Q. I've been going through a deep valley for some time now. God seems so distant, prayer seems to bounce off the ceiling, there is no motivation to study the Word. Can a "Dark Night of the Soul" (if that's what this is) last for more than a year?
—Blake Otwell, Leeds, Alabama
A. Blake, you bring in a technical term, "The Dark Night of the Soul," that comes to us from a work by the 16th–century Roman Catholic monk St. John of the Cross. In his usage it means a very high degree of spiritual progress, one most of us will never see. But this evocative term does express something many ordinary Christians experience, a feeling that prayer and Scripture have ceased to resonate and the spiritual life has become a dead end.
Notice, though, that you're not simply bored. You're not tempted to go back to frivolous pastimes. Something in you has changed, and now you know no earthly distraction can fill that need. This is a turning point that has profound and lasting implications. While your mind worries and your heart feels sad, there is another place inside that is fully fixed on where you're trying to go. Jesus says it's like a woman who experiences anguish in childbirth, but who is filled with joy once she sees her child (John 16:21).
So persevere with your dry Scripture reading and broken prayers. They are keeping you nourished while you wait. Remember: "This same Jesus, Who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go" (Acts 1:11). There is light ahead.
Frederica Mathewes–Green is the author of The Illumined Heart and The Jesus Prayer (both Paraclete Press).
Copyright © 2004 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian magazine.1