What’s your Black Cloud?

The Black Cloud
Photo Creds: Manès Sperber

I have a friend whose husband is in remission for cancer. It was, as cancer survivors and their families can attest, a devastating situation loaded with uncertainty for their future. Now, if he gets a cold, upset stomach or any number of even normal maladies, not surprisingly, it troubles my friend deeply. The cancer or the threat of its return is a back cloud hanging over her head threatening to erupt any given flu season. I have yet another friend who was abused as a child by persons in her life she should’ve been able to trust and love without reservation or fear of such atrocities. That was not the case. In the years to come, well into adulthood, it haunted her with shame and guilt, self-doubt and hopelessness. For so long, the abuse and it’s ensuing emotional damage was a foreboding presence in her life, a cloud of despair. It did not leave her side or her mind. I have a daughter whose struggle with anxiety nearly unravelled her as a small child. She was in perpetual fear of her dad and I dying and leaving her to care for her younger two sisters, a black cloud of fear that I could hardly allay with the false certainty that this would never happen. I have yet another adult friend whose black cloud of anxiety wakes up with her in the morning and beds down with her at night. The darkness persists for her into the morning, and it is that darkness, not the light of day which goes out in front of her each morning. Still another close friend of mine wakes up alone Every. Single. Morning. with two small children who wait expectantly for her to provide them with everything they need for life and sustenance. Having been left by her husband for another woman, she not only ponders, but laments each and every day, is she ever going to be a whole person again, loved and respected by others, and is she enough for her children? What is your black cloud? Chances are it has been suspended over your head since you were a small child when events befell you that should never ever have been a part of an innocent growing up. Or maybe it’s only been looming for a fraction of your life, spawned by a tragic loss, a debilitating disease, a horrible accident, or a grave betrayal. Yet the latter stretches out in front of you with no end in sight, a seemingly unsurpassable mountain of pain. Regardless of their origin, black clouds don’t discriminate among people. They can render the most educated and uneducated hopeless and forlorn. They can test the rich man’s faith as well as the poor man’s, leaving them both faithless. Our black clouds are relentless liars and pursue us at every angle, hindering us from the love, forgiveness, restoration, and healing that make us whole.
But how do you tell the difference between a black cloud and something in your life that just concerns you and needs addressed? That’s a great question and an important one. Because if we think our black cloud is a healthy level of concern, if we believe the black cloud is truly normal in every sense of the word, than that thing in our life has beaten us. It has indeed succeeded in plucking the fruit from our tree and rendering us joyless in our day-to-day living, and moreover, useless in helping and serving others. So what is the difference between the two? If we perceive the problem or concern to be insurmountable beyond a reasonable season of its existence, it may very well have taken up permanent residence in your life, your home, and your mind. The length of the season of that trial in your life certainly varies from person to person and from event to event. For instance, is it safe to say that 2 or 3 years into remission, a new season of hope is plausible? Or perhaps as you move well into adulthood, the events of your childhood, though not forgotten by any measure, yet a physical and a prolonged extraction from that place could certainly be a new Springtime in your life. If you have been divorced for five years or even perhaps 4, 3, or 2 but you still cannot see the light of a new chapter in your life, it could be that your trial, that awful event, is indeed a black cloud. I am not so arrogant as to suggest for you when you should be “over something,” not nearly. But I would love to encourage you. I would love to tell you that living a full, exciting fruitful life is still in your grasp.
So what can we do to get out from under that cloud, “the great sadness,” as it was so aptly named by author William Young in his book, “The Shack?” I think the first step we have to do is to acknowledge that your concerns about this event in your life, though absolutely valid, have moved stealthily out of the season to which they were assigned and have taken up residence in your heart and your mind. This is the first step necessary in toppling the cloud from its lofty position in our life. The psalmist says in Psalm 51 that “God loves a broken and contrite heart.” That is good news. The Psalmist, who was himself heavily burdened, seeks and receives that coveted restoration and healing in that same passage. The second step that may be necessary for you is seeking help. This may be professional help. We sought counseling with my daughter when she was in the 3rd grade to tackle her extreme separation anxiety and fear of loss because we needed both the help in identifying the source of her anxiety and help with how to help her. We still talk about that experience fondly and how it navigated us through that difficult stage. And along those same lines, cultivate close friends of your same gender. There’s a proverb in the bible that says “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed.” When I couple that with another Proverb that says “A Friend Loves at all time” and “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother,” I feel like this 3rd solution to removing that black cloud is win-win. What would I do without my close advisors/friends? I don’t even want to think about it. Fourth, and finally take an inventory of your physical space around you! Is it a mess? I believe that our emotional and spiritual health is more connected to our life logistics and organization than we give it credit. Purging material possessions we don’t use, getting rid of piles of papers, and making our work spaces pleasant and conducive for being productive, goes a long way in contributing to our happiness and helping us regain a sense of self-control in our life, a trait that is so important when talking about that black cloud, the latter of which toys with our self-control and self-worth. Sure there are tons of other steps you can and should take to extinguish your cloud and banish it into the abyss of nothingness: exercise, serve others, volunteer, but these former four steps I feel are paramount in clearing the path to do the latter. Don’t get the cart before the horse.
I have had my share of black clouds hanging over me. The deaths of my parents; April 19, 1995; and others. When I moved to Houston from Germany, I felt like my heart was imploding. I readily admit this event may seem docile compared to the others in my life I mentioned or compared to your troubled situation. But nevertheless that move seemed to thwart my plans. Spiritually, physically and emotionally. That cloud of discontent and unhappiness taunted me and sadly informed a lot of my decisions. Truly that cloud was afforded way to much opportunity for input in my life and my relationships. I came to the conclusion (by implementing the four steps I mentioned earlier) that enough was enough. The lie is this: this event in my life defines who I am and there’s not a thing I can do about it. The truth is this: I could not stop the event, nor the black cloud from making its unwelcome entry into my life. But rather than let it reign in my life, I will allow the experience to shape me into a better person. I am compelled to live in the light-a light emitted with brand new lenses of who I was, who I am, and what God has yet for me to be.

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