Have you ever been in a dark place?
As my husband and I have settled into our mobile home park, we’ve learned the art of living in close community. Literally. Homes are so close, you can hear a conversation, word for word, on the neighbor’s porch, even from inside your own home. Lessons learned: Don’t have an argument with your spouse outside. Don’t gossip. Don’t escape the heat of the house to have a private phone call on your cell phone while sitting on your patio.
Sitting outside to enjoy a cool breeze one evening, I heard a conversation of some neighbors across the street. One person described a friend’s struggle with the isolation of COVID restrictions as being “in a dark place” for a while. I didn’t want to hear any more so I went back inside.
That phrase, “dark place,” stayed with me.
Being in a dark place or describing seasons of life as “dark moments” have become common catch phrases in the last year. When we want to describe a particularly troubling or confusing time in our life, we describe it as a “darker period.”
Why do we use the imagery of darkness to describe moments of depression or seasons of despair over life’s twists and turns?
Your dark place might be like a cave tour.
My family loves to tour caves. We’re not those brave souls who don stained jeans and flashlight fitted headgear to go spelunking through untamed tunnels. We like the safe, low-light, rough-hewn paths with a tour guide who knows how to get from entrance to exit in 90 minutes.
A scripted part of a cave tour is for the park ranger to lead the group to the lowest point of the cave and turn out the lights so everyone can experience total darkness. The docent warns his group this is going to happen. “Hold on to something and don’t move,” he instructs. Everyone does, because we’re tourists, not spelunkers. We don’t want to be left in the dark. Especially alone.
Every time, as I hear the gasps around me, I laugh. It’s such a simulation. For one thing, the tourists have fair warning that darkness will occur. Try getting caught off guard by pitch black; now that’s real panic.
I know what life in the dark is like.
Born totally blind, I experienced eight childhood surgeries that brought my visual acuity to a status of legal blindness for the next 45 years of my life. Even after the surgery that gave me Better Than Ever vision, my weird pupils still have difficulty adjusting to a sudden light change. When lights turn off, my body freezes. It takes a whirl of brain rearrangement to call into mind my coping mechanisms and move forward once again.
But I shouldn’t laugh. Because getting surprised by the dark is not funny, especially for those who are not used to coping in the dark. It evokes a physical reaction of dread. You become disoriented. Confused. You can’t see one footstep in front of you, much less know how to get out of the depths of that dark point.
Does that describe moments of your life?
- You don’t know where you are going.
- You aren’t sure of what’s around you.
- You can’t protect yourself from oncoming onslaughts.
- You feel insecure about the presence of anyone. For reality says, if anybody stands beside you, they are in the dark too and may not be necessarily any better equipped to cope than you are.
For that matter, how can anyone really understand what it is like for you?
You feel alone. And helpless.
My friend, I want you to know three important things. First, it’s okay to be in a dark place. Next, you are not alone when you are in the dark. Finally, it doesn’t feel like it now and it may not be the route you expected, but there is a way out. Best of all, the person who stands beside you in the dark is the one who knows the way out.
Let’s look at each of those ideas.
You are not the only one.
Dark places are part of the human experience. God didn’t mean for life to be this way. Sin created the caves of darkness, the seas of struggle, and the pitfalls each of us face at some point or many points in our lives. We’ve all been there.
Yes, all of us. We’ve all had that feeling of getting caught in the dark. We have our life map in hand. We head resolutely toward our destination. And then, the lights go out.
- A parent dies.
- A divorce happens.
- We hear the C word at the doctor’s office.
- We find illegal drugs in our son’s underwear drawer.
A problem beyond our expertise drops a boulder in our path and stops us in our tracks. Even the next moment of life looks uncertain. In panic, we realize we can no longer see the exit sign to the security of light. We feel alone because the problem obscures the presence of anyone who cares or could help.
You are not alone.
God knows your situation. You may not be able to see in the dark, but He sees you and promises to stay with you.
When God told the army commander, Joshua, that, “the Lord your God is with you wherever you go,” in Joshua 1:9, He meant what He said. He didn’t mean it only for Joshua. He meant it for you too. The darkness is not too dark for Him. He sees what you are facing even if no one else does. Over and over, the Bible promises that He will not abandon you. (Does it? Check a Bible app like Bible Gateway and do a word search for words like “forsake,” “abandon” or “with you.”)
You can find your way out.
There is always a way out. God has provided a destination and architected the path that leads to that destination. Your dark moments will not last forever. Better yet, God is willing to show you the way out, to guide you around the bigger boulders, and to provide what you need along the journey. Better than any park ranger, he will stay with you all the way.
What do we do next?
It sounds simplistic, but you walk by faith. Okay, what does that mean? What does faith in God have to do with getting out of your dark place?
Faith is grabbing on to the confident hope in the solution and moving forward in trust that Jesus, our Sighted Guide, will not abandon us. Faith combines with hope when we willingly take that first tentative step forward, trusting that even though we cannot see the future, a loving benevolent, all-powerful God does, and He’s committed to making sure we come out on the other side.
I like to see where I’m going. Ever since my vision improved in 2016, I like it even better. I’m the kind of person who wants a sneak preview of the plan, to know where I’m going before I get there. But hope that is seen is no hope at all (Romans 8:24). When I take a step forward in the dark, I express my faith in God, for that step shows my confident belief in the existence of what I do not see (Hebrews 11:1).
If you are in a dark place, there is hope. There is a way to the light. You might not see the light for a while but you don’t have to feel hopeless or helpless.
Hold out your hand. Imagine that God is enfolding your hand in His and that His presence is beside you. Because it is. Then move one foot in front of the other. As you move your foot, pray that God will put in your mind what your next life step needs to be.
Don’t despair. Your life situation may be still pitch black at that next point, but God is there beside you and He will see you through to the end.
He won’t let you go. He loves you and wants to make sure you get to the light.