We stumbled through the Mikea Forest in pitch blackness. Two American men, good friends who had traveled here to work on development projects, walked next to me. I couldn’t see them – I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face – but at least I could hear them. Our Malagasy friends seemed to have both a better sense of humor and better night vision than the rest of us.
We had spent the afternoon deep in the bush, visiting with Mikea Chief Fandahara and his family. We left their camp in time to make it back to the village of Anjabetrongo before nightfall. However, we hadn’t counted on the oxcart breaking down – which the guys eventually fixed with a tube of hand cream – or the too-young oxen collapsing from exhaustion just as the sun went down, which nothing could cure.
What I remember most about this night is not the sense of being lost in a strange wilderness or the thorns tearing at our limbs as we walked headlong into bushes we couldn’t see. Nor was it the laughter and warmth of shared experience with friends, old and new. What I remember most is the longing for light, any light.
Time slows down in the dark. As we trudged blindly, I scanned the blackness non-stop, straining my eyes to catch the tiniest flicker of any village fire. I knew we were heading in the right direction; I trusted our guides and trusted God, who had us safe in his hands. I expected to see light any minute, but the wait seemed endless and the enveloping darkness oppressive.
If you are human and have lived some years on this beautiful but fallen earth, you probably know what it is to be swallowed by darkness of some sort. I know I do. When I attempted suicide in college or when my best friend died in a car accident; when I suffered miscarriage after miscarriage, or when my father bravely waged and lost a brutal battle with cancer, and not long after, my mother died in my arms on my birthday. I stumbled blindly through most of these seasons, sometimes lacking the strength to look for light, with all longing and expectation gone to ash.
My kitchen chalkboard is chock full of the names of people I pray for; people who need light to dawn in this dark season of their lives. Five have recently stood over the grave of the one they loved most in this world. Two have recently lost a loved one to suicide, and another struggles to rescue a drug-addicted child who doesn’t want help. Some people need physical healing; some need a fresh infusion of hope. Some are wandering in the darkness of self-imposed exile from God. To me, this is the most hellish darkness of all.
I have often wandered from God in the course of my long life. But there was one season, many decades ago, when I screamed at him in rage, stomped out into the night and slammed the door. For over a year, I stumbled blindly, deeper, and deeper into a spiritual darkness that consumed me, body, soul, and spirit. Convinced that God had forgotten me, that he would never forgive me, I remember crying out in desperation – either rescue me or kill me. I can’t live like this.
Not long after that night, a flicker of light appeared when a total stranger walked up to me on the street and said, The Lord wants me to tell you that you belong to him, and he wants you back. Those words fanned the dying embers of my faith until the tiniest speck of light appeared – a light I wasn’t expecting and didn’t dare hope for.
It was the beginning of a long, painful journey, and, all along the way, God used people as light-carriers to illuminate my path – just enough light for the next step – until I found my way home. Most of them had no idea how God used them to rescue my life. They were simply following Jesus and allowing Christ to shine through them.
I live every day in awe of the mercy of God, who chases us to the very edge of eternity and I feel like I need to say this today: if you are wandering in a dark place and unable to see, be assured that God sees you. Psalm 139:11 tells us: It’s impossible to disappear from you or to ask the darkness to hide me, for your presence is everywhere, bringing light into my night. There is no such thing as darkness with you. He’s waiting for you and has not forgotten you.
Lord, as we wait for the day of your coming, help us see those around us who need light and love and comfort and hope. Let your light shine brightly through us to give hope to the hopeless, help to the helpless, comfort to the grieving, life to the dying, and spiritual sight to the blind. Let us live as empty vessels of the living, burning Christ who came as a Light for all humankind, to lead the way back home.
The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. – John 1:4-5
For God, who said, “Let brilliant light shine out of darkness,” is the one who has cascaded his light into us—the brilliant dawning light of the glorious knowledge of God as we gaze into the face of Jesus Christ.– 2 Corinthians 4:6 (Passion Translation)
For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! – Ephesians 5:8