When Darkness Seems to Hide His Face

If you were to flip through my journal and glance at the past few months, you would see entry after entry of heartache, desperation, and longing. The past 100 days have been filled with trial, suffering, and trudging through a dark valley. Over the course of this past year I’ve noticed a decrease in my health that led to the removal of my gallbladder in September. Hoping for immediate relief, I instead spiraled into a pit containing more sickness, unanswered questions, and extreme anxiety. The attack on my body was an open entry for the enemy to come with his flaming arrows and pierce my already vulnerable heart with convincing lies and paralyzing doubts. Never have I felt such darkness in my life. Within a short period of time, the light of hope and peace in my heart began to flicker as the cold winds of worry blew over my soul. 

Before you keep reading I want to clarify something: this is not a post about everything I have been through these past few months, and this post does not end in the same darkness with which it begins. It is impossible for darkness to have the last say in the life of a child of God. I’ve learned through this season of suffering that God never leaves His children in the dark forever. He can’t, because He is the God of light, and in Him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). But He uses the darkness to show us how truly glorious it is to dwell in His light (1 Timothy 6:16, John 12:46). The valley that I have just walked through, and continue to tread upon, is now a part of my testimony, and testimonies aren’t meant to be hidden. Though we fight to hide our weaknesses and cover up our trials, we can know that God is glorified when we boast in our stories, for when we are weak, then we experience His mighty strength and grace upon grace (2 Corinthians 12:9-11, John 1:16). I want to share of my deliverance so that, if by His grace, you might also be delivered of your own anxieties and fears as well. 

One other thing this post is not, is a “quick fix” to ridding anxiety or an escape route out of the valleys of life. There is no shortcut when we walk through suffering, but there is a Savior named Jesus who has already walked before us and walks with us. Suffering is not an absence of God’s presence or favor, it is a recipe for deep intimacy and understanding of the gospel. There is no “quick fix” to the trials we face and the anxieties that so often threaten to steal our joy and purpose, but we have the eternal Word of God, and that is more than enough to meet our needs in every season of life. 

If I am being completely honest with you, suffering is not a subject I prefer to talk or write about. My tendency is to focus on the joyful things of life. I’m a dreamer at heart, and suffering doesn’t quite fit into my plans. But the Lord knows full well that we will experience suffering as we walk through this life. Suffering is to be expected, and dark seasons will certainly come upon us surely as the sun rises and sets each day. As hymn writer Edward Mote penned over 100 years ago, “When darkness seems to hide His face, I rest on His unchanging grace. In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the gale.” When the storm clouds come upon us, we must hold tight to the immovable Anchor (Hebrews 4:16).

Treasures of Darkness

On September 23, I scribbled this question in my “Give Me Jesus” journal with tears in my eyes and pain gripping my heart: 

Could it be that this anxiety and illness is a suffering I am sharing with Jesus that I might know Him more? Let it be, Jesus.

This question was where it all started. After having surgery on September 15th, anxiety began to makes its home in my heart, bringing with it dark doubts and uncertainties that clouded my vision. My body didn’t respond well to the anesthesia, and the fears I had stored up in my mind began to materialize in real life. For weeks after my surgery (that have now turned into months), I have dealt with physical pain and suffering. This physical sickness led to a stronghold of anxiety in my soul. The heaviness that descended on my heart immediately after surgery felt as if it were a weight that would crush me. It was unlike any burden I had ever felt on my soul. If you’ve ever walked through a period of darkness, depression, or anxiety, you know exactly the crushing feeling I’m talking about. It seems unbearable, and no amount of encouragement from another can bring the light back to where it once was. The only place I had to turn for hope and shelter from the storm was Jesus. 

During the darkest days after surgery, I feared being alone. My body was still recovering and I didn’t have the strength to take care of myself or my son. One day my husband had to run an errand and I knew I was going to be alone for about an hour. Normally I coveted alone time and would spend all of the 60 minutes I was allotted marking things off my to-do list. But that day, I was barely able to get up off the couch. The moment he walked out the door, anxiety and panic hit me again as if it had been waiting to pounce at just the right time. I opened my Bible and began to read aloud. I’d read the Psalms growing up but always felt that David and the other writers were a bit dramatic at times. It was until I was on the brink of despair that I understood why David wrote many of the Psalms - he was struggling with anxiety and depression himself! The feelings that had encompassed my soul weren’t unknown to others. Throughout Scripture there are accounts of believers struggling with fears, anxieties, doubts, wayward feelings, and worries.

