In school, time is illustrated with a timeline. One continuous line gored by the vertical lines of wars, inventions, and ages. I don’t see a person’s life being straight like that. I think of an individual’s life as a circle, where the past flips around and brushes up against the present. The circles aren’t perfectly shaped, because the pen of time rests during those seasons of struggle and bleeds out on the page, creating a dark splotch or dark place that may reach out and touch someone else’s circle.
Solomon must have believed that when he wrote the following passage in Ecclesiastes.
“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9 (English Standard Version)
I thought about life circles, while perched bare-chested on a hospital bed, as my plastic surgeon drew black circles around my breasts. I’d wrongly believed after walking with two women through cancer—one just having died 7 months prior—it was time I’d be rewarded with a luxury Air BNB on a mountain top.
But I was wrong.
Instead, God pulled me back into the dark place of the valley. That place where the enemy hisses its taunts behind rocks. As familiar as I was with the landscape and its pitfalls, I admit holding the hand of someone on their journey can be a far cry to walking the beaten path yourself. I became the newest host of the sinister invader that stole the lives of two women I’d loved.
I had breast cancer.
Three years have passed, and today I can truly say I’m thankful God loves me enough to lead me into the dark places. Don’t get me wrong, I still have those nagging appointments and MRI’s that can make me hold my breath a bit, but they’d suffocate me if I hadn’t first spiritually grown in the wilderness valley.
Where are you today? Are you floundering in the shadows of the mountains? Are you experiencing joblessness? Illness? Divorce? Loss of a loved one? God can do a lot with your wilderness season if you allow Him to. Here are some benefits I’ve discovered in mine.
God Uses the Dark Places to Humble Us and Test Our Hearts
When we start to believe we deserve better because we’re “good people,” it reveals pride—our default—which God detests.
“And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.” Deuteronomy 8:2 (ESV)
I felt as if I deserved his favor due to my compassionate care of those women. Worse yet, many well-meaning friends and family expressed the same thoughts. “Seems unfair,” I’d heard several times. But this thought stems from legalism. Being good to earn God’s favor was never God’s idea, but rather, man’s skewed ideals of God. And, just maybe, God leading you into the wilderness is a sign of God’s favor after all. He’s choosing you to brunt this hardship, so He can grow you and lean in close to you. If He did this with His Son, by sending Him into the wilderness to be tempted, why wouldn’t we see this journey as His favor?
After I surrendered to my diagnosis and pushed down my pride. God shifted my attitude from “Why me?” to “Why not me?” where I found humility.
Take Job, after God allowed everything to be taken from him except his life, his friends gathered around him debating why God would allow such tragedy. “He must have sinned somehow,” they’d presumed. Job defends his righteous living before moaning over God not giving him a reason to why he’s suffering so unjustly.
Elihu, the youngest in the group, sits quietly and listens to the banter around the fire; when they finish, Elihu speaks up. Basically, he points out that the Creator of the Universe doesn’t owe Job an explanation at all. He doesn’t owe him anything.
Afterwards, God brought Job’s pride to the forefront and humbled him.
We’re like that at times, aren’t we? Think we’re good and deserve good treatment from God, but the truth is, our righteous deeds stacked next to God are like filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6)
Just when we start thinking we are “good,” we’d better get our hiking boots ready.
In the Dark Places We Feel God’s Presence and Learn He is Truly With Us
One afternoon, my gynecologist called with my biopsy report, after which she stated, “I’m sorry, but you’ll probably need to undergo chemo and radiation.”
I fell apart that afternoon. I’d seen what those treatments did. I became angry with God, but His still small voice asked, “Do you trust me?”
I prayed. “I trusted you with Tricia and Vanessa and look where it got them.”
Again… “Do you trust me?”
God and I battled several hours, His gentle nudging against my stubborn will, until finally I surrendered. On my knees, I told God, “I’ll go where you want me to go. Do what you want me to do. I’m just scared. I have a little girl.” (As if I had to remind God.)
Minutes later, the phone rang and a breast cancer specialist reading my biopsy report told me, “Tammy, this doesn’t look bad at all. I think a double mastectomy will take care of it. From what I’m seeing you won’t need chemo or radiation.”
God waited until I had surrendered for that good news to come.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (ESV)
Do you trust Him? What you believe about God’s character is a direct reflection of your trust in Him. Are you willing to let Him take you where He wants you to go, so He can show you who He is?
