Numb joy

After three brutal years in Uganda from 2010-2012, Amber and I left the country for six months. We toured Europe for a month and then spent five months in the USA where we reconnected with family, friends, and churches. Enough time had passed since seminary that I could relax a little, let my guard down, and be spiritually vulnerable again. We were showered with expressions of love wherever we went, and that further allowed our hearts to open and receive from others. Through this we experienced the power of ‘love’ to overshadow differences and highlight concordances among people.

Even though objectively I sensed the blessedness of our lives during this period, I still didn’t have much of an emotional response. In a journal entry from October 12, 2012, I attempted to interpret this ‘numb joy’ and how it may have come about:

Some things are clearer now. From 2006 to 2011, God put me through a “dark night of the soul,” a necessary process of stripping away my idols…

The purging process started when I got married and intensified during my graduate studies in Dallas. By the time we got back from Texas, I was swirling in eddies of doubt, confusion, betrayal, and abandonment.

Over the next three years, God stripped me of every feeling I had grown to love: joy, peace, adoration, excitement – leaving me emotionally and spiritually numb. He stripped away any phenomenologically perceptible clue of His presence and thus of any communication between us. He stripped away all interest in the Bible, to the point where I nearly hated it.

At the bottom of all this, I found God was still there as the ‘ground of Being’. He is still there when all else is gone. This was surprising in some ways but greatly reassuring.

In recent months, the refining fire has cooled. Slowly I’ve been able to approach the Bible again and start reading it cautiously, rebuilding trust.

On the rarest occasion, I’ll have a fleeting moment of religious sentiment. I find myself still craving it and praying for it, so I wonder if I’ve learned my lesson at all.

A thought hit me this morning: can I have deep joy, perfect peace, soul-lifting adoration, love, etc., without the accompanying feelings in my body that I always assumed constituted those states? If I reflect on it, I do have joy, but not the warm, bubbling feeling I was used to having. I do have peace about life but not as an emotional feeling. And it’s not just mental either. Maybe a part of me deeper than either mind or heart? I don’t know.

Please, God, don’t stop disciplining me. I know you correct those you love. I need your loving correction, and I fear the day you would stop doing it.

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