The midnight hour…it is dark, silent, and cold in the midnight hour. The midnight hour can be lonely. It can be frightening at times. One can “hear” the silence more clearly in the midnight hour. The midnight hour is the term that I gave to my journey on which I was forced to walk immediately following Michael’s death. It seemed as if it would never go away. I craved for the moment when I would feel the sun on my face again, the dawning of a new day. It was endless days of the midnight hour. In the midnight hour, God was silent… present, but silent.
Even Jesus had to experience this feeling of being forsaken, a period of no communication with God, when he physically felt like he needed Him the most.
When Michael died, I experienced “extreme separation”, which is the way I referred to the spiritual and physical separation from Michael, similar to what Jesus felt on the cross when God separated himself from him. I felt extreme separation from not only Michael, but from God at the same time. They had both been my lifelines… and both felt as if they had been stripped away from me simultaneously. Michael was physically gone. There could be no more communication. With God, He was present, but not saying a word.
A friend of mine wrote me during those early months and stated how Jesus experienced that extreme separation while He hung dying on the cross. He wrote, “He felt it acutely when He was pouring out His life and His blood on the cross for our sins. At that point and time, the Father had to leave Him, separated from everyone and everything on the cross so the sacrifice would be complete. He cried out, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’ There was no reply from heaven.” After losing Michael, there were so many months of feeling completely numb that I had absolutely nothing to say to God. During my time alone in my bedroom, which is where I could pull away from people and escape to grieve or be silent, there was always a painful silence. It was as if a vacuum had sucked every last bit of noise out of my room. I felt like it was God and I, just sitting there in utter silence. I knew that God was still the same, but my circumstances had changed and the way we communicated changed. I didn’t feel like He had gone or had left me behind, but I felt like I was in the “there was no reply from heaven” stage. And the silence was deafening.
It is similar to the times when you are sitting next to a best friend or your spouse, and you can sit comfortably in silence because of the love and understanding between the two of you. Sometimes there are no words needed or no words that can be said. Some of the best comfort I received from friends during those beginning days of grieving was a loving embrace and a knowing look into the eyes that said, “I love you, I am hurting too. I am here for you”, but it was all unspoken. I had always enjoyed a two- way conversation with God. I would talk to Him, and if I took time to listen to Him, He would talk to me. During this beginning time of the midnight hour, I felt like we were sitting quietly next to each other without speaking a word. What could be said? What comfort could words bring? I felt Him with me in spite of the silence. I felt the silent comfort. I felt the silent understanding. I didn’t hear answers or advice. I knew He was hurting for me and loving me, but there was no reply from heaven, and, quite frankly, I was not speaking much either.
I sat in silence a lot in my bedroom and would wonder, ‘Should I say something more to Him?’, but there was nothing…. so we sat in silence together. I was listening every waking hour. The silence did not mean we were absent from one another. It was a loss for words.
How did I focus on God’s presence when He felt so distant? I thanked Him. I told Him the only thing I felt. No whistles and bells. No quoting scriptures. No pleas for anything. Not even praising. I did not even have a beginning to my words spoken to Him, or an official “amen” to the barely audible words that I could get out of my mouth. All I could say was “thank you” for the littlest thing that I could drum up in my heart. I remember one night, in the true midnight hour, I spoke to Him for the first time. I whispered, “Thank you,” and then could not speak another word as the tears silently rolled onto my pillow. I would begin to thank Him for carrying me through each day, and then again for carrying me through each night. I would thank Him for the life He had given me up to this point. I did have much for which I could be thankful, but beyond that, I just did not know what to say to Him. Rick Warren states, “The most common mistake Christians make in worship today is seeking an experience rather than seeking God…. God removes our feelings so we won’t depend on them.” He goes on to say, “It is painful and disconcerting, but it is absolutely vital for the development of your faith.” All of my feelings had been completely removed. There was no “experiencing God”. I learned that He was present even if it did not feel like it…even in the complete silence.
