This is a repost. I posted this on March 16 2007. I got a lot of hits on it and good feedback:
The dark night in friendship.
God, or the absence of God, right in the center of the dark night.
I am going to attempt to reach out to a diverse audience in this post or posts if the thread goes longer. For the time being, I personally want to stay away from labels here or conditions as I talk about this. If you find them helpful and want to express the descriptive labels, by all means, go ahead. I want to focus on the dark night in friendships. Here's one description of a "dark night" by Wendy M.Wright in her articles on "Reflections on Spiritual Friendship Between Men and Women: "There is often a crucible through which the friends must pass...All is chaos. All is dark night. All the theories, the moral guidelines, the ways of organizing reality already tested collapse, and one is awash in a sea of confusion and pain."
Although he may not use that specific language, Paul Wadell's friendship realism anticipates dark nights in friendship. I hope you've picked up on that. You can't spend a whole chapter (we haven't got that far yet) on not letting hurt have the final word in friendship without acknowledging the "dark night in friendship."
Intimate friendships among women experience this. One woman in describing a dark night in a wounded friendship expressed: If you're not the one ending the friendship, it feels like an elephant stomped on your heart into a billion bleeding pieces." Intimate cross gender friendships also experience it. So, do close male friendships. I want to suggest another category where the dark night happens in friendship: when a church splits, or when there's been intimacy present, a special bonding present with you and your faith community and you have feel led to leave the church with a broken heart rather than satisfied heart.
Emerging Christians or churches are not immune to the dark night. An ingrown temptation among emerging Christians perhaps will be to build "boundaries" around certain items of spirituality or eccelsiology that forge an in/out connection that will be the fertile ground for dark nights in friendship.
I have experienced the dark night in friendship. I was in the thick of the dark night as recently as the months between September and December battling depression in the dark night of friendship.
If the intimacy has been deep, if the intimacy between you and another has been rooted in shared experiences, shared experiences of connection, shared experiences of spiritual conversation, shared experiences of affection in comfort, then, there's also the risk of the dark night in friendship.
Dark nights are not just for immature Christians, or "enmeshed" friends, or Christians who don't have it all together emotionally and psychologically. Two mature Christians who emphasized a unity across evangelical, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox traditions experienced a dark night in their friendship. Jesus and Peter experienced a dark night in their friendship. Paul and Barnabas experienced a dark night in their friendship.
I haven't got this all figured out yet, that's why this blog talks about "exploring the dance" of friendship. Having lived 48 years on this earth now, and gone through various friendships, I think the Christian story within Scripture and tradition beyond it, has some deep wisdom in regards to Christian friendship. In the midst of that wisdom is the realism of the dark night in friendship. I think part of the wisdom is to not run away from the dark night, fear it, but become more aware of the realism and mystery of it.
Paradoxically, the more we understand the dark night the more we are able by faith to walk through it--the dark night--and possibly the friendship itself but that will not always be the case. Our friend or friendship is not the foundation in Christian friendship. Faith is. Faith is and can be a solid ground for deep friendships. Christian friendships are nourished, nurtured, and deepened in faith and by faith. Faith has a different and paradoxical lens of looking at the world. The last shall be first. Blessed he is who gives. He who gives his life, finds it. A friend loves at all times. "I entreat Euodia and Synteche to agree in the Lord." Love one another with brotherly affection. But faith, precisely because one looks to the Lordship of Christ in friendship, does not declare any friendship a "dark night free zone." This observation though, does not put any or every friendship on thin ice.
Indeed in the Christian faith, friendship is another means of formation, another path where the Lord summons us to walk straight ahead with despair on the one side and presumption on the other.
On this blog I want to discuss from time to time, the dark night of friendship.
There is a dark night in friendship where you are the initiator of it. This is where in your in following the Lord, you deem it wise and good for you to initiate some kind of significant break in the friendship pattern or friendship intimacy. In the ultimate sense from a Christian paradigm, Jesus initiated this break with his friends, with Peter, with Mary Magdalene, etc. as paradoxically gave himself up for them. Peter confused, loyal to Jesus, but confused, fled with other disciples. Imagine the confusion of Mary Magdalene.
You may choose to move from a friendship and in so doing, you know you will experience the dark night of a friendship ending or a friendship intimacy significantly changing and in so doing wrestle with the Lord in the dark night for days, weeks, or perhaps months. There's much more to explore here.
You may be the receiver of the dark night where, it wasn't your choice to end the friendship or end the pattern of friendship intimacy. It may have been your friend's choice, or maybe it was circumstances outside your friendship that demanded a significant change in friendship intimacy. But because you had an intimate friendship, you experienced or are experiencing a dark night. If you have deeply cared for your friend, trusted your friend, opened your heart and became vulnerable in the presence of your friend, the suffering is a risk you took.
Although painful and confusing, going through this is formational and character-building. There is a place where you go before the Lord and come to a place where your wishes, your desires for this friendship to continue have to be refined and purified. You bring your hurts, unanswered questions, and pain to the Lord.
The dark night of friendship can happen when "one of the friends is incapable of sustaining the degree of intimacy wanted by the other in order to push the friendship into new depths" observes Mary Hunt. There are myriads of different types of dark nights in friendships.
There is another kind of dark night. The dark night of internal dynamics within your soul and within the friendship. This takes place in many ways in myriads of deepening and deep friendships. The friendship grows because of this dark night, is strengthened and renewed through this dark night.
I will mention one in this post. You may bring up other examples. It's an example that Wendy M. Wright brings up in her article on cross gender spiritual friendships. This may be a "mutual" dark night, or it may be just an internal dark night inside your own shoes. Dealing with the risk of dark desire.
"Even if the ideal conditions for the flowering of the beauty of spiritual friendship are met," writes the seasoned Christian Wright, "there is often the crucible through which the friends must pass. I want to speak here about the experience of desire and impasse, of the dark night into which this plunges one and of the faith that sustains in darkness...There may be times when the shared love between two friends no longer exists side by side with their shared love of God and when the yearning to be united takes precedence over any other consideration. The love seems to cry out for consummation. But there is impasse....All is chaos. All is dark night. All the theories, the moral guidelines, the ways of organizing reality already tested collapse, and one is awash in a sea of confusion and pain. Yet for Christians dark night should not be a strange experience. We whose God hung dying on a cross have not, as a historical tradition, shied away from describing the very process of spiritual development as one of dark night, of the experience of self-emptying that has its prototype in our crucified Lord. There is, if we take our faith seriously, little to do in dark night except embrace it. Embrace the ambiguity."
This is the dark night of experiencing intimacy but not dealing with dark desires until you are in the throes of it.
Then here she gives such a great description in my opinion, about anyone facing the dark night where they don't have the questions answered and want to follow Christ in it. "There, in the birthplace of questions...there we are born along with our questioning. It is a creative place that forms us anew, making us in the image of God, one whose last human utterances was recorded as a question. There is an openness, a compassion that comes somehow with being a person of the question: there us a quality of responsiveness to other's pain, a hopefulness that livens the despair, a healing that comes from being broken. Spiritual friendship can bear fruit in its own dark night of waiting in the question."
I find this last paragraph as great seasoned counsel for anyone experiencing a dark night of the soul for any reason. It is a birthplace of questions.
So, you may be in a wounded friendship where, you don't have answers but many unanswered questions. It may be a cross gender friendship, same gender friendship, friendship with your pastor, or spiritual director, or some other kind of friendship. You're in the dark night and you have questions for God, and God's not answering.
Christ understands brokenness. I think it's helpful, hopeful, and transformational to have a deeper grounding of dark nights in friendship.