Book Review- Dark Nights of the Soul

All of us go through periods of suffering. Whether it’s the death of a loved one, a divorce, a job loss, an illness, a crisis of faith, all of which can crush our spirits and cover our lives in darkness. It’s not only these unpleasant times that will come to define us, it’s also how we respond when these times come. Thomas Moore’s book, Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life’s Ordeals. The book title inspired by the 16th Century Spanish mystic and poet John of the Cross’ poem “Dark Night of the Soul.”

At the very beginning, Moore informs us that getting through a dark night of the soul is not for those looking for a quick fix:

“If your main interest in life is health, you may quickly try to overcome the darkness. But if you are looking for meaning, character, and personal substance, you may discover that a dark night has many important gifts for you.”1

Moore adds that we can sense a time of growth and preparation during difficult times:

“Sometimes in your darkness you may sense that something is incubating in you or that you are being prepared for life. You are going somewhere, even though there are no external signs of progress.”2

Moore brilliantly draws upon the struggles of patients in his years of therapy practice and how they navigated through their dark nights. Moore also weaves in the tale of Jonah from the Bible, tales from mythology, and the real life struggles of writers Oscar Wilde, Anne Sexton, Emily Dickinson, and others, who found meaning in the midst of their suffering.

Moore’s theme throughout the book is to guide us in how to properly frame our dark nights, embrace them, and seek to growth from the darkness.

“Think of a dark night as part of organic living. To avoid it would be like choosing only artificial food that never spoils. As a natural person, you are going to feel a wide range of emotions and go through many different kinds of experiences. Over the course of your lifetime, parts of you will grow and blossom, some will rot. To be sad, grieving, struggling, lost, or hopeless is part of natural human life. By riding the wave of your dark night, you are more yourself, moving toward who you are meant to be.”3

Moore touches upon the dark nights that can occur in life, relationships, spirituality, creativity, health, and aging, often using non-clinical methods, to help the reader understand how to get through the dark times. One way to navigate the dark nights, according to Moore, is to develop a philosophy of life, which he defines as:

“A philosophy of life is a bundle of wisdom you have gathered from your reading and experience. It is not a rigid ideology that allows no development and complexity. It’s a living thing, a developing idea about life that belongs to you alone.”4

I know on a personal level that whenever I find myself going through a period of suffering, I question the purpose of said suffering. I contemplate the purpose of my existence and my lot in life. However, Moore puts it succinctly, while drawing upon a them of Stoic philosophy:

“Where you fit in the scheme of things is not your choice. Your job is to deal honestly and generously with the fate given to you. It may be a brief life of sickness. You may be the most ordinary of people. On the other hand, you may be called sometime in your life to make an extraordinary act. Your task is to be prepared for the invitation offered, the chance to define yourself by an important choice.”5

I find Dark Nights of the Soul to be an excellent read and I recommend it to anyone facing a difficult time in your life.

1Thomas Moore, Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life’s Ordeals.New York: Gotham Books (2004): xiii.

2Ibid, 4.

3Ibid, 7.

4Ibid, 32.

5Ibid, 298.

That Elusive Hope

light candle hope
Photo by Iarlaith McNamara on Pexels.com

By Michael W. Raley

Hope- a desire or expectation for a certain outcome-

Can remain as elusive as a treasure out of reach.

Even when the hope seems reasonable,

The path is still fraught with difficulty.

This constant difficulty, in turn frustrates our hope.

A vicious circle indeed!

We pursue hope in faith, in our hard work, in fortune, and a lover’s embrace,

All of which can be taken away,

Leaving us empty once more.

Reality has a nasty habit of sucker punching us,

Whether it is the doubt, the layoff, the disease diagnosis, or the lover’s departure

Or all of them at once.

“It has to get better,” we say to ourselves.

“There must be more to life than this,” we muse during a frustrating moment.

Hope, even in the most realistic appraisal of a situation,

Still flickers in the darkness and calls out to us.

By the grace of God,

I arose from my nightly slumber

To face another day.

Therefore, there is still hope.

 

 

 

 

Learning to Balance

balance macro ocean pebbles
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

By Michael W. Raley

If not for the darkness of the night,

We could not appreciate the beauty of the morning light.

Without understanding the depths of depravity and sin,

We could not comprehend the hope and promise of redemption.

If we set our hearts to love and the joys which follow,

We will experience the pains of heartbreak and sorrow.

For most of  us to be thankful for the blessings of prosperity,

We first live through soul crushing lack and poverty.

As we begin to accumulate the wisdom of a sage,

We lose the vigor and vitality of our youthful age.

Thus, life is learning to balance the pleasure and pain,

Realizing at times we must let go if we seek to gain.

 

 

The Social Media Diet

apps blur button close up
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There are as many diet plans as there are people. It seems like there’s always a new trendy diet people are willing to try, whether it’s the Keto diet, the South Beach diet, the Atkins diet, or the Paleo diet, to name a few. There are also people who live a lifestyle of abstaining from certain foods, such as vegans, vegetarians, or people like me, who have to avoid gluten because of my Celiac disease. To go along with all of these diets, there’s the money spent on weight loss programs and gym memberships. Thus, the weight loss industry totals into the tens of billions of dollars annually.

