We’ve had some dark days of late. You know what I’m talking about—Ferguson, the Middle East, suicide, genocide—take your pick. But God has taught me, over the years, something important about dark days. Pilgrim steps have taken me into the darkest of emotional and spiritual places three times. Many of you will recognize these places. Many of you have been there yourselves.
I was nineteen, and I had to decide what I desired. I could continue on the path I had embarked upon, pursuing what the world said I should want—passion, money, adrenalized adventure, success, fame. Or I could pursue a life that might include all or none of those things, the life that God desired for me. In the simplest of terms: did I want what God wanted, or not? It was an agonizing question of trust and control from which, I was fairly certain, there would be no turning back. At the time, the answer felt like life and death. I still think it was.
I was in my early thirties. One minute, she was laughing and vibrant. A world without her was unimaginable. The next minute, I was holding her in my arms, watching her life drain away. This darkness was the most humanly familiar of the three, and the deepest cut. It was also the most transforming. When the clouds began to clear, ah! A shining silver lining—I discovered that my faith didn’t rely on me, but was held safe and unassailable in the hands of my Savior.
Six weeks of medication-induced nightmare depression in my early forties. Yet here, also, a bright side, beyond the joy of finding out how easily I, unlike most people, could exit that shadow land. After years of praying that I would somehow better love and understand my friends and family who struggle with depression and anxiety—prayer answered. Now, rather than being mystified and a little judgmental, I am floored by their courage.
The Apostle Paul also knew about dark days. He said that dark days “produce endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint,” because hope—that is God’s love poured into our hearts. It’s the proof that He abides with us.
It is sin in our world that produces dark days. Sin produces death and the Bible is clear on this: death is the enemy. But in his ever-paradoxical way, God turns even dark days into light and hope, if we desire it. It is in darkness that we who believe begin to see ourselves and God more clearly.
And so, in these dark days, we mourn with the mothers who have lost their children—my fellow believers, it doesn’t matter why or how they have lost them—and we pray for peace and a way to love those, in our own country and in our world, that we do not understand.
We mourn for those who are trapped in darkness by their own minds and emotions. We pray and hope for their relief and vow to be there for them, no matter what.
We mourn for those who are deceived, who have been drilled from their earliest days to believe that God desires hate and murder from them. We pray and hope that they will see the light—and there is light. A Christian in Iran tells us: “Do not pray for us, pray with us. If you pray for us, you will pray that our suffering will cease. Instead, pray that we will have courage and be light in our sufferings, because it is those sufferings that are turning others to Christ.” (Confession: I can’t help it. I still pray for, as well as with them).
We do not mourn as those who have no hope. We do not become weighed down by others’ burdens, angry or defensive. That is not who we are. Instead, we access the power of our hope to lighten their loads, to lift them up. It doesn’t matter that we don’t understand, that we would have done things differently, that they are our enemy. It doesn’t matter. And saying, “That’s hard. I’m so sorry. Let me help,” does not change who we are or what we believe.
Yes, this can be difficult, mourning with hope, compassionate joy. Sympathy when fear and righteous indignation comes so much more easily. Intentional action that means something instead of merely going through the motions. This is work that takes training, thought, heart, presence, and courage. It takes eyes that see the world differently than everyone around you. It takes the Spirit of the living God.
But we were made for this. We’re not just standing alone and waiting to be rescued. We are on this pilgrim journey home, together, and we’re supposed to be gathering as many stragglers as we can along the way. He has told us, so many times and in so many ways: He walks with us, this journey is worth the cost, and it will not disappoint.
Photo by Melissa Rose Boord