The Dark Night of the Soul
by Dr. Meredith J. Sprunger
The average person tends to go through life accepting things as they are and adjusting to situations as they arise without too much inner frustration. People who have significant potential often have high physical and mental energy levels, superior truth insight, and the will capacity to drive themselves toward goal objectives. They are strongly motivated toward selective types of achievement.
These people of superior potential also have a greater probability of driving themselves to the point of psychological-physical exhaustion and encountering what appear to be unsolvable existential problems. They keep pushing themselves unrealistically, determined to meet all obligations, and respond to new opportunities. This pace in the fast lane becomes a way of life.
One day when the conditions are right, some of these people experience the listlessness and overwhelming depression of "burnout." They see no adequate reason for their inability to respond positively to their many responsibilities. Threatened by this ambiguity and their own imaginations, they are overcome with the various psychic and physical symptoms of "battle-fatigue" – inability to cope, powerlessness, anxiety states, crying, a sense of doom and black despair! The onset of these "burnout symptoms" is usually associated with some sort of community, a threat to assumed security, death in the family, or some challenge that requires resiliency and creative energy.
General Dwight Eisenhower went into the shock of such an experience when, after the rigors of his World War II activities, he took on a new set of responsibilities as President of Columbia University. Harry Emerson Fosdick grappled with this frightening experience when his psychic energy was drained by his disciplined schedule for excellence and opposition to his progressive theology by the Presbyterian power structure. These burnout experiences have been so universal among the spiritual leaders of history that it is classically known as "the dark night of the soul." It strips away all sources of pride, egocentricity, self-will, and self-sufficiency.
This all-encompassing experience of depression, anxiety, inadequacy, and despair is often regarded as the deepest suffering human beings can know. It is frequently described as "Hell". This ultimate testing forces the individual to face ultimates or completely fold and sink into a subhuman existence. The intensity of the experience is such that one surrenders all that he or she is and all that they have to the highest reality of their experience – God. Intuitively one knows that the only way out, the only road to health, strength, meaning, and joy is unreserved dedication to the indwelling Spirit’s will and way regardless of consequences. With the last reserve of will we join, in spirit, with Job saying, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust him."
We become willing to surrender our attachment to material things and pleasures, money, egocentricity, pride, flattery, popularity, personal power, reputation or anything which separates us from eternal truth, spiritual beauty, and divine goodness – the will and way of God as we sincerely understand it in our experience.
The road back to health, strength, and well-being is painstaking and time consuming. It is a rebuilding of our personality structure. It begins after our unreserved dedication with a sense of inner peace. Anyone passing through this ultimate testing to achieve reality orientation and commitment is never the same. They have entered another dimension of being and develop into stronger, more capable people because they are no longer the center of their existence. They become self-forgetful in the service of spiritual values, which are more important than the vicissitudes of mortal existence. One day they discover that they not only have inner peace, but, have achieved the higher happiness of love and service.
It is my observation and experience that human beings are not prepared to be entrusted with significant human and spiritual service until they have passed through some criticial forms of testing, and found capable of assuming these heavier burdens of responsibility for the common good. Years later, looking back, that which was experienced as "the dark night of the soul", we see was in actuality "God's refining fire of mind enlightenment, enabling us to develop mind control, will dedication, and soul growth."
Be assured, if you should experience "the dark night of the soul" in any of its many forms, you are a person of significant potential, that God is challenging to enter a new level of being, which is beyond the domination of the lesser values of the material world. It is a humble beginning, but the humble do, indeed, inherit the earth!
A service of
The Urantia Book Fellowship