“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.” -Mary Oliver
Darkness. A word often associated with the negative. A word that conveys something we want to avoid. A word that makes us yearn for light.
We try to avoid darkness as much as possible. We turn on our lights at home at night, we turn on our vehicle lights when we drive, we bask in its warmth and comfort from the summer sun.
The past couple years have held a lot of darkness for me. There have been moments steeped in darkness, moments where it felt like I would be stuck in the darkness forever. It was silent. I didn’t know where I was going. I couldn’t see everything around me.
I have labelled this season of life, ‘winter’. And I’m struck with the irony that, in nature, it is my favourite season. I remember when I lived in Quebec, the winters felt very long. The longing for spring was great. And yet when you stopped to look at the wonders of winter, there was great beauty and richness that is often not seen in the midst of the destitute nature of the season.
Over the last few months I have been transitioning into spring. It has been a long winter and yet as I reflect back on the darkness and seeming barrenness of this season, I am thankful that I did not rush through it or try to avoid it. As much as I didn’t want it to be true, the darkness of that season was necessary. It was painful and messy. It was heart-wrenching and full of tears. It was isolating and lonely.
But, being present to the darkness allowed healing to come. Staying in the darkness allowed me to cling to God and to hope that can only be found in him. Walking through the darkness gave me deeper trust. Sitting in the darkness allowed me to feel the comfort and presence of God. There has been crucial transformation happening within, much of which I was not aware of, that was taking place in the darkness of this season.
Of course, in the midst of it, I didn’t, and often couldn’t, see or understand this. I clung to a hope for it but it was hard and painful. I am thankful that in looking back, I am beginning to see the gift it has been as I see the depth within it.
In the past I have often tried to run away to find the light. I didn’t know how to handle or navigate the darkness. Yet it has been artificial light I have sought because I did not take the time to work out what needed working out. I didn’t take time to listen to the sadness and notice what the darkness had to teach me. I short-cut the process and robbed myself. I made the road harder and longer for myself.
In this darkness, there have been others who have faithfully sat with me. Prayed with me. Prayed for me. Hoped with me. Longed for light with me. I am so thankful for the safe spaces I found and created in order to sit in the reality of the darkness rather than avoiding it or running away.
You see, the amazing thing is, things grow in the dark. Seeds germinate in the darkness. Babies grow in the darkness of wombs. Pictures are developed in dark rooms. Sleep and rest takes place behind the darkness of our shut eyes. Life emerges in these unexpected places. Darkness leads us to seek and long for light.
So I am thankful for the things I have seen within me that have started to grow. I’m thankful for healing that has taken place. I’m thankful for transformation that has been and is continuing to occur. I don’t say this to romanticize the darkness or difficult times, but rather that we must cling to hope in those moments. But also that there is life emerging in places where it might feel lifeless at times. I also don’t want to categorize all darkness under the same category as the one I have experienced, because they are different and it’s important to recognize that. I’m sharing from my own experience and my understanding of it. (and when I say darkness, I don’t mean evil, but more an isolating feeling of despair and general lost-ness- if you want to know more about it, please ask!)
My word for 2016 was ‘hope.’ I accompanied it with a 366 day photo project of pictures of light along with quotes about hope. I am thankful for the continual reminders it brought that although the darkness does have a purpose, it does not have the final say and I am thankful for how it has led me into a new season that is filled with life. I’m thankful for the perspective I have gained and will continue to gain of what has been. I’m thankful for healing (but I could only heal the things I allowed myself to express and recognize needed healing). I’m thankful, looking back to see the many traces of light and hope that were present with me throughout the darkness even though I did not recognize them as such.
I have hesitated to share some of this because I recognize it can be misconstrued or misunderstood, but I wanted to share it because it has been transformative and necessary in my life. And I share it because I welcome continued conversation around these subjects. I share it because sometimes in our culture, and also within the church, we don’t always allow space to sit in these hard places. We want to rejoice and be happy. We want to bask in the reality of Easter Sunday. We forget the darkness of the Saturday and the fact that life is messy and painful along the way. We need to hold the tension of these realities together.
I leave you with these two quotes, both which better express some of what I am trying to convey:
“Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was often filled with your tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?” -Kahlil Gibran
“When we so fear the dark that we demand light around the clock, there can be only one result: artificial light that is glaring and graceless and, beyond its borders, a darkness that grows even more terrifying as we try to hold it off. Split off from each other, neither darkness nor light is fit for human habitation. But if we allow the paradoxes of darkness and light to be, the two will conspire to bring wholeness and health to every living thing.” -Parker Palmer
May your moments of darkness be places of growth and wellsprings of life that lead to deeper healing, profound joy and great intimacy with God.