Spring is here and I’m trying to work off the weight gained during another cold Midwestern winter, but I’ve started a different diet. This diet is to increase my peace of mind and my spare time: the social media diet.

I joined the world of social media back in 2010, as a way to connect to out-of-state relatives and catch up with people with whom I lost contact. However, I quickly saw the ugly side of social media. Comment about anything going on in the world and cue the vitriol in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Social media, like anything else, is not bad in of itself, it’s about how it is used.  I began to see the irony of how people took a platform meant for connection and turned  it into a means of division. There’s no room for moderation because everyone has made up his or her mind.

I was scrolling through weeks ago and asked myself, “What are you doing? What are you looking for? Do you really need to know any of this?” I thought about gradually reducing the amount of time spent on social media, but I’ve decided to stay away. I’ve deleted social media apps from my phone, which saves a lot of memory on your operating system. If I do happen to log on, I put myself on a short timer (like five minutes).

The early results are in and I have to say so far so good. I’ve dedicated more time to reading and being productive around the house. I seem to be more positive, as I am not exposed to negativity and drama first thing in the morning. The best part about it is no politics. I used to enjoy political debate, but since everything these days is a political topic, I have soured on the issue. I believe staying away now will be beneficial with the upcoming 2020 U.S. elections.

I’m not telling anyone to close your social media accounts. If scrolling through Facebook or tweeting is something you enjoy, that’s fine, it’s your life. However, for my own peace of mind, I’ve decided to forge a new lifestyle, which I am enjoying thus far.

 

 

The Introverted Christian

person standing in pathway
Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

I am an introvert and I am okay with it. I am by nature a shy, quiet, and reserved person until I become comfortable with a person, a group, or a social situation. I prefer a quiet Friday night at home or the solitude of a bookstore as opposed to some loud bar or club. However, the “extroverted world” has tried to make it out like there’s something wrong with me or the millions, possibly billions out there like me.

“You have to look out for the quiet ones.”

“Why are you so quiet?”

“You need to come out of your shell.”

“You don’t talk much.”

My introversion not only comes in conflict with everyday life, but also in the business and the fundamental evangelical church worlds. I have been a manager, I have preached sermons, I’ve volunteered to coach a church league basketball team, I went on a mission trip and fulfilled The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), but people were still standoffish and not accepting of me.

The place where I struggled the most with my introversion was the church. In my early twenties up to my mid-thirties, my now ex-wife and I attended what is known as a Charismatic church, which believes that the gifts of the New Testament (healing, speaking in tongues,casting out demons, etc.) are still in effect today. If you are unfamiliar with the Charismatic church, it’s along the lines of the Pentecostal/Assemblies of God denominations.

Worship in these “Full Gospel” type of churches can get rowdy, as people jump up and down, wave flags, run around the sanctuary, raise their hands, and so on and so forth. However, I was always very reserved in my demeanor, choosing to worship God on my own terms. I’m not a hooting and hollering person, it’s not who I am. With my old church being around 300 people, others took notice of my demeanor and I received “churchified” statements concerning my introverted nature:

“You got a spirit of fear.”

“You need to be bold.”

“Quit resisting the Spirit.”

Now that I have the advantage of looking back and perspective, I know what I should have said: “If God knew me before He created me (Jeremiah 1:5), wouldn’t He know that I was going to be this way?”Or maybe I should’ve pointed out that Jesus, Moses, David, Elijah, Daniel, and others in Scripture sought out God in solitude and in their own ways. If they didn’t follow the crowd in seeking God, why do I have to? Also, if God accepts you as you are, wouldn’t that include a quiet nature as well?

Please don’t misinterpret, I am not speaking out of bitterness or putting anyone down. I am simply sharing my struggle with who I am. I spent a lot of years worried that there was something wrong with me, like I would not be fully accepted by God or anyone else. I don’t want you to face that same struggle.

As of this post, I am forty-two, divorced, starting over with God in a much larger church, and I am coming to a place of accepting myself. I am who I am. I prefer to share my faith by embodying my faith; I seek to build relationships as opposed to threatening with hell fire. It took me a long, long, time, but I have finally accepted myself just as I am. It may be a contradiction in terms, but I am an introverted Christian. God bless you.

Book Review- Rising Strong

rising strong
Image from Random House Books

Shame, regret, failure, and vulnerability are words that can trigger visceral reactions and bring to the surface long suppressed emotions. However, if we are to move forward in life, we must come to terms with these issues. In her book Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Brene Brown provides a masterful roadmap on how to recover from life’s setbacks.

In Rising Strong, Brown draws from her experience as a social worker, academic researcher, wife, mother, and stories from everyday people all the way to Fortune 500 companies to weave a tapestry that reflects the simultaneous beauty and mess that is life. Rising Strong is more than a conventional self-help book, as Brown encourages her readers to dig deep and “rumble” with the issues at hand and to live through the process on a daily basis.

