Have you ever taken a cave tour where they stopped you in the middle and turned out all the lights so you could experience complete and utter darkness? You know, the kind where you can’t see your hand two inches in front of your face. It can be frightening and disorienting. Or have you ever woken in the middle of the night only to lay awake for hours with your mind conjuring up worst case scenarios for everything and everyone in your life? We seem to lose our rational perspectives in the middle of the night and feed foolishly off a distorted sense of reality.
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These same things happen when we enter into dark times in our lives. Illness, loss, anger, fear, anxiety, depression, loneliness, hopelessness, emptiness… there are many, many forms of emotional and spiritual darkness. They can leave us fearful and horribly disoriented, stumbling around in the shadows of our minds in broad daylight. This is the negative power of the darkness, and it typically has us putting up walls to hide from the fear and pain. Or we find ourselves running, hiding or ignoring whatever we’re struggling with as best we can.
Go to the Light. Live in the Light. Be the Light. These are the common messages of the church. But these messages dismiss the positive power of the darkness, and leave us feeling like we’ve failed if we find ourselves in the dark for too long.
If we can find the courage to turn into the darkness – the same way a boat needs to turn into big waves to avoid capsizing – and ride through the storm, perhaps we’ll be able to experience some of the positive power of the darkness. Darkness is restful, rejuvenating, creative and generative. Honoring our darkness, facing the truth of our sadness, pain and struggles, can bring learning, growth, healing, and positive change. Yes, it is uncomfortable. Yes, it can still be scary. But blocking, running or ignoring it will not make it go away or get better.
Here are a few practical tips for walking in the dark:
- Don’t isolate, find someone to talk to who will be honest and offer gentle perspective (do NOT talk to those people who are going to tell you to “buck up,” “God only gives you what you can handle,” “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” “Just smile,” “God has a reason for this.” Find the person who will love you, hug you and ask, “What can I do?”)
- Recognize when you need more than a friend – seek professional help when needed. This is not failure, this is wisdom.
- Ask for help or allow help when someone offers
- Give yourself permission to be less than perfect.
- Be gentle with yourself – don’t push, berate, or judge yourself
- Know what feeds your soul – alone time, music, nature, writing, painting, gardening
- Try this mantra: one day at a time… one moment at a time…
- Do not make major decisions (remember your perspective is off-kilter)
- Do not let yourself get sucked into the downward spiral of worry and fear that happens in the middle of the night. It never looks as bad in the morning.
- This too shall pass. Sounds like a cliche’ but you’ve made it through before. There is historical precedent for making it through again.
Spiritually, it can be extremely difficult to trust the Divine during times of darkness, because He/She/It feels absent, or at best very far away. But trust and faith are about believing when it is hard to. Isaiah 43 says,
I have called you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the seas, I will be with you;
When you pass over the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
Walk through fire, and you will not be burned;
Walk through flames and they shall not consume you…
Have no fear, for I am with you…
It doesn’t say that we won’t ever feel up to our necks in water, or that we won’t ever walk through fire. But we are assured that when life gets difficult and scary, God is still there. Even if it doesn’t seem like it. And if we ground ourselves in the Divine Love, we will not be completely overwhelmed and consumed. We will get through.
Remember, in a lunar model of spirituality (see last week’s blog), light and dark wax and wane. They have equal importance and equal ability to teach us, heal us and bring us to wholeness.