When I stop and think about the state of our world, I could just sit down and cry.
Things are an absolute mess. This crazy year has been one for the books, although I’m not sure I will ever want to get this story off the shelf and read it again. There’s a lot of awful things going on that I can’t control. I can’t control a virus. I can’t control the government. I can’t control decisions about school or social injustice or economic uncertainty. I can’t control the media or what people decide to post on social media. I can’t control how others see the world or how they will respond to what they see. Of course I can do my part when opportunities arise, but just because I want something doesn’t make it so. The only thing I can control is my reaction to the mess.
Now, lest you begin to think that that is a very mature and grown up way of thinking, let me assure you that I haven’t always taken that healthy of a path. I had to learn to let go of control the same way I learn the majority of my lessons: the hard way.
During the summer of 2019, I spent most of my days recovering from a couple hospitalizations, a whole host of new medications and the frustration that comes not only from having an unpredictable autoimmune disease, but also from not being…you guessed it…in control. I had plans! I had summer adventures with my family! I had friends I wanted to see! I had trips I wanted to take! The mess I was dealing with threatened to throw a wrench in all of my careful planning and I felt myself getting upset.
On second thought, “upset” is really too nice of a word. I was angry. But since I am also a very good and thoughtful patient, I took a deep breath, waited a beat, and then had the following conversation with my doctor before leaving the hospital for the second time:
Me: (smiling) “Ok, I will take all your medications and go to all your follow-up appointments and call all your specialists. So can I please go mountain biking tomorrow?”
Dr: (crazy eyes) “Heck no!”
Me: (bigger smiling) “Don’t I get a few points for asking first? I feel better! Please!!”
Dr: (crazier eyes) “You just got released from the hospital! Go rest!”
I was so sure that my winning smile would convince him.
I was wrong.
And thus, I spent the remainder of the summer in various states of rest. For the most part, I sat on my porch swing with a book and my knitting, sometimes with my husband and one or both of my kids, sometimes with a friend and sometimes alone. I was still angry and upset with multiple questions and thoughts racing through my mind. Although my nature is to push all of that stuff away, to “deal with it later,” I sat on my porch in the sunshine with my questions and thoughts and fears everyday. Taking the advice of a friend, I invited God into my mess, to join me in following every line of thinking and “What if” all the way to the end.
In Matthew 6:6 (The Message version), Jesus taught His disciples with these important words:
“Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.”
As the days and weeks passed, this shift in focus happened right before my eyes. I noticed that my mind started to grow quiet. Peaceful. So then I sat with God in the silence, and I looked forward to that time with Him. We listened to the birds sing. We watched the trees sway in the wind. We admired the hydrangeas that grew to eight feet tall. I was no longer concerned with my plans or trying to control all the things. I still didn’t know what the future held, but I was okay with not knowing. I gave up all the scared, worried, nervous, anxious, dark places inside of me and traded them in for Light. It wasn’t always perfect. The anxiety passed down to me through my family tree sometimes got hold of my mind and swirled it back into the dark. But God taught me how to lean into the Light, just like a sunflower will follow the sun as it makes its daily trip across the sky. Things weren’t okay, and yet the Light was still shining.
Fast forward one year to the summer of 2020. My personal health was better but the world was in even more chaos than usual. As the virus spread and the violence and riots began and the politics ramped up and the arguments began in earnest on social media, I felt my mind creeping back into the dark. This time, I knew what to do. I picked up my basket of knitting, grabbed a book and headed out to the porch swing.
I sat with God for some portion of each day – sometimes for a long while, sometimes just for a few minutes. But God was faithful to meet me out there on the swing and as I listened and leaned in, two words started to play over and over in my mind: And yet.
At first, I would get up from the swing wondering what it meant. But then in early August,we traveled with a small group of friends to a cabin in the mountains. We hiked through a mossy pine forest. We rode our bikes along a river. We played in a waterfall. We ate dinner all together. We played games. We celebrated a birthday with cake and loud off-key singing. We watched the sky turn brilliant orange and pink as the sun set over the mountains. We sat under the stars, talking or laughing or reading by the fire. And then I finally understood what God was trying to tell me.
There is a global pandemic. And yet, the sun rises.
There is political division. And yet, the birds sing.
There is economic uncertainty. And yet, the flowers bloom.
There is hatred and unrest. And yet, the mountains stand.
There is frustration and fear. And yet, the moon shines bright.
The NIV version of John 1:5 reads, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Take a minute to let the significance of that sink in. Listen to it again, and permit me to add one simple word. The light still shines in the darkness, and the darkness still has not overcome it. John doesn’t say that the darkness did not overcome the light, he says that the darkness has not overcome the light. Present tense! Those words were true for the people then, and they are true for us, still, today. Since the beginning of time, darkness has been alive and well in the world. The serpent offered Eve the apple. The Israelites were taken captive in Egypt. Daniel was thrown into the lion’s den. Jesus was tempted in the wilderness and later crucified on a cross. The stories found in the pages of the Bible mirror our own. What we are experiencing here in this moment in time may feel new and scary and awful to us, but it’s not new to God. He is still in the business of shining Light into the darkness. And even now, when it feels like we are hitting rock bottom, the darkness still has not overcome it.
The world is full of darkness. And yet, the Light shines.
I don’t know what the coming year has in store for us. I can’t say with confidence that things will get better. I don’t know if I’ll get sick again. I can’t say for sure if my kids will go back to school. I don’t know if things will ever go back to normal. But I do know that God is still here with us. The sun rises and sets every single day. And in between there are opportunities to notice and look for the Light that shines even now. Even in these uncertain times. Even when we look around us, and all we see is darkness. Look closer. Look for the Light.
I think I’ve changed my mind. I think I would get this book off the shelf and read it again whenever I need to remember that the world is full of darkness…And yet…
And yet, the Light still shines.