(If you are unfamiliar with Brene’ Brown, I would encourage you to pull up her TEDx Talks on YouTube).

All of us fall and fail in life, but Brown states the importance of vulnerability, which she defines as, “The willingness to show up and be seen with no guarantee of outcome -is the only path to more love, belonging, and joy.”1 Even during the times we fall flat on our faces, the rising strong process reveals to us who we are and allows us to draw upon our inner strength.

While Brown discusses embracing the failure, she warns against downplaying the emotional effects of it: “To strip failure of its real emotional consequences is to scrub the concepts of grit and resilience of the very qualities that make them both so important- toughness, doggedness, and perseverance.”2

Early on in the book, Brown outlines the Rising Strong process, which she uses throughout the process. “The goal of the process is to rise from our falls, overcome our mistakes, and face hurt in a way that brings more wisdom and wholeheartedness into our lives.”3 The other elements of the Rising Strong process includes what Brown calls “The Reckoning,” “The Rumble,” and “The Revolution,” which involve recognizing how emotions and feelings influence our behavior, owning our stories, and writing a new ending, respectively.

If you are serious about making changes in your life and you are willing to do the dirty work, I highly recommend Rising Strong. Brown lays down the gauntlet for a life changing challenge, as I saw it in light of my own recent life events concerning my health, divorce, and starting over.

Brene Brown, Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York: Random House (2015): xvii.

Ibid, xxv.

Ibid, 37.

A Year of Restoration

automobile car car repair classic
Photo by Mikes Photos on Pexels.com

As 2018 ended and 2019 began, the word restoration kept springing to mind. To restore something whether it be a relationship, physical health, or house, simply means to bring an item back to its original state. Restoration is my word for the year as I seek to rebuild my relationship with God and my life.

Restoration in the Bible, like our word in English, can mean many things, such as the restoration brought about by prophecy, healing, the restoration of the Temple, and the restoration of the merciful/righteous. My focus on restoration will be the aspect of returning to God after a period of sin and trials.

2019 will mark twenty years since I first accepted Christ, and it has been a wild ride. I have faced many trials over the course of these years, which have often led to me questioning God’s plan, my decision making, leaving church, going back to church, and so on and so forth. I truly admire those who have spent their lives serving God without reservation or hesitation. I would like to get to that point and stay there.

This year I am working on restoring my relationship with God, while continuing to grow as an individual. There are numerous verses, Old and New Testament, concerning coming back to God after sin and trials. I would like to share a few of them.

“And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.” -1 Peter 5:10 (NIV).

“And when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I’ve commanded you today, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where He scattered you.” -Deuteronomy 30:2-3 (NIV).

“Restore us, God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.” -Psalm 80, verses 3, 7, and 10 (NIV).

As we go forward into this year, let us be mindful of God’s grace. No matter what we’ve gone through, even if the situation pushed us away from God, we can always come back to Him. God bless.

The Loneliness Strikes at Night

monochrome photo of man covering his face
Photo by Daniel Reche on Pexels.com

By Michael W. Raley

The loneliness strikes at night,

Right before time to go to sleep.

I don’t want to be alone,

So I try to put off the inevitable.

I stay up, fighting the loneliness until I’m exhausted,

Before finally going to sleep.

The next battle is trying to stay asleep,

As I toss and turn in weariness.

I wake up just as exhausted

As when I went to bed.

This house is just too big and too quiet

Without you here.

I’m over the heartbreak,

I have yet to adjust to sleeping alone.

Where I used to reach out and hold you,

I now grasp at the empty space.

It’s on the Cards

two merry christmas cards illustration
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Mailing out Christmas cards to family and friends is along held tradition for many people. Even in the age of social media, I still receive cards in the mail. I’ve never been much of a card sender (I’ve given cards out in person at family gatherings), but I still enjoy receiving cards.

This Christmas season, however, things are different. My divorce became final on November 29, 2018. Every card I received is addressed to me only, another subtle reminder of “the new normal.”I’m not saddened by it or anything, it’s just feels weird. My ex-wife and I lived in this same house for sixteen of our eighteen years of marriage and the Christmas cards came with both of our names on them. Now it’s just me.

I know getting over a divorce or any other life changing event is a process- spiritually, mentally, physically, emotionally, and financially. I am making adjustments day by day to be a better person and to find my way on my own. I have taken this time to count my blessings- my family has been very supportive, friends have reached out, I’ve joined a men’s group at church, I am more open and social at work, my ex-wife and I are on friendly terms, and my dogs are still crazy about me.

The holidays are often a depressing time for so many people and I’m trying to avoid that fate. I might be lonely, but I know I’m not alone. I will survive this Christmas and I know I will thrive in the new year.

The Golden Band

band blur close up engagement
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

By Michael W. Raley

I hold in my hand the golden band

That once stood for love and commitment,

Which is now relegated to a nondescript box,

Like any other piece of jewelry.

The golden band was once a symbol

Of two people living one life,

Working together to overcome any obstacle

That stood in their path,

But now represents a broken home.

The golden band represents a broken heart,

A failed commitment,

Broken promises and broken dreams.