In the past few days, I have been doing some research on the concept of “the dark night of the soul” for a work project. It has been a very interesting and enlightening learning experience for me.
Sometimes in life, we pass through dark periods when we feel utterly lost and alone, and I am reminded of the poem, Footprints in the Sand, written by Mary Stevenson in 1936, which I have printed below.
Call these periods what we will ... dark night of the soul, the void, some type of astrological transit … there is probably some truth in all of these disciplines and interpretations.
The particular literature that I have been reading relates to the concept of spiritual formation or spiritual awakening, and the various stages through which one passes. In particular, I have been reading about spiritual maturity and that in order to develop to spiritual maturity, we must face our shadow sides and see ourselves as we truly are with egos set aside. Some literature states that when we are ready, God gives us experiences through which we can learn and accept the true nature of ourselves and learn to love unconditionally. Perhaps this is true, since I have seen many examples of others who have seemed to have countless traumatic or difficult experiences one after the other causing one to wonder how life can be so unfair.
At times, in my own life, it seemed that no matter what I did, things just didn’t work out the way I hoped or intended … times when I just felt that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time … times when there seemed to be no caring God to help.
The readings I have looked at in the last few days suggest that these periods and experiences teach us to accept ourselves and help us to grow toward unconditional love and surrendering to God’s will for us.
Footprints in the Sand
One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.
In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there was one only.
This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints, so I said to the Lord,
“You promised me Lord,
that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there has only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, have you not been there for me?”
The Lord replied, “The years when you have seen only one set of footprints, my child, is when I carried you.”
Mary Stevenson, 1936
Chandler, C., Holden, J., Kolander, C. (1992). Counseling for Spiritual Wellness: Theory and Practice, Journal of Counseling & Development, November/December 1992, Vol. 71, pp. 168-175.
Coe, J. (2003). Musings on the Dark Night of the Soul: Insights from St. John of the Cross on a Developmental Spirituality, in Hall, T. and McMinn, M. (eds.) (2003). Spiritual Formation, Counseling, and Psychotherapy, New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc., pp. 69-88.
Vaughan, F. (1991). Spiritual Issues in Psychotherapy, The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 1991, Vo. 23, No. 2, pp. 105-119.
© Dr. Carla Weaver 2015