He that follows me shall not walk in darkness.
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley….”
It’s like waiting for a miracle. Hands dig in the dirt, uproot the weeds, fingers feel around in the cool darkness, ensuring that the seed will have a nice bed to rest in. Place the seed. Cover with soil. Water. Wait.
I’ve quoted Barbara Winkler before, but her words bear repetition here:
Every gardener knows that under the cloak of winter lies a miracle…
a seed waiting to sprout, a bulb opening to the light, a bud straining to unfurl. And the anticipation nurtures our dream.
But what, then, when anticipation runs out of breath? When the miracle doesn’t come? When the seed doesn’t grow? When cynicism encroaches, choking out hope?
I believe that is the place the disciples were at as they watched Jesus being led captive to the cross. Everything they had invested in following this man was dead-ended, and they were numb with grief and confusion on so many levels. The disappointment they were experiencing probably felt like an eternity.
I’m sure you have been in that place before.
When a loved one has been taken away from us unexpectedly; when a career path is detoured; when a relationship is in distress; when grief has become a constant companion.
Darkness and disappointment can emerge as sudden interruptions.
After facing the tragic news of a loved one’s death, I recall my husband curling up next to our sleeping little boy, cherishing him even as deep grief forced its contractions within him. Friends sat with us in our anguish, helping us process the pain, the questions, and the darkness, helping us to respond rightly to the devastating loss, taking us by the hand and guiding us when we, in fact, seemed unable to know how to take the next hard step. The disappointment felt like an eternity as a cloak of darkness settled over us.
Darkness and disappointment can also emerge like a slow fade.
I recall being in the throes of child-rearing, at times feeling exhausted from being constantly “on call” to the demands. I remember the cynicism that taunted me during one particular church service as I tried to calm a fussy baby. My husband was leading the worship, and I was monitoring the toddlers and the baby. No longer was I teaming up with my husband in music ministry, but I was tending to our growing brood. I began to identify this phase of life as a sort of grief that was setting in as I tried to find my footing in a new rhythm of responsibilities. As our services were held at an old municipal building, there was at that time no nursery in which to take refuge in. With crying baby in arms, I sank down on the old tile stairway in the hall, baby and mom both utterly exhausted, waiting for what felt like an eternity for the service to end so we could both go home for a much needed nap. I brooded on the fact that while so much had changed for me, my husband had been able to carry on as “normal”. I, on the other hand, had capped my piano student intake, stepped down from leading worship, and said ‘no’ to things that would ordinarily have given me delight. I was learning to come to terms with the shifts in my life and recognizing responsibilities that needed to be released in order for me to be present first as a mom with small children, and I wasn’t happy about it in that moment. Facing this disappointment made me feel even worse about myself and my seeming inability to praise in the hard places. I know I was doing the good and hard thing in that moment, but it felt like an eternity.
It is hard to cultivate a perspective of joy in the dark places. Yet, there on the cold tile step, I started singing a chorus straight from Philippians 4:8, “Whatever is true; whatever is right; whatever is pure; whatever is lovely; we will fix our thoughts on these things. Jesus, You’re true; You are right; You are pure; You are lovely; we will fix our thoughts on You.” I still remember our pastor’s dad, Gene, come out into the hallway as I sang that chorus, giving me a mighty word of encouragement, helping me believe that perhaps there was light about me, after all, and under the cloak of darkness, I could still choose to open up to the light.
Seasons of darkness vary in length. There is a grief that is too deep and too long, and I can’t pretend to comprehend it nor touch on it in this brief devotion. In the case of our loved one who was taken from us too soon, I only know that I am grateful that I know the Lord to help me walk through these dark valleys while on earth, and there will be a day when we finally arrive at the crest and finally walk out of the shadows into His light.
The promise from John 8:12 is that “He who follows me will never walk in darkness.” You can still walk in the light through tragedy when faced with darkness. Isaiah 49:2-3 exhorts us that when we are “in the shadow of His hand…we are hidden, being made into a polished arrow and concealed.” It is in the darkness when His glory is unfurling within us. His promise is that in the midst of dark circumstances, He will display His splendor in us.
Beth Moore echoes this concept in Chasing Vines with the reassuring message that “At times we’re in the dark because God is revealing some aspect of His glory that’s more than we can stare straight in the face” but that “on the other side of this catastrophe, you will once again find normalcy” (p.156-157).
In Soil and Sacrament, gardener Fred Bahnson waxes poetic over compost and refers to it as “an offering of humic mystery…Like a ceaseless hymn of praise” whose cycle is “a song of life that sings even when things around and within you no longer seem certain” (p.5). He makes it sound like being thrust in the dark recesses of earth is where you want to be, if you want to see a miracle take place! And surely, it is in the quiet, the dark, when it appears as if nothing is happening, that it is there that we are just about to emerge to the crest of our valley.
Bahnson goes on to share his experiences at Mepkin Abbey, where monks cultivate oyster mushrooms. The mushrooms are grown in black plastic columns, but there are a few columns covered in clear plastic, the purpose of which is to watch for mold contamination. Bahnson asked a monk why clear plastic wasn’t used on all of the columns. His response? “Because mushrooms grow better in darkness. It forces them to reach toward the light” (Bahnson, p.39-40).
Father, we pray that You would be present with us as we walk in dark valleys. Help us to grow toward Your light, even when it feels like our circumstances have quenched all sources of light. Work Your splendour in us in the midst of dark seasons, and help us hold on to the Hope of glory that You have promised in Your Word.
“Saturday was silent; surely it was through.
But since when has impossible ever stopped You.
Friday’s disappointment is Sunday’s empty tomb.
Since when has impossible ever stopped You.”
~Rattle! Elevation Worship
“He reveals deep and hidden things;
He knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with Him.”
Daniel 2:22, NKJV
“The Lord will lighten my darkness.”
2 Samuel 22:29
Thy will, not mine, O Lord, However dark it be!
Lead me by Thine own hand, Choose out the path for me.
I dare not choose my lot; I would not, if I might;
Choose Thou for me, my God; So shall I walk aright.