December 4: the third day of Advent 2018
Many of us live life like we have a mission and purpose. I am a follower of Jesus seeking to bring light and healing to the wounded. I am a caregiver, giving myself to my in-laws, giving them the gift of a more gracious and protected decline than they could manage on their own. But we are also much more than we can see or admit to ourselves. It is our merciful and loving creator and parent who understands us better than we ever will and draws us into the darkness of that which we would rather not see so that we might be healed and freed from our heavy self-constructed chains.
Although widely experienced by the saints who sacrifice themselves for the ones they love, caregiver burnout is a uniquely personal experience created in part by how we have each been put together in our formative years. Those with a mission, whether they be caregivers or missionaries, are both uniquely gifted and yet also hampered and burdened by how they have put themselves together in response to their formative influences and traumas. It is for this reason that once we are truly committed to our missions we are called into this dark night of the soul.
I awoke early this morning imagining conversations with my children – conversations full of resentment. I must admit that I started it all by making terrible mistakes years ago but that is not what comes into my imagination now. Even though I still deeply love my children, instead comes my resentment, even bitterness. This Darkness, this Dark Night of the Soul Jesus invites us into is the darkness of our own interiority. Deep within us is inscribed and available in living colour everything that has ever happened to us, everything that we have ever experienced, all mixed up with our fallen nature. Here in the Darkness we cannot see are the mixed motivations, our deepest secrets, the ones we cannot face as well as all the unlovely ways of thinking and feeling about them that are intertwined and tangled together.
It is no wonder that Isaiah, a man like us desiring to live right and to serve God, when confronted by God in a vision, would feel so unworthy. His response to a vision of God’s power and glory complete with the sound of angels and the shaking of the Temple resonates through the ages.
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
We might also feel this way today in Trump’s America or in Putin’s Russia as Isaiah was deeply offended by how much suffering was being caused by rapacious, rich and powerful people. But he himself was clearly also conflicted by the difference between right living and his own thoughts, feelings, words and deeds. This stark revelation of his unworthiness in the searing light of God’s power and presence was more than he could bear.
We say we yearn for the light, we say maranatha, come Lord soon, we say fill me with your presence, free me from my chains, but the enveloping Dark Night of the Soul is a mute witness to how unready we really are to face that light. When God allows us to descend into our own murky depths, so that we lose our bearings, it is so that we might see what we cannot bear to see and then turn in true repentance and ask for the fiery cleansing that brings peace at last:
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
I believe that the One in whom we live and move and have our being is a loving creator and parent who not only created and sustains us but wants us to become everything we were meant to be. And so I say yes to the burning coal, I say yes to the overwhelming darkness, and I say yes I want to be made whole and I am willing to do the work. I will face my mistakes, my hidden motivations, that which I cannot face in myself as I am led deeper into the Dark Night of my Soul. For I am held by the One and so, despite the misery of being so burnt out and feeling far from my loving creator, I trust I will be brought through this time stronger and freer than ever.
Amen (so be it).