Dark Places Help Us Remember the Blessings and Good Gifts God Gave Us in the Past
For me, I recognized how blessed I’d been. I had a loving husband and children, family, and friends. Relationships became more important in that season because I needed them. I’d also realized how much I took for granted.
“Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion? I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.” Psalms 77: 9 and 11.
Has there been a time in your life when you’ve been in a wilderness season, and you’ve become more grateful? And could recognize God’s blessings more clearly?
Dark Places Help Us to Stop Being Self-Reliant and Become God-Reliant
Before my diagnosis I began abiding in God’s Word. Reading and journaling every morning. So, I knew I needed to keep my guidebook close at hand.
When you’re traipsing in the dark, God shows you where to place your foot. His Word is where you seek Him and where you’ll find Him. He doesn’t light up the whole valley. He only shows you where to put your foot because it requires dependence on Him.
“Seek the Lord and His strength; seek his presence continually!” II. Chronicles 16:11 (ESV)
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalms 119:105 (ESV)
Recovering from a painful surgery, you learn how to give up your self-reliance and depend on others. Some of us are naturally inclined to be DIYers and need reminding every now and again that we need God, and we need community. That’s how God created us. It is in our stubborn self-reliance we become easier prey for the enemy.
If you’re in your wilderness, don’t go it alone. Spend time in God’s Word. Be still with Him. Give Him the opportunity to speak into your spirit. Surround yourself with abiding Christians who can give you godly advice and encouragement.
We Feel a Supernatural Peace in the Dark Places When We Rely on God
“Do not be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV)
In this passage there are two things that stand out, which will help us in the wilderness. When we have God’s peace, we don’t need understanding of our circumstances, because His peace will guard our heart and mind. Furthermore, His peace surpasses our understanding, in that it’s not explainable, being supernatural in nature.
When I sat on that table as the doctor drew circles around the flesh she’d slice out, I shook my head and laughed. The doctor looked at me curiously.
“I’m sorry. This is just so ironic. So surreal.”
Jay, my husband, agreed.
I felt this odd sense of calm, facing that surgery.
Do you have God’s peace in your wilderness? You can have it by asking for it.
God Grows our Faith in the Dark Places
Since it is God’s job to grow our faith in Him, He will use what it takes to do just that. He will take us where we need to go. He will allow situations to happen in our lives if needed.
Months before I knew anything about my cancer, God gave me a verse in my quiet time.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 (ESV)
This passage kept popping up, so I had a suspicion something was coming down the pipeline of my life.
After my mastectomy, I sat across from my oncologist for a final consult on whether I’d have to have chemo. I’d prepared for a fight.
He looked over my test results. “So, what are your plans?”
“I’m going to eat healthier, exercise, and sleep good,” I said, sounding like a toddler promising to eat her veggies.
“Well, from what I see, that’s a solid plan.” He smiled at me. “Someone up there must really love you a lot. If this surgery would’ve been scheduled a week later, you’d be facing chemo and radiation. Your marker was right there on the line.”
I breathed. I couldn’t believe it, but then again, I could. Right then my faith grew because all things were working together for good. I was able to see His promise play out. You will see it too. If you rely on God in your wilderness, your faith will grow.
“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” Hebrews 11:6 (ESV)
Consider the Olive Tree:
I read something the other day about the Olive tree. Olives produce the most nutritious and abundant fruit when the tree has suffered a drought. Maybe that’s the overall message of the wilderness from a tree that flourishes in parched places.
Sister, I wish I could hold your hand as you walk in your wilderness valley today, but there’s someone bigger than me who’s reaching for you—your God. God wants to use this experience to humble and test you, allow you to feel His presence in a way you can trust, give you time to recognize your true blessings, and help you become less self-reliant and more God- reliant, where He’ll shower you in His peace, and grow your faith.
…And that’s why we must endure the dark places.
Tammy Carter Adams is the founder of The Hallelujah House and the co-host of The Hallelujah House podcast. A native of the Tidewater area of Virginia, Tammy resides in Orlando, Florida with her husband Jay and their four children ages 23 to 7. When she’s not writing, Tammy enjoys painting, interior design projects, and mixed media. You can contact Tammy directly at the “About Us” link on the Homepage.
Photo credit: Stock/m-gucci/625991362