When You Find Yourself in the Deep Dark

Final post in a series on Life After Cancer.

Spiritual ChallengesAfter Cancer-

by Lynne Hartke

When my husband was in college, he and a group of friends went spelunking in an undeveloped cave near Columbia, Missouri called Devil’s Icebox.

Unbeknownst to them, while they spent hours exploring the the 6.25 miles of underground passages, it had started raining. When they attempted to return to the entrance, through a narrow tunnel where they had to meander like snakes on their bellies, they noticed the water was rising.

The only place to gasp for air was when there was a break in the rocks in the ceiling. An air pocket. In the scramble to get out of the narrow section and save their lives, all the lights in their carbide head lamps got drenched.

Their lights extinguished.

Carbide headlamps or acetylene gas lights were popular at the time with cavers for the bright white light they produced. Unfortunately, the flint system – like a lighter – needed to be kept dry.

My husband and his friends — having survived the narrow section — found themselves stranded in utter blackness.

And the water was rising.

Eventually one of the girls in the group found one dry corner on her shirt collar. They dried the flint, lit the lamps and exited to safety.

My husband still enjoys exploring deep underground caves, corkscrewing his body through narrow passages and entering the unknown.

Me? Not so much.

But I have been in the Deep Dark. My Deep Dark has been cancer.

Perhaps you have your own difficult place.

In the Deep Dark we find ourselves in unknown passageways wondering how in the world we are going to turn on our lights and find our way home.

In the meantime, we wrestle in darkness. Darkness of the unknown. Darkness of our deepest fears. Dark nights of the soul.

Where we wonder where God is in it all.

I have waited on a doctor’s examining table and known the deep darkness. I have sat at a dining room table holding hands with my parents after hearing the diagnosis of stage four of my mom and heard Dad pray to “God who is in control” and I wanted to shout,

“God is in control?”

The Deep Dark is a place for shouting.

And a place for fumbling for anything (or is it Anyone) to light the lamp, because all you really want is to GET OUT OF THERE, to return to the sunshine and solid ground.


When You Find Yourself In The Deep Dark

I could probably write volumes about struggling to finding God in the Deep Dark of cancer, but when I think about that season it comes down to three things: continuing in the disciplines of the faith, gazing on the Infinite, and holding hands with His people.

  1. Continuing in the Disciplines of the Faith

In athletics, the purpose of conditioning and getting up each morning and putting the miles on tired legs is to prepare for an event that is to come. Without the daily discipline of preparing for an event, you are going to be sorry you spent so much time as a couch potato.

It’s the same with faith. The purpose of the disciplines of faith is to prepare you for what is to come, which unlike an athletic event, you don’t know when it will occur.

Prayer. Bible reading. Meeting with other believers. Keeping a gratitude journal. All are important so in the crisis you have something to fall back on. Or Someone.

In the Deep Dark we need to remind ourselves of what we knew to be true in the light.

Psalm 139:11-12 says,

If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,”
Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You.

God can see in The Deep Dark. The disciplines of our faith remind us of this truth when our lights go out.

What disciplines of faith do you practice?


  1. In the Deep Dark We Need to Gaze at the Infinite

The Deep Dark forces us to look at our own mortality or the mortality of those we love. With a cancer diagnosis, our days become filled with daily tasks. Doctor appointments. Medications. Hoping we have the strength to make dinner. The laundry suddenly is a mountainous task with no end in sight.

We come face to face with fragile life. With our human-ness. With our own limits. As we become small, often cancer becomes large. Too large.

I find I need to go outside – even briefly – and just look up. Up at the stars. Up at a sunrise. Up at the mountains.

In the book, Eyes Wide Open, author Steve Dewitt writes about his love for the ocean and staring at something bigger than himself and his finite problems. On the beach, things fell into proper perspective for him.

Can I dare say it? My view of God is too small. When the infinite is small, the finite gets big. And that is the problem: I hate living the big finitude.   — Steve DeWitt

Cancer is a big finitude. Cancer masquerades as a power larger than God. In reality it is just another finitude. We need to be careful not to make it too large and God too small.

The starry skies. The ocean. The mountains. The sunset. They all point to a Creator who is Infinite and larger than The Deep Dark.

Where do you discover the infinity of God?


  1. Find God in His People

I remember a day in the hospital when my mom was having a horrible, pain-filled day. A friend, an older man from church, came for a casual visit. He remained only a few minutes, as he realized we were not up for company. I stayed in the room, working with the nurses until Mom was comfortable. Two hours later, I stepped out of the room.

My friend was sitting in the hall, his head bowed, praying for us while hospital staff stepped around him. He had determined not to go home until the crisis was passed.

Sometimes we need God with skin. We need to be near others who love Him.

Years ago, my husband and his group of friends needed a girl’s dry shirt collar to light their lamps and get them home. In the Deep Dark we need other people. We need people of faith who can see when we can’t see, who have lights when our lights are dim, who can remind us of the truth and see us through so we can find our way.

Who is standing beside you on your journey? Where have you discovered faith in the Deep Dark?




Lynne Hartke began her writing journey after hearing the words, “You. Have. Cancer.” Those words propelled her to quit putting off a some-day dream and to take college writing classes with students younger than her own children. Lynne and her husband, Kevin, have four grown children and three grandchildren. She blogs at www.lynnehartke.com about courage, beauty and belonging while living in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. The story of her cancer journey will be released by Revell in May 2017.