One of the darkest nights of my life happened when I was 21 years old and a junior in college. I had recently experienced something incredibly traumatic, but I was trying to hold it together and press on. After a brief respite at my parents’ house, I was proceeding as if nothing had happened: going to class, showing up at civic meetings, and – on this particular night – meeting with the other college-aged church youth leaders I volunteered with.
It had been a normal night. We were ending our time together with a group prayer, and I opened my mouth to pray for our youth. However, as I moved my lips to pray, the most terrible of all things happened: my soul broke open, and all that carefully concealed and controlled anguish poured out right there, in the middle of a group that knew nothing of my trauma.
There are cries, and then there are ugly cries, but literally nothing I have ever experienced compares to this broken-hearted weeping. I had tried so hard to be okay, to be strong, but in that moment, in the presence of the Lord, I had nothing left. I was completely unmoored. My soul, covered in shame and self-loathing, could stand it no longer.
As hot sobs wracked my body, these 10 or 12 college students prayed over me. Then, while I was still shaking, my amazing and insightful friend Shea whisked me off to the house of a lady in our church, the mom of some of our youth group kids.
As we got out of Shea’s car, I knew one thing for sure: I did not want to be at this lady’s house. You see, this woman was the kind of woman every college girl wants to become. She was smart and beautiful. She was a leader. She lived in a fabulous house. She had these three kids that were beautiful and smart and kind and funny. She was so many wonderful things . . .
so many things I would never be.
Nevertheless, Shea led me into this woman’s house, and the woman began to minister to me. She told me that she had lived through something horrible just like me, but she told me God had brought her through it. She told me she never imagined she would have a husband and a family, but it had worked out. God had blessed her. He could bless me too. This could even work for good in my life.
I was a wreck. She asked me to pray and I literally could not. I had no words. I had a broken spirit. So she prayed for me. Shea prayed for me. Shea took me to my apartment and made me a bowl of sorbet. Somehow, I made it through that night.
I’d like to tell you that this was the only terrible night, but there were many others. Many, many more. Over the next few years I tried many things to escape the pain of that dark time. I lived in total rebellion to the gospel. I began to openly question the existence of God. It was terrible and messy and long-lived. It was dark and incredibly difficult.
I saw that lady a few more times over the years, but I avoided her. I even ducked out of a store years later when I returned to my college town and saw her in it. I was still so ashamed of that time in my life, of what had happened. I was still learning about mercy and grace and God’s deep love. And I was still 90% sure that she was wrong about me. After all, she had told me that God could turn my life around and give me what he had given her. This still sounded like insanity to me.
It has now been 16 years since that awful night. This morning, while saddled in a chair rocking a sleeping baby, I began reciting Psalm 23 in my head:
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,
For you are with me;
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
As I thought on those words, it occurred to me for perhaps the first time that the “enemies” that Psalm 23 refers to aren’t flesh and blood at all but are instead “the rulers, the authorities, the powers of this dark world and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:10-12). And as I digested this thought, the darkest night I just described to you came to mind.
So picture this: I was sitting in a rocking chair recalling the story I just shared with you above. I was thinking about that lady in my church, the one with three beautiful children and such a full life. I was remembering how she told me all those years ago that I had a hope and a future. I was also remembering how I didn’t believe her; how I didn’t think it was possible.
And yet, here I was sixteen years later, rocking my third precious baby and reciting Psalm 23, realizing that those blessings she prayed over me had come to pass. All of them.
As I thought on these beautiful things, I also became aware of something else. Although anyone looking in would have seen a tired mom in wrinkled pajamas and uncombed hair, God’s view of this moment was very different. I wasn’t just a sleep-deprived mother, I was a princess daughter, clothed in the garment of the redeemed. And as I soaked in the goodness of holding a sleeping baby, my third sleeping baby, God was literally holding a banquet for me in the presence of my enemies and anointing my head with oil. Sixteen years ago, Satan told me this moment could never be. And yet, here I was. See how that lie has been exposed!
If you are in some version of your darkest night, I hope this story encourages you. Your enemy really is not flesh and blood, but he is full of lies and he is in great pursuit of your thoughts and mind. He would like nothing more than to rob you of your future and drape chains of shame across your shoulders. But please trust me – though you may not be able to believe it now – the victory is yours in Christ! Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning! (Psalm 30:5). Perhaps the most important part of the story I shared with you above is the fact that even in my deepest sorrow, God was already preparing a table for me. And, through the mouthpiece of this woman in my church, he was inviting me to blessings that were to come, blessings I thought could never be mine.
Friends, if you are the midst of deep suffering, let me be the mouthpiece for you today. You are loved. You are cherished. You are the future recipient of blessings being prepared for you even in this moment. Don’t believe the lies that say you are worthless, hopeless, and without a future. Even now, he is making a way through your wilderness and preparing streams in your wasteland (Isaiah 43:19). Even now, he is singing songs of deliverance over your precious soul (Psalm 32:7).
Dearest Heavenly Father,
Thank you for blessing us with a hope that death cannot destroy. Please place your hands on the sister or brother reading this and help them come to know your presence in a new and more abundant way. We look forward to the day that you forever wipe out the disease of hopelessness. We thank you for all you have done and are already doing for our good even when all our circumstances suggest otherwise. Please renew our hope and help us endure until morning.
In Your Holy Name,
2 Kings 6:16-17: “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.