of the soul.” I read the book years ago and did not pay much attention to this subject because I had never experienced it until now! For about five months, I have been, and as of this writing, still am battling an upper respiratory condition involving coughing spells caused by my sinuses, throat, and lungs constantly filling up with thick mucus that is difficult to expel and will not go away. During this time, along came the coronavirus, and this added an extra mental and emotional strain to my life. It targeted people with my age and condition to be at high risk for death if they get the virus. I have been to doctors, and I take the recommended pandemic precautions. But after this elongated period of time, I finally hit a wall.
People who know me would say that I am a strong and mature Christian, but like all believers, we always feel we have more to learn and more growing to do. I have been in pastoral ministry for around 50 years and I felt like my faith was strong. It helped me through many hard times up until recently when I experienced serious depression-like symptoms and a spiritual darkness. With the escalation of my ongoing respiratory condition, coupled with worries about contracting the coronavirus, I found myself unable to practice my faith and find relief. I had questions. What was wrong with me? Where did my faith go? Why has God not answered my prayers? I felt as if God had abandoned me and no longer cared about me. My faith was weak and of little help to me. I felt powerless and hopeless. Nothing brought relief. I tried praying, reading the Bible, listening to Christian music, finding things to do to keep busy and get my mind off this torture of soul I was going through. I had reached a state of what many would call depression, where I lost all interest in doing anything; I could not act. My family tried helping me and I felt bad for them having to see me like this and worry about me. I had not given up on God. I still said things to him, but mostly questions. Where are you? Why is what’s going on in my life and in the world not ending? I even thought, “what if all this stuff about God and Jesus is not true?” It seemed that every thought I had made me feel more alone and uneasy. I wished I could at least go to sleep and have some relief from the horrendous inner pain I was feeling. I feel bad for people who lose family members whom they deeply love. I think many of them experience grief that must be a dark time for something like this.
I no longer knew what to do, and all I could do was say, “God, help me.” He did. One night, after a day of deep despondency, concluding that I must have the virus, his Spirit reminded me of the first book I had written titled, Out of Darkness into the Light. There is a chapter in that book called “Trusting a Hidden God”. My wife had retired to the bedroom, and I stayed up to read. I felt a glimmer of hope return to me. I went into the bedroom, turned on the reading light on my side of the bed, and read the Scriptures that I had recommended at the end of the chapter. I felt a bit of God’s Spirit of life and hope come into me as I went to bed, though still feeling a numb discomfort. Around three o’clock, a thought suddenly entered my mind. I took it to be the voice of God’s Spirit speaking to me. The thought was simply this, “You do not have the coronavirus.” Those words, which I truly believe were from God, transformed my whole being in an instant. No more fear, no anxiety, no hopelessness, only peace and joy. I was free. Well – I still have my five-month congestion condition, but my spirit is free. I noticed my wife was up and in the bathroom. I went to the door and told her what just happened. Then, when we were both back in bed, I read her some verses I had read before bedtime, and she read me a Psalm that was her favorite. She also told me that she had been praying for the devil to leave and stop bothering me with his evil thoughts. I told her that God answered her prayer and I thanked her. I told her that I wanted to share this with others who may be going through dark depressive times during this Covid-19 pandemic. I don’t know what to say to best help you readers, for God our Father works differently with each of his children, so I will simply give you the following quote from the ending of the chapter called Trusting a Hidden God, (in the book I referred to above), and you can do what you want with it.
“I can hear some people saying, ‘I can’t believe in a God who allows people to suffer.’ You can think that about God if you want, but what if such sufferings in an evil world like ours are the only way, and therefore the kindest way, for people to be awakened to the point of choosing God and avoiding being lost to his eternal kingdom (Luke 13:1-5)? Consider also that some tragic deaths may not have the same frightful connotations to God as they do to us (Psalm 116:15; 2 Samuel 12:13-23; John 11:25-26). As God is preparing a people for the next age, his testing (of our hearts) serves as wake-up calls… I remember hearing someone say, ‘Love not tested is not really love at all.’ Any time when God seems hidden and to have left you alone, there are many prayers in the Psalms you can say to state your true feelings of abandonment, anger, pain, or disappointment. It is okay to cry out to God. Here are a few prayers from Psalms that address God’s hiddenness in times of trouble (Psalm 22:1-5; 42:9-11; 44:23-26; 69:1-3; 40 and 88). Let your painful feelings out, but do not give up hope. It will be rewarded.”