From the time we take our first breath our dance with darkness begins. In utero countless biological processes happen that work together in a systematic way to bring about a beautiful perfect life. Between then and now lots of different things have happened. Our shared human experience is that we all encounter the darkness of this existence. When considering darkness in this context, I’m not content to just label it as “evil” or “sin.” I think we try to frame darkness as an abstract spiritual concept so that we can ignore the real impact it has in our daily lives. We like to reduce things into easily classifiable categories because it gives us an illusion of control. In this circumstance, darkness including all things sinful, evil, negative, things that makes us feel unsafe, unhealthy or less than. I want to us to discuss the things that make us feel damaged, or as if we’re not “whole.”
This past Wednesday marked the beginning of Lent which is a season observed by Christian churches each year in the weeks immediately preceding Easter. It’s a time where Christians are to reflect, repent, and confess. It’s a “Get real with God” time. Most people are familiar with what has become a watered-down tradition of giving something up for Lent. That’s when you deny yourself some pleasure (chocolate, social media, TV) so that you can use that time reflecting on your spiritual life. Whether you’re a Christian or not, and even if you don’t consider yourself a person of faith, I think it’s good to routinely have a season where you are dedicated to examining your inner life, your behaviors, habits and the direction you’re moving toward. During this season of Lent I’m focusing on my battle with darkness. For the next 6 and a half weeks I’m committed to recognizing, owning and doing what I can to transform the negative influences in my life. I’m choosing to deliberately lean into these levels of unpleasantness because I’ve become preoccupied. I’ve grown numb, and aloof. I’ve developed a “tolerance” for pain, evil, and suffering, in myself and other people. I remember a patient I once cared for. He had a terrible wound on the bottom his foot that wasn’t showing any signs of healing, (which is the reason he became my patient). The wound was big and gross. Guess what? He couldn’t even feel it. He had nerve damage and no longer had a sensation of pain in his foot anymore. I could have done anything short of amputating his foot and he would have never known. In a similar fashion, I think many of us have “soul neuropathy.” We get things done, pay our bills, meet our social obligations, and we don’t really feel a thing. We hardly have time to care, and certainly have no room for passion in our crowded minds.
Many of us have accepted, “This is my life, it’s not going to get any better than this.” After all, we can’t destroy the immense darkness. Many of us have embraced a learned helplessness and are taking a passive role in our mental and spiritual well being. Our souls are dying way before our body’s expiration date. We may not be able to completely escape darkness but we can certainly limit the amount of darkness we’re exposed to. We surely have a say in how much it influences our behavior.
Real life example: Most of us, to some degree, are trying to be healthy or healthier, right? When I visit the gym a few times a week and walk across the floor, do I start having negative thoughts creep into my mind that are very similar to the thoughts I’ve had all my life since middle school? Yup. Those feelings that make me wish I had stayed home hit me every time. They play over and over again until I actually turn my music on and get to work. Is that darkness? Yes, that’s part of my darkness. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is, where it comes from, or the scores of memories I have that reinforce those feelings, it’s darkness. It pours negativity into my mind, makes me feel discouraged and diminished. I’ve got to own that. I can’t make it disappear or erase all the bad memories, but I can choose to fight past it and stay on track. You can’t transform things until you recognize that they exist. I need to be honest and point out that a lot of times I do give in and don’t push through. This is a very common type of struggle that I know many of you understand. We are attacked constantly by negativity, insecurity, and just bad stuff. It spirals to where life is reduced to acting out assigned roles where darkness is the director of the play. Darkness dictates what we wear, where we go, who we associate with, whether we take risks, and it has a profound influence on our relationships.
Does this really matter?
Yes it does. The darkness we’re taking about here isn’t just a condition that makes it hard to see what’s on the top shelf of a closet. Darkness in the form of evil, negativity, and pain doesn’t play well with others. It crowds out all the good things in our lives. It slowly infiltrates all parts of our soul and we end up living an existence instead of a life. We were created for more than that. We’re capable for more than that. “In him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1. 4-5) Like I said earlier, we are dancing with darkness from our first moments of life. Pain and struggle are universal. We will confront them every day. Another truth is that the Lord is not afraid of the darkness. (Hang in here with me evangelicals! Don’t switch over to autopilot.) If you were raised in the evangelical Christian church, you mind is getting ready to flash back and quote the Roman Road to Salvation or verses about calling on the name of the Lord so that you’ll be saved. That has a place in the story but I’m reaching beyond it. My insecurities in the gym, or at work, or my tendency to feel anxiety, jealousy and anger doesn’t mean that I’m not a Christian. It doesn’t mean I don’t have faith. It means that I’m human just like you. God is cool with that. The Lord longs to be in a real relationship with us where we’re honest and not afraid to confess our struggles. God is crazy in love with us and we’re precious in his sight. God’s not waiting to see a flawless performance, but instead is yearning for a real conversation. Darkness has limited our understanding of our belovedness to God and has distorted the perspective of our place in of creation. We must recognize it, own it, confess it, and ask for help.
“These addictions, compulsions, and obsessions reveal our entrapments. They show our sinfulness because they take away our freedom as children of God and thus enslave us in a cramped and shrunken world.” (Henri Nouwen, Can You Drink the Cup? pg 98)
My friends, we are already at the dance with darkness. Why don’t you join me out on the floor and we’ll make this a shindig? We can work past the callouses, bruises and scars and unleash the child of God who was created to soar, not shudder. Wherever you are, remember you were created in God’s image and the Lord loves and accepts you right now.