John 1:5 “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
A friend of mine recently shared that her aging mom was recently diagnosed with Lewy body dementia. One devastating symptom is that it often causes horrible hallucinations. My friend’s mom often sees and describes things that aren’t there. Some days it might be a beautiful bird flying around her bed, but other days it might be people who are tormenting her and won’t leave her alone. It is emotionally exhausting for my friend to watch her mother’s mind gradually crumbling, and she often feels helpless and afraid. In the early stages, it was scary for her mother too because she was still cognitively alert enough to know that something about these experiences wasn’t quite right or real. She would call her daughter to tell her of what she was seeing and couldn’t understand why these people wouldn’t leave her alone. She would timidly say, “No one else sees them, do they? But why won’t they go away? I tell them to leave and they just look at me. And I pray that God would make them go away, but He doesn’t seem to hear my prayers.”
That has been the hardest thing for my friend. Wondering why her mom’s prayers seem to go unanswered. Even though she understands medically that her mom’s brain is deteriorating, and it is just a symptom of a terrible disease, she still longs for relief for her mom.
Dementia is a cruel disease and one that I don’t understand. I am sure it must seem like prayers are unanswered as you watch your loved one’s brain live in a state of unreality that makes no sense. Please hear me when I say that this is not a devotional trying to diminish or ignore the pain that comes with this horrific disease.
At the same time, I often struggle with what to do when prayers seem to go unanswered. I struggle to trust the Lord when circumstances or struggles don’t seem to change. If I am honest, I often consider a prayer an “answered” prayer when my discomfort goes away, and I feel better. I want God to take away any pain that leaves me feeling helpless or lonely or afraid.
If I don’t know the answer to something, I quickly google it to figure it out. If my daughter forgets her shoes for athletics, I find myself scrambling to help her find another pair. If my friend is upset with me, I want to talk with her immediately so that we both feel better sooner rather than later. And if I need to make dinner, I don’t want to have to wait for the chicken that I forgot to take out of the freezer to thaw. I don’t like the in between or the uncomfortable. I want a solution and I want it yesterday.
I don’t like the darkness. I don’t like not knowing how to make something better. I don’t like to have to sit in the discomfort of my anxiety or my fear or my inability to change. And if I am honest, I tend to get mad at God for not helping me. I cry out to Him and He often seems silent.
I recently reread a beautiful book called The Hidden Life. It is the story of Betty Skinner’s battle with clinical depression and her long journey towards wholeness and a deeper dependence on God. I was struck by what she wrote about darkness:
“Darkness – with its numbness, loneliness, and shame- very often accompanies a deep spiritual journey and can be the means to the knowledge of both God and self. The freedom to love and be loved is often discovered in the darkness, so it is important to befriend it. We need to view it not as something bad or to be feared, but rather as a time of not knowing, a time, not of doing and learning, but of being and unlearning. If we will look upon this painful season not as the hand of an enemy trying to crush us but endeavor to see it as the hand of a loving God who is closer to us than our breath, leading us down to the ground of our being, our fearsome journey will finally open onto a great, wide plateau of love – a safe place – that place within God. ‘For in Him we live and move and have our being.’ (Acts 17:28) By submitting to this time of crucifixion and allowing ourselves to be broken by it, we create an opening through which God’s love can pour in and illuminate our illusions, liberate us from our attachments, and fulfill our heat’s desire to discover our true self hidden in Christ.
Lord, help us to trust you in the dark places. I hate brokenness and I hate waiting, but if patience allows me to experience your love in a deeper way, then please strengthen me with patience and trust.