Millions of people have gone before me in their experience with the midnight hour. God called David, “a man after my own heart” and was considered close friends of God’s and yet look at his cries in the midnight hour.
“Lord, why are you standing aloof and far away? Why do you hide when I need you the most?”
“Why have you forsaken me? Why do you remain so distant? Why do you ignore my cries for help?” Psalm 22:1
“Why have you abandoned me?” Psalm 43:2(And many other places...which means he felt it more than once!)
After two years of feeling like I was living in the midnight hour, the silencing fog began to lift. First there was the valley of the shadow of death, then there were more valleys of a different kind with fog and obstacles, then there were really long nights, the true midnight hours. Finally, there was dawn. I was desperately ready for the light of day. It wasn’t until after I began to call my time of silence with the Lord the “midnight hours”, that I learned there were others who had given it similar names. St. John of the Cross referred to these days of dryness, doubt, and estrangement from God as “the dark night of the soul”. Henri Nouwen called them ‘the ministry of absence’. A.W. Tozer them “the ministry of the night.”
Without anyone knowing that I had begun to call my time of silence “the midnight hours”, God miraculously spoke through several friends of mine to encourage me to keep my eyes straight ahead. All of these friends were in different parts of the country; none of them knew each other, and some of them I had not spoken to in years. These messages came in texts, Facebook messages, emails, or in person. God consistently spoke the same encouragement. The silence was breaking. I want to share these with you because I want all to see how great our God is. He knew that I had grown extremely weary, the battle had sapped my strength, and my courage was waning.
“The storm is over and a rainbow is there for you to enjoy. The sun is beginning to shine for the light of day is upon you. The seeds will yield a great harvest and His angels are watching over you to protect you and bring you all that you need.”
“You are crossing over. Joshua 1:1-9 says, ‘After the death of Moses, the servant of God, God spoke to Joshua, Moses’ assistant: ‘Moses my servant is dead. Get going. Cross this Jordan River, you and all the people. Cross to the country I’m giving to the people of Israel. I ‘m giving you every square inch of the land you set your foot on ...It’s all yours. All your life, no one will be able to hold out against you. In the same way I was with Moses, I’ll be with you. I won’t give up on you. I won’t leave you. Strength! Courage! You are going to lead this people to inherit the land that I promised to give to their ancestors. Give it everything you have, heart and soul. Make sure you carry out the revelation that Moses commanded you, every bit of it. Don’t get off track, either left or right, so as to make sure you get to where you’re going. And don’t for a minute let this revelation be out of your mind. Ponder and meditate on it day and night, making sure you practice everything written in it. Then you’ll get to where you’re going, then you’ll succeed. Haven’t I commanded you? Strength! Courage! Don’t be timid; don’t get discouraged. God, your God, is with you every step you take.”
“Every new day begins in total darkness. Well intentioned people have been shining artificial light into your darkness, trying to speed your way out of the darkness because they do not like seeing you in pain, it's not wrong, merely misplaced. God will bring his dawn in His timing and a new day according to nature, and its good timing. The people on the ark were told to do nothing but hang on to the boat and ride out the storm. To my knowledge the boat did not have a rudder. They were completely in God's mercy and grace and could no more speed or affect their destiny than the animals on board—in summary, they were passengers... I wanted to allow God to affirm and encourage you in your quest out of the darkness of these days.”
"When you experience suffering in your discipleship journey, the paradigm is...why me? But then the paradigm shifts to...wow, me? From burden to honor.”
“You are a jewel and God Has Not Forgotten YOU.... His unfailing love keeps you even in the midnight hours.”
I was speechless with all of them, especially the last one. “His unfailing love keeps me even in the midnight hours.” Even when I am scared. Even when it is dark. Even when I am cold and lonely. Even when we are not speaking to one another. Even when the silence is deafening.
“The Lord has hidden himself from his people, but I trust him and place my hope in him.” Isaiah 8:17