Darkness is a weird thing. In our Christian worldview, it never seems to be used positively, as if it only represents evil. Well, it seems I’ve been in darkness (or a fog or some kind of unknowing) for a while and I don’t believe it’s because of my unbelief or anything like that. My tendency in life is to assume that if life is dark and dreary, there must be sin in my life, or the “evil one” must be causing this darkness.
This certainly can be true of darkness at times, but is it always the case. Can darkness be good? Could God be the one leading me into the dark? After all, it was Jesus who led his disciples at an hour of darkness, to boat across to the other side of the the great sea.
So as I ponder this darkness, the ways of God, and the position of my heart and mind, I believe it must be dark because there’s something in the dark that I can only learn here, where the lights are off, and clarity is not a close friend.
Let’s take a moment and frame darkness positively… I can see stars at night only because the dark sky and the moon looks much more extravagant with a dark back drop. I sleep (and rest) better in the dark; I usually don’t labor physically when it’s dark either. I love the coolness of the dark in the spring and fall in Phx.
The darkness is refreshing after 115 degree heat all day in the summer, even if it’s still 100 degrees at midnight. Darkness gives plants and animals rest from the scorching sun all day. Fires and fireworks are much more enjoyable in the dark. The darkness humbles me as it exposes who I really am–all my fears, insecurities, and it also gives me a sense of comfort, knowing that the day of toiling is over and it’s time to rest.
Those are some things I’m realizing that are better in the dark, so maybe this season of darkness that isn’t lifting (for over 2 years) is more purposeful than I believe it to be. I hope it is, but I have to admit that I hate it at times. I’m tired of being in this place of unknowing that only offers a visibility of 24 hours or less. I long for something new and fresh, something to come in and sweep me off my feet, something that is more intimate and deeper than ever before. Yet, even as I write this, I’m reminded that deeper almost always means darker before it can be translated into something good. The deeper you dive into the ocean, the darker it gets, and some of the most precious pearls are forged in the pressures of deep, dark waters. But those places are scary and not desirable, unless there’s a guide, a trained professional to lead me down there.
This is where God’s role comes into play, as well as a community of friends and family, counselors, spiritual guides, etc… who are courageous enough to walk with you and sit with you on the bottom of the ocean, patiently, not rushing your time or season in the dark. God will make his bed in Sheol for his children.
I hate the pain and fear of the dark and God’s seeming silence is horrible. It’s as if I’ve had years of tender care as an infant and toddler and now God, as a good parent, re-fathering me if you will, is putting me up on my two feet and telling me to walk, trust, to remember that I’m done nursing and I need to trust that he’s always near me even when it’s dark and he’s silent and I can’t see his face, or even see what tomorrow holds. I hear him saying, “I’ve got this Jeff. Trust who you’ve become. Be patient and faithful in the darkness. I will not disappoint you.” And my heart’s response is “Ok, I don’t want to refuse you anything you ask God, but I have to be honest, I have fear and doubt and need you to meet me at those places.”
So for now, darkness is a companion, one I don’t want to scorn or make to be an enemy of light, nor do I want to wrongly celebrate. But I think maybe it’s only through being in the dark for long periods of time where we can actually long for the true light. Or maybe it’s in the dark where we learn that the true light is in us already, and we can be okay when darkness comes and stays for a while. Maybe darkness wasn’t meant to be a bad place. After all, it was darkness that arrived first in the Genesis narrative, and all that God had made was good. Who knows?
St. John of the Cross likens darkness in the life of someone pursuing Christ as moments of mysterious and divine closeness. He likens it to the sun, if it were to be stared into with our eyes, it would make our senses go dark, but that wouldn’t mean the sun stopped shining; it just means that our senses are limited and can only take in so much light until God graciously clouds his presence, so as to not overwhelm or destroy us.
I trust this graciousness today and hold onto the hope that the light is always shining, and my senses are being refined more and more to take in this beautiful, life-giving light.