“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.” (Mary Oliver)
“When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
We all have those moments when life seems overwhelmingly difficult and dark and lonely. I remember the autumn I was planning to return for my second year of an on-line Masters of Spiritual Formation program.
The first year had been life-changing and challenging and thrilling; I quickly knew this was where I was supposed to be! Now it was time to go back for the second year. I had worried all summer about how I would pay for this. I was now retired; my husband was ill. Some funding I had thought might be available fell through. I finally decided to apply for a student loan – at age 65, my first ever. It had been granted, and now I was looking at the syllabus for the year; we were going to spend our two weeks “in residence” in Malibu with Dallas Willard!!
Suddenly I heard a Voice, “Karen, you can’t go this year.” I had heard this Voice before. I was at a camp on Lake Michigan for a three-day solitary winter retreat, required by the Master’s program. I was standing on a dune on a gray, windy day gazing at the stormy sky and listening to the huge waves pounding on the beach. Suddenly I heard, “My child, I will always take care of you.” It was so real I turned around to see who was speaking. Then I realized that God’s voice was speaking just to me. Years of fear and anxiety were transformed into gratitude.
I knew the Voice and I knew I had to listen. I resigned from the program and entered into months of sadness and depression. My passion seemed to have been squashed just as it was getting started. I wondered where I was to go from here. After several months, I opened “the box full of darkness” and began to work through my grief.
I got the list of books being used in the master’s program and studied Ignatius of Loyola and Thomas Merton. From them I learned about the importance of relinquishing, letting go – a gift that has kept on giving. I now was beginning to see the stars in the darkness. It took more than a year for me to let go of the sadness – and, as I did, I found a career as a Director of Spiritual Formation (while my beloved friends were still finishing the MA program). I have always been grateful that I listened; I could never have repaid that student loan!!!!
Why do we have to go through crushing disappointment, extreme anxiety, the loneliness of loss or the squashing of a dream? So we can trust that walking through the darkness with God can bring us back into the light of the stars.