And throughout Scripture, in every account of the children of God struggling to make it through days and seasons, God was faithful. Why would He not be faithful to me? I cried as I read different Psalms out loud that day. Some of them I even shouted with the little strength I had. Some of them I whispered as my petition. As each word poured from the page to my heart to my mouth, the presence of the Lord surrounded me like a faithful shield. This was the very beginning of a fresh love and desperate need for the Word of God. In searching for the answers to my suffering and a release from my anxiety, I found Jesus. 

I soon realized from reading the Psalms that I wasn’t questioning God’s ability to save or to heal me, I was refusing to accept my suffering as a gift, or as Isaiah 45:3 puts it, a treasure of darkness. I would rather know Jesus by walking in a field of flowers, not by trudging through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:6). And yet, that is where He so often meets us. He met King David in that valley. And He meets us in our own valleys as well. He walks with us through the valley of suffering and helps us find treasures hidden within the darkness. These treasures could never be found in the light. A life lived in His grace is a life that truly embraces and searches for these treasures when the darkness seems to hide His face. 

Jesus led the way before us when He bore the cross on His back. It is through the fellowship of His suffering that we have joyful communion with Him (Philippians 3:10). This is where I began to see a small glimmer of light and unearth a treasure in the midst of the darkness that had wrapped itself around my soul. Knowing there was treasure to be found in the darkness gave me hope to keep walking and looking to Jesus. 

Forever Hope Verses Quick Fixes

In her book, “Praying God’s Word”, Beth Moore wrote this sentence that was the first treasure I found in the darkness—“Our willingness to fellowship with God in the midst of our difficulty will usher forth the rays of His wonderful light.” Everything within me didn’t want to fellowship in my suffering because, to be totally honest, I didn’t want to suffer! I didn’t want to share with others that my body was broken and my soul was fragile. I have spent the better part of my Christian life trying to hold the world together, knowing in the recesses of my heart that was not my role. And yet, in my humanity, I still tried. It has taken this season of darkness to show me that I cannot, and will never be able to, hold my world or anyone else’s world together. I am not perfect and I am not immune to suffering or anxiety. It is a fact of life that we will suffer, but it is our choice of whether or not we will be willing to embrace our suffering and fellowship with our Savior in the midst of it. 

I’ve been to countless doctors appointments these past few months searching for answers and have still come up short with the total physical healing I long for. When hope seems just around the corner, the enemy shoots another flaming arrow at my body in the form of other sicknesses or anxieties. However, in it all, I am learning to rejoice. Though it doesn’t look like the kind of rejoicing that I would do if life were easy, it is a deeper kind of rejoicing. I have learned to cling to the Word, not as my self-help book, but as my source of life, breath, and being. His Word has held me together when my life was falling apart. This is the greatest treasure I have found in the darkness.

In the moments I have felt completely desperate and void of hope, I’ve wanted to go to the Word for a quick fix, but God isn’t meant to be our genie in a bottle. He is meant to be our Anchor in the storm. In order for Him to be the Anchor, I have to settle my roots deep in the Word. I have started studying through the book of Hebrews, and in this study, I’ve realized once more that the answer to my sorrow, suffering, anxiety is not a quick fix or a glance at the concordance for every verse I can find on “hope” or “worry”; the answer is a forever Savior, and His name is Jesus. Studying through a book of the Bible in this season has kept my soul looking to Jesus and not my sorrows, and it has given me the guidance I need when I don’t “feel” like studying. We are not meant to live by how we feel; we are meant to live by what we know, and we must know the Word in order to make it through times of suffering and battling anxiety.

Believing in the Dark

There are countless treasures that I have laid hold of in this season where darkness seemed to hide His face, many that I will continue to share, and others that I will hold in my heart. But I want to leave you with one last treasure that I continue to understand as I keep walking through this valley, and that is this:

You will never know Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have.

I’ve been stripped of my pride, abilities, health, plans, schedule, and work. I’ve had to stop everything, cancel speaking events, take a hiatus from social media, receive countless meals from giving friends, and accept help in taking care of my son. I’ve had to lay down what I thought this season should look like and accept the new story that is being written. In the end, I’ve realized that all of those things will not satisfy my soul. In the darkness of this season, I’ve come to know in a fresh new way that Jesus truly is all that I need. I once heard that we should never doubt in the dark what God has told us in the light. It is His mere grace that we would believe His promises in the dark. It is a battle we have to fight, and when we are too weak to fight, He fights for us (Exodus 14:14).

He’s been fighting for my heart like a mighty warrior, and He is fighting for you as well. No darkness is ever too dark for our God (Psalm 139:11-12). When darkness seems to hide His face, rest on His unchanging grace and sing:

On Christ the solid Rock I stand, All other ground is sinking sand; All other ground is sinking sand.

The darkness will not be dark forever, dear friends, because Jesus is the light, and He always brings a rainbow after the storm clouds clear away.

singing in the dark,

Gretchen