Those who absorb the dark night of the soul and move forward with God enter the fourth stage of faith, the journey inward, as I call it. The goal of the journey inward is to discover God’s unique purpose for our lives, His personal direction. The concept of purpose is no longer centered primarily in the broader mission of the church or a specific profession, but in a very specific mission gifted by God. To live according to God’s purpose is to be unique, to do a work for God that maybe nobody else can do. The dark night of the soul calls us to surrender our illusions of purpose and yield ourselves to God’s ultimate purpose for our lives. That purpose will be uniquely individualized to us. If we don’t pursue it, no one else will do it for us. God’s unique purpose for us is not our profession. If being a doctor or dentist is the purpose for your life, you will be out of a job in eternity! But if your unique purpose is exercised through those professions, that purpose will continue by other means in eternity.
The life of faith is about increasingly turning away from pride and becoming more and more like Jesus. Jesus is the opposite of pride, the opposite of self-centeredness. In the dark night of the soul God is saying, “Can you let it go, your plans, your ambitions, your own sense of purpose? If you find my unique purpose for your life, it will be the greatest thing that ever happened to you.” To know that you are where God wants you to be and that you are doing what God wants you to do, is the greatest experience ever. Yet God’s unique purpose for you may be totally different than the life you would have chosen.
I remember thinking when I turned 40, “Man, I’m more than halfway there. And the best half is already behind me. It will probably be all downhill from here! I’m just about ready to totter into the grave.” Nearly 25 years later I realize God has done lots of things in my life recently that I never would have dreamed of then. When looking at the first 40-50 years of my life, I now see that all of that was preparation for the things God wanted me to do in my 50s and 60s. Plants, when they’re healthy, keep growing. When you’re 60 it doesn’t mean you have to stop growing. It may in fact be the beginning of the greatest work in your life. To be 75 doesn’t mean you stop growing either. If you free up the channel and let Him, He can do the miracle. And His miracle will usually be a surprise, even to you and me.
Stage Four is a wonderful stage in which we learn how to move from the head to the heart. This means a deepening of old relationships and the discovery of exciting new ones. As we find our purpose we become attractive to others who are finding theirs. This stage is usually accompanied by the healing of unresolved issues that have blocked our way in the past. There is a great deal of personal growth as we gain greater self-understanding and greater empathy with others who are struggling.
There are challenges at this stage as well, because people in stage four sometimes get consumed with self-assessment and negative thinking. They’re always trying to figure out who they are and where they are. “Am I doing this right? Why aren’t things going better?” Sometimes, you just have to surrender that kind of stuff. Negative thinking blocks the channel and doesn’t allow the miracle to occur. Actually, it’s a secret form of pride. The person who says, “Woe is me! I could have been great but they blocked my way. I could have really done something, but this person abused me or this person made fun of me, etc.” You visit in your mind the places where you were disadvantaged, where bad things happened to you, and waster a great deal of time moaning about it. That’s a form of pride because your attention is focused on “me, me, and me.”
If you have ever visited a mental institution you will probably have noticed the one word that appears in virtually every sentence there. That word is I, I, I. Negative thinking is just another form of pride, it’s a hidden pride, an unexpected pride. And pride blocks the channel like nothing else. God calls us at this stage to surrender that pride by his grace. Try as you will you cannot get rid of pride by your own effort. Humility would not be an option for us if it were not for God’s miracle. Whenever you meet a person who is truly humble, you know that you are witnessing a miracle of God. And that miracle is available to all who surrender.