(Contributed by Leanne)
This week we read Jesus’ beloved words from John 8: 12:“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
The idea of Jesus being light is something that we can understand, and value. We know how scary darkness can be. We remember wanting a night light in our room when we were children. We know the relief of the lights coming back on after a power outage. We put lamps and outlets and light switches in every room in our home so that we can keep the darkness away. Light is a comfort. Light lets us see. Light assures us that we know where we are going and what we are doing. It keeps us oriented and it keeps things clear. This means if Jesus is our light that He is telling us that He will help us see. He will keep things clear. He will keep the darkness away.
But then there is that tricky promise. “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness.” And I pause when I read that. Because I know many who follow who have walked in darkness. As you read, I know you can remember seasons of darkness for you. It’s not hard to remember, is it?
You remember the darkness when you were depressed. You remember waking up each day and feeling like a cloud lived over your head. You remember that even with lights shining around you that nothing felt bright. It was dark.
You remember the darkness when you were uncertain, when life began to overwhelm. When there was more month that money. When the bills couldn’t get paid. When you applied for job after job only to get turned down every time, and when you started to doubt when people said “It has nothing to do with you” – after all, what else could it be about? And it was dark.
You remember the darkness when your relationship ended. When he didn’t want to work on it anymore. When she said it was over. You remember looking forward to the rest of your life and feeling the emptiness beside you. You remember despairing that you were unloveable, unworthy, the guilt of messing it all up. It was dark.
You remember the darkness of loss. You remember when the waves of grief would come and it felt like the darkness would consume you. You remember wondering if there could ever be light again, if you would spend your life in a world of shadows while you were forced to keep on living. It was dark.
You remember sickness. You remember abuse. You remember your child struggling and feeling helpless. You remember the Church letting you down. You remember friends turning away. You remember doubting God. You remember darkness.
And many of you don’t even have to remember – because you are living in darkness right now. You are longing for light. You are praying for it. And when you read “whoever follows me will never walk in darkness” it stabs a little – because you are trying to follow, and you still feel the darkness. And that’s frustrating.
Perhaps it will be some comfort to know that many great Christians, for centuries, have talked about this darkness. One man, John of the Cross (who, interestingly, shares a name with the author of the Gospel we have been studying) penned a poem he called “The Dark Night of the Soul,” about his longing to find God. Many Christians have since used this term to describe exactly the seasons we have been talking about – the seasons when the light may shine, but the soul feels dark, when we are stumbling around trying to find our way and wondering where God is in the midst of it all.
I realize now that I didn’t know much about darkness until this last year in my life. I thought I did – I had lots of seasons of lament, and struggle, and heaviness of heart, and they were hard for me. But that deep darkness – the darkness that physically weighs on you – that came this year. That came when I watched my sister suffer and die. And it came again and again. That’s what I didn’t understand about darkness – that it could envelop you as quickly and as unexpectedly as someone turning off a light switch, and that I could never quite predict when the light would switch off. I could spend a few weeks feeling the light begin to grow, and then I would have a memory, or hear a song, or notice the date on the calendar, and the light would shut off and the darkness would come again. It annoyed me a lot at first. At first, I would think “I thought this was over!! I thought the light was coming back!!” Then people wiser than me helped me understand. They explained to me that I would learn to live in this world where the darkness comes and goes. I would learn to enjoy the light when I could, and accept the darkness when I couldn’t.
It wasn’t the way I wanted it to be. Jesus is light!!! I should not walk in darkness, right? Some days it still makes me angry, that I’ve had to learn to live with this darkness in my life. I would still much rather return to the world where this darkness did not exist, where my sister was still here and I did not understand how dark the world could be. But that is just not how it works.
Perhaps it seems like I’ve gone down a weird road here. Didn’t I start by setting out to explain what Jesus meant by saying we would never walk in darkness? It would probably seem like I’ve made the exact opposite point. Perhaps some of you would argue that I have.
But that’s not how I see it. Yes, there is darkness. There are those days when I feel sad and I need time alone and I don’t know how to talk about it and I find it hard to care for other people because my heart is full already. The truth is I’ve had one of those weeks – and I know I’ll have those weeks again.
Yet, somehow, I don’t WALK in that darkness. When I look back, I see darkness, but – miraculously – I see light. I didn’t think that could be possible when I first entered this world of loss, but it is true. Because if there wasn’t some shred of light, I wouldn’t be walking at all. What I realize when the darkness comes is that, always, the light stays. Sometimes it just feels smaller than other times, but it is there. Sometimes it is like being in a black room, with just a faint glimmer coming under the crack beneath the door. But the miracle is that it is there. There is the glimmer. I can always see it. When I’m lying in a room full of darkness, I know that door will open again, and the light will burst in. It will say “I was here all along.” It will say “You were never in the darkness alone.”
That is the light in which I walk. There are times that the light is radiant and everything is shining. Those are the days that the the world is bright and I laugh and enjoy the sunshine and see all the joy God gives all around me. I love those times. And there are times when all I’ve got is a glimmer – just enough for me to put one foot in front of the other. But you know what? I’m still walking. It may feel like the darkness is everywhere – but I’m walking in the light.
I know some of you who are reading this are feeling overwhelmed by the darkness, and maybe you have longed for light for a long time. Perhaps you are tired of having to follow just that little shred of light. You are tired of having to strain your eyes and look so hard. You would like Jesus to come in like a flood light and watch all the darkness disappear. One day, it will be that way. But if that day is not today, may you find hope and comfort in the glimmer. May the glimmer remind you that there is another side of the door. May you keep walking until the day that the door opens. Let’s walk together.